Tonight Steve and Garry are being inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. It is a nice coda to a partnership that dared to do the unspeakable: talk on the FM band. Make people laugh. Push every boundary of civility.
It is almost impossible to remember the reverence with which the FM was treated as far as music was concerned in the late 70’s. Album sides were played, talk was minimal…listeners marinated in the high fidelity that was absent on the AM band.
Steve conquered the heavy metal ears of Detroit with a combination of California rock and a virtual cast of side kicks. ABC Detroit was losing listeners at their two outlets, WXYZ and WRIF, so they convinced the ABC outlet in Chicago to lure him away. He was offered a 13 week renewable contract. with a substantial raise. He took the leap of faith. I followed.
Steve packed up his suitcase of characters to test whether the chaos he created in the Motor City would translate to Chicago. He did not receive a warm welcome. Most radio insiders were skeptical that he would break in. I remember an evening at a Warren Zevon concert at the Park West where the XRT gang pointed him out- an unhip looking cherub, bringing a style no one in Chicago understood. Or wanted. He received a few patronizing “good lucks” with the unspoken “you’ll need it” palpably in the air. The next Monday, he was in the WDAI offices, getting his weekly dressing down for not hitting the breaks at the proper time, delaying the news, or for talking longer than 60 seconds. I’m sure he expected to fail, to be fired.
On December 23, 1978, he WAS fired. Disco DAI was born. 39 weeks. And a non compete that kept him from returning to Detroit.
One pair of ears embraced what Steve was trying to do, and they belonged to Lee Abrams, who would assemble a cast of characters for what was to be The Loop. The hipsters across the dial were pretty shocked that this blabbing morning man was in the Loop, so to speak. Steve unpacked Travis, Rex Reational, Irma, Baba Ganoush and his other puppets, and started anew. He segued every morning with Matthew Meier, one of the staff members retained from the former regime. There was chemistry. The virtual cast mates faded, and Garry stepped in to take their place. Magic was in the air.
And so it goes. They bounced from the Loop (18 months) to WLS (5 years) to the Loop again. AM/FM. During this stretch, Steve and I had our three sons. Garry was our local family. He is Pat’s godfather. He was our only visitor after bringing the kids home from the hospital. (Poor guy- I made him watch the birth videos. He always asked for tylenol when he came over; he grew up in a big family, and I think he relished the peace so absent from our home) He was at the birthdays, the Christmases- he was Uncle Garry. We were there when his Dad died, and Steve and Garry muddled through Marcus’ death together. Many rough moments were shared along the way, (broken leg, bad dates, a nose dive off a stage in a go cart, an aborted syndication deal, a short lived before its time TV show, It’s Too Early. ) Early days at WLS were punctuated by the taunts of Larry Lujack, once Garry’s broadcast hero. S & G were not considered worthy to succeed Lujack when he ditched radio for golf and Arizona sun. That he stayed the course with Steve was a testament to his belief in the work they were creating. It was a leap of faith. With associated risk factors.
Part of the yin/yang was that Garry was meticulous and Steve was tumultuous. Garry vacuumed his way out of the house, Steve thrived on 3 kids’ worth of disorder. Garry dressed with care, cut his barbecued ribs off the bone. Steve wore pajamas to work, felt at home in Hawaiian shirts, and slurped on the air. And then of course, Steve cut a path through the liquor aisle while Garry remained sober. What made them such interlocking puzzle pieces on the air also meant that they would ultimately not be friends in the “brothers” mode. Garry and Steve both had their own brothers, in fact. What they needed to be is partners.
And they eventually failed at that.
We could talk forever about the “why”, but why bother? Certainly, Steve’s drinking created more pandemonium than Garry desired. But the fact is that they divorced; it is not one of those “still friends” situations. It is not a mortal enemy situation. It is just a big nothingness. Neither one of them probably spends time with regrets, or thinking of the other. That is one commonality they DO have. They are pragmatic.
I stayed the course with Steve as he got sober, became less explosive and unpredictable. He became a good man, and a more disciplined broadcaster. I often wish that Garry had a chance to know, or to work with the kinder, better Steve. The breach is apparently too big for Garry to traverse.
Life has gone on. Garry is married, as a daughter, a job at WGN. Steve is pioneering the Next Thing with a subscription based podcast. He is able to talk more in 90 minutes daily than he could on a 4 hour broadcast. No people meter to trick, no traffic, no weather, no ads. Two roads, different for right now. I expect they are both happy with their lots.
When the Radio Hall of Fame announcement came out, Steve was blindsided. There was no voting, just an invitation. The invitation included an image of him (very John Wayne Gacy) so old and horrifying that he thought it was a joke. It was a stunt, and he wasn’t having any part of it. I was more open to celebrating their moment in time. I nattered that he should consider going; he listened.
He determined that the only way that made sense to be honored as a duo was to accept as a duo. He called Garry to create a “moment” , Garry chose not to return the call. The management at WGN could not prevail upon Garry to call Steve. That’s it. I stopped harping because I respect his bemusement at the situation. This does not mean that they will never be in the same room together, or that they have an active feud.
My heart was broken when the amazing Chaz Ebert intervened to encourage reconciliation. If anyone knows that life is too short for feuding, it is Chaz. I agree. I have watched friends struggle with terrible difficulties, have lost my parents and seen my younger brother’s heart almost quit on him. I would never want to exit life with regrets or unfinished business. Perhaps the nothingness suits Garry. It must.
So Steve and I will be here in Michigan tonight, nestled in with a fire, Blackhawks on TV. I don’t have to buy a party dress, Steve’s suit can stay in its bag. He knows he changed things for radio in Chicago with Garry. Old formulas were questioned, personality trumped format. It was a moment in time. That passed. On we go.
Will Steve ever be on the radio again? I have no clue. Having survived too many firings to count, he likes being his own boss. That lends itself to a “no.” It is obvious that radio today does not roll out a welcome mat to the free form story telling that Steve likes. On the other hand, I think the basement gets to him at times, though the commute is manageable. TIme will tell. Maybe radio will reinvent itself. It’s happened before.
Also, perhaps there will come a day when Garry is less bunkered about sharing a moment with Steve. Steve remains pragmatic: if there was a reason to unite for a night or a good cause, he would not hesitate. They did a funny show on the beach together years back, and they united to raise money for Gilda’s Club once upon a time. So maybe someday they will build a bridge.
This, however, is not that night. To accept recognition from the Hall of Fame as a radio partnership, without as much as a conversation regarding the proceedings, defies his “smell test.” It’s just silly. Steve is sober now, in many ways.He doesn’t do silly.
He appreciates the honor of having been in peoples’ lives, in their ears. What will go on tonight is a parallel universe. A good time will be had by all. Garry will be in the house, surrounded by colleagues and family. Steve and I will have an alternative celebration. The irony of the situation does not escape me, or those who know the Steve and Garry story.
Going forward, Steve’s image will be under the same roof that shelters Bozo’s junk. That’s cool.
I DO suggest that a new picture of Steve be substituted for the bloated image that some subversive chose.
Steve is already conjuring up ways to deface himself. He remains, at heart, an anarchist.