I recently had a driveway moment while listening to Loyola University’s WLUW-FM (87.7). The host was doing an in-depth, hour-long retrospective on Daft Punk – whom I’d never heard. Yet I couldn’t stop listening. The way the show’s host, Steve Damien, used live and pre-recorded interviews with full-length versions of songs to tell the story of the French electronic duo’s artistic arc had me riveted to the radio.
The show combined great production values with excellent interviews, so I figured it was syndicated.
Wrong! “The Retrospective” is the brainchild of local CAN TV producer Steve Niketopoulos (Damien is his middle name), and it debuted on WLUW in 1999 – where it’s aired on-and-off ever since (it will air Thursday nights at 8 starting in January). Niketopoulos has done about 400 shows and it’s been picked up by some 25 public stations via the Public Radio Exchange.
“I was always inspired by late-night radio hosts who would go in-depth and explore different types of music,” says Niketopoulos, a history and anthropology major. “I tried to combine what the courses were teaching me with what I was learning about the music. I read an article about Leonard Cohen and saw a rerun of VH1’s ‘Behind the Music’ and thought: it’d be a neat idea to go through an artist’s whole career. But, I thought that you don’t get an idea of them if I don’t play the whole songs. So I put that idea together with what I was reading about Leonard Cohen and wrote the first script and played whole songs and found interviews about why he put the songs together the way he did. And I knew that it would be interesting to someone else listening in.”
At the same time, “I was starting to realize how many different artists had a lot of history to them, and not a lot of the college kids knew much of the background. I tried to develop a show that would be an educational tool for people to listen to and hear selections throughout the entire career arc of an artist and would try to be as biographical as possible, and not add too much opinion into it. It’s more educational, so that people can non-judgmentally listen along and learn what is behind an album or recording or interview.”
There’s very little commentary from Niketopoulos, except to fill in gaps. “I want the musicians or artists themselves telling the stories behind things, or quoting them,” he says. “If I have to go out of my way to get a live interview, I’ll do that,” contacting the band’s management or booking company and setting up a quick interview when they’re in town.
His last live interview was with the Swell Season, the Oscar-winning duo of Once. “Usually I ask for 15 minutes because I don’t want to overwhelm anyone and usually in that time I can design five questions and cut them up and use them in the piece,” he says. “They gave me an hour and a half.”
Califone, Detholz!, and the Sea And Cake are among the local bands he’s covered. “I try to profile artists that have at least three albums of work so we can focus on their evolution over a [whole] hour,” he explains. “Sometimes, someone will come out with a new album, or I’ll [ask] my program director about who she wants or who she thinks we should do. Every once in awhile I’ll drop a mass email to DJs at WLUW and ask them. Often, they come back with bands I never heard of.”
The show is truly labor of love, produced in Niketopoulos’s home studio, and each takes about seven to nine hours to produce. “I’ve never made one dollar off my radio show,” he says. “It’s not about that. I just love sharing music history.
“I like to, in a completely non-pretentious way, create a radio show that allows people to learn without feeling like they already should know this. I want it to be a thing that people stumble upon and find to be a resource.”
Past episdoes of “The Retrospective” are available at www.theretrospective.org
ODDS ‘N’ SODS: Fox-owned WPWR-Channel 50 just started airing “Crime Stoppers Case Files – Chicago” Saturday nights at 11. The cold case show in the vein of “America’s Most Wanted” features host Lisette Guillen – a Chicago resident who also serves as executive producer . . . Longtime Midwest band booster and afternoon DJ Tom Lounges recently left Northwest Indiana’s WXRD-FM (103.9), where he also served as music and promotions director. “The upper management simply opted to make some changes in the on-air scheduling, as they have the right to do,” he explains on his Facebook page. “I have simply chosen to move on to other adventures elsewhere, rather than accept the position offered to me. No drama.” He continues to write a column for the Times of Northwest Indiana . . . Look for former Q101 jock Kevin Manno to host a new reality series on Lifetime. “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” features a dozen kids competing for $100,000 and a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School’s Young Dancer Program. Judges include Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin and “Dance Moms” Abby Lee Miller.
— Cara Jepsen