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“Here’s a lesson from the media…” –Bill Leff, WGN Radio (Update)

(Graphic: The many faces of Bill Leff…)

Update, 12/5/11: Every time Bill Leff gets a new gig, this post gets new page views. This is why they tell you to think before you speak, folks. The Internet has a very long memory…


“Here’s a lesson to you from the media. Focus right now if you want us to promote you. Because you are replaceable.”

Those were the words spoken to me by Bill Leff, host of WGN-AM’s ChicagoNow Radio. It was a minute before air time this morning, and Leff was exasperated that I didn’t have a set list of topics I wanted to talk about. Or something like that. I’m really not sure, and I didn’t stick around to ask. I said, “Okay,” got up, and walked out of the studio.

I’ve blogged about journalistic hubris several times here on Carless, not to mention on Chicagosphere, the ChicagoNow blog I had been booked on ChicagoNow Radio to promote. It’s one thing to write about it. It’s quite another when it’s sniping at you from the other side of a control panel.

Before Leff made it clear I wasn’t welcome there, I was really excited to be on the show. Leff’s producers had spent the past couple of days in email and on the phone–and the previous 15 minutes in person–prepping me. They offered me lots of helpful tidbits.

Among the prep from Leff’s producers: “Don’t worry about our usual 10-question interview;” “Own the room and make the interview your own;” “Have fun with it;” “Have a sense of humor;” “Let the subjects just flow;” and “talk freely” about a variety of topics that could have but didn’t need to include the Oak Park penis logo controversy, the Mac migration debate here on Chicago Carless, and what it’s like to be a New Yorker in Chicago.

My big mistake was thinking Leff had any idea what his staff had told me. Or any respect for me as a blogger, for that matter. It didn’t take long for him to make his feelings known, however. As soon as I sat down in the studio, directly next to an executive managerial staffer from ChicagoNow, Leff began hounding me for a list of topics I intended to cover. Of course, I didn’t have one–his staff told me not to worry about it. So I played it off. Making matters worse–for Leff–my ADHD brain became happily distracted by listeners on the sidewalk beyond the studio glass who were trying to get a plug on the air.

The ChicagoNow staffer next to me was trying to “communicate” with them through the glass along with me. Leff, however, would have none of it. He glared at me, stormed away to the other side of the table, and said to me, in front of ChicagoNow and WGN staff, the quote that opened this blog post.

Maybe Robert Feder was right? The erstwhile Sun-Times TV columnist made one of his first posts as a blogger for New Media radio station Vocalo a criticism of the potential for the ChicagoNow Radio show to be worthwhile. Lord knows, it wasn’t for me.

Too bad. I had been really excited to be on the show. So excited that when Leff’s producer asked me at the last minute to show up half an hour early because Garrard McClendon, the original 11:30 a.m. guest, was stuck in traffic, I canceled breakfast, left my boyfriend behind in my apartment almost in mid-sentence, and ran to Tribune Tower from my home office in Marina City.

For any traditional media person to believe it’s their duty to give a longtime blogger a “lesson from the media,” much less warn them that they’re “replaceable”–and thus better be duly grateful for the opportunity for the coverage–is laughable. I could tell Leff that I’ve been writing words for the blogosphere and doing media relations for more than a decade. Or I could remind him–and you–of his own recent, very public replacement from WLS-AM earlier this year. I could have done that last bit on air, too.

Instead, I took a page from NYPD Blue’s James McDaniel, who famously walked out of the Regis & Kathie Lee green room in the mid-90s after Gifford attacked his show shortly before he was scheduled to go on. I guess Leff didn’t expect me to stand up for myself as literally as I did. Shortly thereafter, his producer was texting me an apology and I was finishing my Thanksgiving shopping.

The funniest thing about all of this, is Leff–a stand-up comedian and film major with no traditional journalism training whatsoever telling anyone it was time for a lesson from the media.

Here’s a lesson for Bill Leff: I am as much a part of the highly interactive media scene in 2009 as you are. My blog readership on Chicago Carless (my flagship byline), my Twitter following, and my Facebook friends will not dip because I did not do your show. My readers will not abandon me en masse because I chose to walk out of the WGN studio.

In fact, my audience numbers probably wouldn’t have grown appreciably from doing Leff’s show, if at all. Unless Leff’s listeners decided to stop what they were doing (most likely, driving), get a pen and paper or pull out their smart phones, and write down/navigate to one of my blog URLs, I doubt my audience stats would have much noticed that I had even done the radio show.

