Robert Murphy is one of the best known radio personalities to work in Chicago over the past forty years. During his heyday in the ’80s, he was “Murphy in the Morning” on Q-101, delivering a big-time morning madhouse complete with wacky bits and a cast of characters. He has since worked at several other radio stations in town, doing a similar type of show. Murphy is now working at WLS-FM (94.7 FM) for the second time, but there are almost no similarities between those previous days (in the ’90s), and today.
“The last time I was at 94.7 WLS,” Murphy recalls, “it was a different format, in a different timeslot (he is now doing afternoons), in a different century, and for a brief time, so I didn’t really get the pleasurable nostalgic wave sweeping over me that one might have expected. But, I am working out of the same studio and I remembered where the men’s room is, so it’s all good.”
This time around the format is quite different indeed. The talk-time afforded to the disc jockeys in this classic hits format is extremely limited. It’s a challenge Murphy has embraced.
“The challenge is making the strongest possible impact with the fewest amount of words. It actually takes me more time to prepare my show for this format than it did back in my free reign, all-over-the-place shows.”
When you’ve built a reputation like Murphy has over the years, one of the additional challenges is living up to the expectations of your listeners. How have they responded to this new Murphy show?
“While there are a few former listeners who miss the more talk/less music morning show format of the old days,” Murphy says, “almost all of my feedback is positive. Remember, my listeners lifestyles have changed over the years as has mine. The format on my show these days seems to work for them. Plus, it is working for me and is working for the station. I think I’m up for it, and am also truly impressed by the others on the air staff, who have certainly mastered the challenge.”
That list of fellow WLS jocks is impressive, indeed, and includes people like Greg Brown (who worked with Murphy at Q-101 many years ago), and legends like Dick Biondi and John Records Landecker.
“I don’t want to sound like a star-struck baby DJ,” Murphy says, “or cause Dick Biondi and John Landecker’s heads to swell, but who wouldn’t be impressed working with these legends of radio. Around 7pm each evening, the three of us are hanging around the studio, prepping our shows and maybe sharing a radio story or two. If we’re lucky, Biondi will treat us to a raunchy joke from his catalogue. They are both swell fellas. Also, Greg Brown, Danny Lake, and Brant Miller. That’s a lot of star-power for one radio station!”
The real star of the radio station, of course, is the music, and Murphy has more than a passing knowledge of the songs he plays.
“The music that we play at 94.7 WLS is without a doubt the music of my life, and of the listeners’ lives also,” he says. “And yes I have played the tunes before. The challenge here is commenting on the song or artist with something that is new and fresh. But (WLS Programming Guru) Jan Jeffries doesn’t impose any hard and fast rules about music talk versus non music talk. Each air talent is allowed to make his or her decision about the correct balance. I appreciate that. We’ve racked up some very respectable ratings in the last several months and it looks like we’re staying on course. I’m proud to be a part of that.”
When he’s asked how he came to be a part of that, he is ready with a quick retort. “Jan Jeffries enticed me to come aboard the same way every radio station in my career has done it,” he says with his patented deadpan delivery. “He called me and said he would give me money to talk on the radio. That works for me.”
So is this newly re-employed Robert Murphy a different guy than the one who ran around Chicago in a straight jacket? Is he still attending every social event, hanging out with the glitterati, and sampling the various different savory delights Chicago has to offer? Has he scaled back his man about town image?
“Uh Oh,” he says, “the ‘Man about town’ line of questioning. Are you going to ask about the limo too?” (He famously took a limo everywhere in the ’80s). “I moved to Chicago in search of a true urbane environment and I found exactly what I was searching for. I still utilize everything that Chicago has to offer, albeit with a bit more moderation. My girlfriend and I are still out on the town most nights and still loving it! Not only the enjoyment, but while out and about, I get great feedback from the listeners that I meet. With my new afternoon time slot, I wrap up my show at 8pm, leaving plenty of time for us to head out into the night. The next morning, I wake up when I damn well please. That may be the best part.”
You can hear Robert Murphy every weekday afternoon WLS-FM (94.7). You can also, apparently, meet him every night on the streets of Chicago.
— Rick Kaempfer