In early 2015, after nearly a decade at WGN Radio, Leslie Keiling was let go. Her departure coincided with the arrival of Roe Conn into the afternoon slot. Though management said very nice things about her (“It is hard not to be in awe of how she deftly bounced traffic, laughter, and debate among our town’s most gifted and challenging personalities”), it left her career at a crossroad.
Leslie had been a big player on the radio dial in Chicago for parts of four decades. In her role as traffic reporter, she had been a part of the Steve & Garry show [as Lane Closure] on WLS and the Loop, the Brandmeier Show on WCKG, and the John Landecker Show on WJMK (and many other shows as well). But with the radio landscape changing, she didn’t know what to do next.
Then she got a call from an old friend – Garry Meier. Meier was doing his due diligence learning about the podcasting world, and wanted to know if she would be a part of his new venture. She jumped at the chance. “From the minute he came to WGN, Garry and I have clicked. He’s been so nice to me. It was a no-brainer.”
Meier’s podcast debuted earlier this year, and Leslie is his on-air newsperson.“I guess I am considered a newsperson, technically. I try to find the stories that are most appealing to people. Garry has an opinion on just about everything, but we’re not going to get bogged down on political talk. He enjoys the quirky stories.”
For fans of Meier’s days at WGN.fm, they will find a lot to like in this podcast. “It is comparable to what he was doing on WGN fm online. He still does the intro, and we still have the sound from War of the Worlds and everything, and we do the show in real time. We don’t really talk about anything beforehand. Sometimes I’ll send him a rundown of the stories I’ll be doing, but he doesn’t want to know too much, because he wants it to be fresh and spontaneous, and off-the cuff.” Garry Meier fans will also be able to spot a few differences from his previous shows.
“At WGN.fm, he was doing four hours, and it was grueling. The one hour package of this podcast allows him to follow a thread if he wants to, or pick a story that appeals to him, and do it in a much more compact and coherent way. And it’s much more freeing than the WGN-AM days. He doesn’t have to hit a time clock. He does these longer interviews now without worrying about breaking the mojo. When you’re on a roll, you don’t have to stay, ‘can you hold on – we have to stop for a moment.’ Garry hasn’t forgotten the people who made things fun during his wgn.fm days. He’s done interviews with Joe the Uber Cubs fan, with Jo the lady who called right before her bath every night, and he’s incorporating some of them, while also taking it in a brand new direction. He’s also getting some advice from really smart people like Howard Stern and Adam Carolla. They are two of the guys who made alternative media what it is and what it could be.”
A podcast sounds very similar to a traditional broadcast, but it’s a different animal to the people who are doing the actual broadcasting. In the first place, Meier and Keiling don’t even see each other. Leslie usually does her part from her home. “I have a broadcast nook with sound buffering tiles and the whole shebang. But thanks to this new technology we can do this show from anywhere. I did a couple of shows when I was out in California.”
It was probably an easier transition for Keiling than it would be for most broadcasters. For years she worked at Shadow Traffic, in a location away from the actual show. Doing a show without seeing your show co-hosts became second nature. “There is value in being able to get physical cues, but a lot of it has to do with the mechanics of the show like ‘we need to take a break’ or ‘we have someone on the line’, but that’s not part of this thing. We’re not going to a break. We don’t have someone on the line.”
The podcast is recorded five days a week. Some of that is currently being offered free of charge. “Monday, Wednesday, Friday are free, and Tuesday and Thursdays are Garrforce Premium – lots of great additional content for only $8.99 a month.” It remains to be seen if this new model can work financially, but it is part of the new media reality. The media business in general must find a way to make money in a new way. Keiling is very cognizant of this new reality because she lives it in her day to day life. “My husband and I are doing most of our TV watching on Netflix or some other streaming thing. We usually spend our nights with our computers in our laps, programming what we want to watch ourselves. We have Apple TV, so we usually just put videos up on the big screen. The idea of sitting through commercials in this day and age is insanity.”
The free and premium content of the Garry Meier podcast (featuring Leslie Keiling) can be found at garrymeier.com.
– Rick Kaempfer