Unless you’re an A-List media name brand, bloggers get their traffic from other bloggers. Links and love from elsewhere on the Internet and from various social media platforms build blog traffic a lot quicker than going outside the Internet ecosystem to talk about the fun we’re having here in the virtual realm on a broadcast show–or on a printed page–where it takes several additional steps to make it back to http land.

My audience members, potential and future, are already on this side of things. They’re here on the Interwebs. I don’t need to reach for them over the airwaves. And as a rule, I seldom do. Leff’s crew asked me to bring my party to WGN this morning, against my better judgment. So why on earth would he think he was doing me a favor?

Everyone has a bad day. I’ve spent most of my day trying to figure out why Leff would say something like that to me.

Categories: Chicago Blog News News Media

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


25 replies

  1. What a Jerk……After all his own faults and problems, he thinks hes AAbove you cause hes radio, and your Internet….I hope he Relizes (spelling i know:) ) that Internet reaches the WORLD and radio reaches People In there Cars in The Area only….unless he hopes to be rebroadcast by someone…..That And ChicagoCarless is A great blog, and Mike is a big lovable teddy bear and Bill Leff is what? a stick man who needs some Meat on him, and maybe a can of color for his Casper Caveman look……

  2. “Last Word Syndrome” describes the situation perfectly!

    He acted like a baby in person, and is still acting like a baby online.

  3. I’ve briefly looked through your other posts to see if there’s as much comment activity as this one, and so far “no”.

    WGN is a legendary station entertaining millions of listeners. Your blog, while entertaining, reaches how many? Thousands?

    The fact that you don’t see the value in the partnership of ChicagoNow and WGN radio blows my mind. You are willing to risk killing the blog (or at least your relationship with it) because you interpreted a 10 second comment as rude? Both ChicagoNow and WGN are owned by Tribune – which entity do you think they care about more? Which one brings in more revenue? (hint: both answers are the same)

    Waving out the window and not paying attention to a show you’re on is unprofessional. Walking out is even more unprofessional.

    I have been in the radio business (btw radio is a form of media – you’re origional post indicated you thought it was not.) for a very long time and my first impression of the situation was that his producers screwed up, not Bill. I totally empathize with his annoyance at his guests not paying attention to business at hand and acting like juvenilles. I, too, might snap at that.

    Bill’s show is still new and I suspect he’s working with inexperienced producers in addition to having inexperienced guests (how many ChicagoNow bloggers have ever been on the radio?). I can absolutely understand his frustration. And he was also prepared at that time to talk to another guest, not you. So with you not paying attention he was understandably irritated. That’s my impression from what you wrote – I wasn’t there and I did not hear the broadcast.

    What I really can’t figure out is why you are making the situation worse. I can understand your blog about it, it’s what you do after all. But I don’t understand your comment-responses (makes it appear you have “last word” syndrome rather than allowing others to comment how they feel). Had you paid as much attention to Mr. Leff while on the radio as you do to this blog, things certainly would have turned out differently that day in the studio from the get-go.

  4. Martin, very true. Of course, it’s all about the quality of the audience (many in mine are social influencers), not the size. You probably know that, considering you and many other disgruntled industry watchers have spent quite a lot of time reading this post today. Ironic, huh?

  5. You do realize you have only 395 RSS subscribers, under 100o twitter followers, and doesn’t even register on quantcast it’s audience is so small, yet WGN Radio on a Saturday morning probably easily has over 100,000 listeners?

  6. There is no spamming going.

    While it is true that Mike Doyle and I are in complete disagreement about what went down and the reaction to it, I do agree that posting it on broadcast message boards is more than a relevant topic. Also. I only posted it at chicagolandradioandmedia. Not sure if the board administrator is the same as, but for some reason my post popped up there as well. I only posted on the chicagolandradioandmedia site. Regardless, both sites are a message boards where people can talk about what has been going on in the world of radio and television…especially readio and WGN these days.

  7. I see blame on both sides here. It seems to me that if you and the ChicagoNow exec are paying more attention to what’s outside the window than to the show you’re about to do, then that’s a problem. Perhaps we have mutual disrespect for each other’s platforms. You don’t seem to think much of radio. Bill doesn’t seem to think much of bloggers (“you’re replaceable”).

  8. “C’mon Now”, are you suggesting that I or another commenter in this thread is “spamming” my blog post to “industry” message boards? Three points, either way:

    1. Any accusation of “spamming” an industry message board is unsupported. The Shannon commenter, above, originally posted about this blog entry on the Chicagoland Radio and Media Board. Shannon’s thread-opening comment (in which Shannon provided a link back to my blog) is linked above, to which I responded one time, several hours later, here.

