I don’t usually sing in my car. That’s because my radio is almost always** tuned to WGN (720 on your AM dial), a talk station. Which makes it all the more ironic that it was WGN that had me singing in my car on WGN, and then had me driving in my car to WGN so I could sing in my car at WGN on WGN. Confused? You won’t be after this episode of Soap.
**Except when non-Blackhawks sporting events are aired.
Two weeks ago the Steve Cochran Show announced a new contest called “Careoke.” Spearheaded by morning show team member and comedian John Da Cosse, who also served as judge, listeners were invited to call in and sing on the air from their cars. Thanks to some original writing, adequate singing and a little Luck O’ the Irish, before I knew it I had made it through the first two rounds and was one of the three finalists! But before I tell you about that exciting and memorable morning, I want to take a brief side trip down memory lane.
A Lifetime with WGN
My entire childhood had WGN Radio playing in the background. My dad listened every morning to Wally Phillips, and even had multiple radios on throughout the house so he wouldn’t miss a word. He also became a regular caller, providing so many answers and information to listeners’ questions in the pre-Google era that he came to be known by Wally as “Tom O’Connor, my trivia expert.”
Of course, as a teenager, I’d have none of this. As I got ready for school, I would go in my room, close the door, and blast WLS or WCFL, the two FM stations that played good (translation: teeny bopper) music. WGN was for old fogies.
Fast forward about 15 years. An up-and-comer named Bob Collins came to WGN — first on the evening drive and then ascending to Wally’s throne. And suddenly there we were, Mike and I — pushing 30, with a couple of kids and our first mortgage… and our radios set to WGN. Like the generations that had gone before us, we had been assimilated.
It’s funny how we feel we really know the personalities on the radio, but it makes sense when you think about it. How can you help but feel close to those who are right there with you every morning in bed, in the bathroom, in the car, and on the job?
In these 30 years as a listener I’ve won a few prizes, and even got to talk to Donny Osmond on the air (my diary was full that night!). But only in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get to visit the WGN studio and meet everyone in person. Well, dreams do come true.
It was that dream that had me getting up at 3:30 a.m. on March 27, and hitting the road at 4:45 to drive down to the WGN studio or, more accurately, to the WGN parking lot. That’s where the finals took place.
It was a balmy 27-ish degrees, complete with high winds and snowfall, when John Da Cosse, producer Ross Cochran, a cameraman and sound engineer came down to the parking lot shortly before 7 a.m. I found out that in addition to singing on the air, everything was being taped for compilation into a video to be posted later. I felt a little guilty sitting in my unusually clean and very warm car while they stood out in the cold, but hey, that’s show biz. Just before 7:30 I had my big chance and belted out my original creation, The Steve Cochran Fight Song.
My worthy competitors then had their turns, after which everyone was able to leave the parking lot for the warmth, comfort, and (thank God) bathroom of the WGN Studio. Ross took us to the “Green Room,” where we listened to the feed of the show and the announcement of the winner… me!
All three of us were then invited into the studio for brief interview on the air and a group photo, after which Ross took some individual photos and then escorted us back to our cars. For all the sitting around and waiting prior to the segment, it sure was a whirlwind once it got started! The show may sound like all fun and games, but it’s a well-oiled machine that keeps things moving!
What I Won & What I Learned
As the winner of the inaugural season of Careoke, I will enjoy a two-night stay at the Hilton downtown, a gift certificate to Kitty O’Shea’s restaurant, and, best of all, the chance to write an original song and create a music video with John Da Cosse! I believe the cameras will be rolling next week, so stay tuned!
But just as valuable as my wonderful prizes were the things I learned from being a part of this competition.
I knew I wouldn’t be the best singer among the contestants, and certainly not among the finalists. Watch the video or listen to the podcast and you’ll agree. I realized that rather than trying to be the best singer, I should try to give the most entertaining performance. In other words, instead of trying to be something I’m not, I concentrated on working from my strengths — good writing, originality, and humor.
That, plus I remembered the advice that applies whether you’re a performer, teacher, salesman, or priest: know you’re audience. Call it sucking up if you like (and many people did), but you can’t go wrong when you show people that you’ve gotten to know them because you’re really listening.
And finally, I learned that the more things change at WGN, the more they stay the same. Not long before he retired from the station, Wally Phillips was doing a book signing at Woodfield that I happened upon. I grabbed a copy and waited in the long line. When it was my turn, I gave him the book and said it was for my dad, Tom O’Connor.
“You mean Tom O’Connor, my trivia expert?” Wally immediately asked. When I assured him it was, he proceeded to open the book and FILL the flyleaf with personal comments. I will never forget the look of amazement and delight on my dad’s face when I gave it to him the following Christmas.
The sincere, warm welcome we all got from Steve and the gang shows they are doing a great job of following in Wally’s footsteps.