    My viewership stats tell me another comment regarding my blog post has been made on, also by Shannon. While I don’t agree with Shannon’s take on the situation, Shannon’s posting about the incident on broadcast-industry message boards seems far more relevant to the topic of such boards than “spammy” to me.

    2. I’ve never used the word “fight” regarding this incident anywhere that I have discussed it online.

    3. There is no cause here. I write about my life and on Saturday, Bill Leff and his comment became part of my life. You are welcome to read my words and you are welcome to think whatever you want about the situation. I have my impression of Leff from Saturday, and that’s one that will last me a long time. I also happen to have a well-read blog, and it’s no one’s fault but Leff’s that his inappropriate comment to me got written and read about here.

  9. Shannon: You missed the part where Mr. Doyle said he’d gone through prep with Mr. Leff’s producers, and Mr. Doyle was following their precise instructions in foregoing a set list of questions. It’s bewildering that the producers wouldn’t take care of such a simple task that ranks so highly on their list of responsibilities, as it is that the host wouldn’t think of talking to the people that had booked the guest to figure out what discussions they’d had with him prior to airtime. As far as I can tell, Mr. Doyle’s only offense is looking out the window–but have you SEEN the showcase studio? It’s got a big window out onto Michigan Ave, with people walking by, peering in, waving, etc. I dare you to sit in that chair and not look out the glass.

  10. Many years and several careers ago, I worked in radio. I started out as an intern working for Wendy Snyder and Tony Fitzpatrick. After about a year together, Fitzpatrick saw the writing on the wall and bowed out before he was asked to leave. (The station management was actually on-air auditioning other partner with Wendy on the Saturday nights, a shift that the sometimes cranky artiste refused to work.) One of these partners was Bill Leff.

    At the time he was a road-weary stand-up comic and actor (Did you see his bit parts in Major League 1 AND 2? Yeah, me neither.) It was clear he was eager to put that life behind him and transition his comedic talents into something a little more stable and close to home. Radio, I guess, seemed like the perfect fit.

    I worked for Snyder and Fitzpatrick for the entire run of their partnership. Synder is a seasoned radio professional who I actually listen to in high school. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand was a curmudgeon-y artist of some note who fell ass-backwards into radio because he was friends with Chicago radio fixture, Buzz Killman.

    Fitzpatrick was often demanding and a bit of a prima donna. He seemed pissed most of the time that his art world bona fides didn’t translate into superstardom in the mostly middle class world of mainstream radio. As much as I wanted to like the guy, he was just a big baby and a pain in the ass who didn’t want to do any of the actual work it takes to produce a radio show, other that sit in front of a live mic.

    Bill Leff was his polar opposite. Friendly, earnest, eager to learn how to do this radio thing. Certainly a funny guy, in that early Seinfeld nice guy way. No edge to his comedy really, so as not to offend anyone. Milktoast, really. At the time (this is circa 1994/95), you really couldn’t know a nicer guy to be in radio. Most of them were egomaniacs or egomaniacs in training.

    Leff soon became the full-time co-host and even though the show lost some of its edge (Fitzpatrick carried around the personal phone numbers of Lou Reed and Penn Jillette in his wallet), it carried on without him. An evening show all of its run, it was soon bumped to overnight and I had to leave the show because of school and work commitments.

    Why am I telling you all this? Because the Bill Leff you paint (and I’m sure it’s totally accurate) is not the Bill Leff I knew. I guess that’s what a decade and a half in the small and increasingly irrelevant, cut-throat world of Chicago radio does to a person. I don’t doubt for a second that he acted this way toward you, but the real question is why?

    Has Leff become a prima donna? Was he pissed because (this assumption on my part) the folks at ChicagoNOW might have insisted that he have you on as a guest, maybe against his wishes? Was he just having a bad bad day? Who the hell knows. But if there’s on thing I can tell you for sure, after my own six or seven years in radio, it is this: People in radio act as if their show, their station, their work is akin to doing god’s work. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in a staff meeting/pep rally where folks were getting so riled up about the stupid crap of radio, you’d think they’d found a cure for cancer. I never drank the Kool Adid, which is why I left radio in 1998 and never looked back.

    The other thing that, to me, is very confounding is this expectation that the guest is somehow responsible for the show’s content. I started out in 1993 as a talk show producer intern. I learned how to research and book guests, screen calls, adhere to program log, etc. Helping to put a show together, segment by segment, hour by hour was my job. And never did we ever say to a guest “Okay, so where is your list of topics?” That is utterly ridiculous. Maybe times have changed since then, but I can’t believe they’ve changed this much.

    Most of the guests we had on the show were local or national celebrities, authors, comedians or anyone else looking to promote their projects. Sure there was an expectation about what each person would bring to the table, but never was that kind of burden foisted on the guest. Can you imagine if Conan O’Brien brought out Angelina Joile and just said “Sooooo…..?” expectantly blinking his eyes at her.

    I’m not sure what bug is up his ass. Honestly, I hardly listen to radio at all , so I don’t even know what he’s like these days. And when I do listen to radio, it surely isn’t WGN. Because, well, I’m under the age of 70.

    On the flipside, dear friend, I have to make this one observation. I’m not taking Leff’s side, just playing devil’s advocate. Sure, he might have been acting like a dick, but could it have been possible that maybe you overreacted? Maybe, just maybe, your own self-described ADHD tendencies might cause you now and again to make snap, rash decisions? Again, I’m not being negative here, I’m just asking an honest question. You do seem to get into a lot of feuds with people. =)

    Well that’s my two or three cents worth. Sorry to drone on like this. But I figured since I’d had personal experiences with this guy — albeit 10+ years ago — I could give you a little background perspective.

    PS: Bill Leff is as bald as an eagle. That’s a hair piece on his head. When I knew him, he wore it so that he could get more movie roles. From the looks of if, he still has it. Word to the wise: A baseball cap doesn’t make you any less bald. But it does draw attention to your head. Again, I’m just saying…

  11. Shannon, actually, it sounds like Bill and his producers couldn’t be bothered to communicate with each other. It’s a producer’s job to make sure a host is prepped for their guests, it is not the job of the guests. Bill Leff was clueless when I walked into the studio about the topics his producers had prepped me to talk about and about their repeated coaching that I needn’t worry about a topic list in the first place.

    That’s not my fault. Bill Leff, however, made it my fault by standing over me in anger and ordering me to give him a list that I was specifically coached by his producers not to have pre-planned. And if you think that kind of haranguing is how a broadcast media guest spot works, then you’ve been wrongly informed.

    Finally, if I really wanted to play the victim I could have sat there after Bill Leff humiliated me in front of a studio’s worth of people, smiled at him for the next 20 minutes, and proceeded with the interview. In my value system, no guest deserves that kind of treatment from a broadcast host–and no host deserves their guests to stick around after that kind of treatment. If you think getting spanked in public is an appropriate price for a promotional appearance, then you can pull down your pants and be my guest. I, however, don’t.

  12. Get over yourself and your over-the-top drama explanation. You say you don’t care, but if you didn’t, you obviously wouldn’t have dedicated an entire blog playing the victim. Your self importance and this idea that you would have brought a party to the show is a joke. Sounds like Bill wanted to do some show prep with you, you couldn’t be bothered, he was rightfully annoyed and you played the drama queen role and walked out. Again, get over yourself. Other than a few who subscribe and care about your blog, I’m sure nobody even knows or cares who you are.

  13. What a dufus this man is. I send him the email below.

    (Dude!!!!! did you actually speak to mike like he is not needed
    blogging media and twitter have a larger audience than radio will ever have.)
    you will be replaceable soon.

  14. Good for you, Carless. If that’s what he said to a guest moments before airtime, he’s not only an asshole, but very unprofessional. That’s how you build rapport with a guest? Without a doubt, it is Leff who is the replaceable one.

  15. Never heard of this Leff guy, but good for you. Talk radio is as archaic as newsprint; these days, about the only people who pay attention to either one are commuters, politicians, and extremists. (It could be argued that the latter two are one and the same.)

  16. So Leff had the nerve to ask you what you wanted to talk about as a guest on HIS show, and then get pissed off when you “played it off” and ignored him in favor of waving at people passing outside the window.
    Yeeaeah, HE’s a dick.

  17. My Twitter pal @jefframone said a similar thing. I have no explanation for why Leff said what he said. I only assumed he meant what he said. I know everyone’s entitled to a bad day, but I can’t imagine anyone saying something like that as a joke.

    Meanwhile, I spent an entire post on Chicagosphere defending his show to Robert Feder. Definitely feel like a fool now for bothering to have done that.

  18. hmmm. I’ve known Bill for about 30 years. He’s probably one of the nicest and most gracious people I’ve ever met. I’ll be interested to hear his side of things…

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