Patti Haze remains one of the iconic radio voices from the rock and roll era in Chicago. Her sexy alto voice and friendly demeanor graced the airwaves of every major rock station in Chicago (save WXRT). She was on WLUP (twice), WMET, WCKG, and CD 94.7.
Despite her incredible pedigree—as arguably the Queen of Chicago Rock and Roll radio—Patti had no intention of pursuing a radio career. Her start was similar to the famous Lana Turner story. She was discovered while working in the office at WLAV in Grand Rapids. One day the station did a stunt, and allowed her to fill in for one of the stars of the station (Ed Buchanan).
“At the end of the shift, the program director came in the studio and said, ‘You realize you’re a natural at this, don’t you?” she recalls now. “Before I knew it I was doing a regular shift.”
She immersed herself in the work, and dedicated herself to learning the new craft. They taught her about the music, and she took it from there. Her work ethic was never a question. “My dad was a General,” she says with a laugh. “I lived with the Great Santini!”
In 1977, her radio travels led her to Chicago’s Loop (WLUP). “I came to town to do an on-air audition and was absolutely sure that I blew it,” she says now. “I thought I was terrible. But they called me and offered me the job.”
She has fond memories of those days, but it becomes clear when you talk to Patti, that she is a people person. Her favorite memories involve the people she worked with at each of her radio stops, and the listeners she met and spoke to over the years.
“That’s true,” she admitted. “I really enjoyed the camaraderie. It was a different era, though. In the pre-corporate era, radio was a lot different than it is today.”
To illustrate her point, she relates a story from when she was on WMET (95.5). The Loop and WMET (The Mighty Met) slugged it out in the ratings for several years—and it was a real battle.
“When the Loop was running a contest, we got the answers and gave the answers out to anyone who called,” she says with a laugh. “Again, that was such a fun group of people to work with—Dave Benson, Bob Stroud. I know I’m starting to sound like one of those people who say everything was great—but it really was. That was such a great time.”
When Patti returned to the Loop in the 1980s, she was part of one of the most legendary lineups in radio history. The Loop AM and FM were in the same hallway, and at any given time some of the greatest radio personalities in history bantered on the air and off.
“It is hard to believe how much talent we had there,” she recalls. “Johnny (Brandmeier), Steve (Dahl) & Garry (Meier), Kevin (Matthews), Bobby Skafish. The unsung hero there was (production director) Matt Bisbee. He wasn’t one of the big names, but he was every bit as important as the rest of those guys.”
Of course, the Loop was also a bit of a boys club in those days. The testosterone bounced off the walls. When the boys got a little out of hand, it was often Patti who came in and told them to knock it off.
“There was a bit of that,” she admits with a laugh.
But during those heady times, Patti never got jaded, or lost her love of the medium.
“I used to walk down the street and see the stress on people’s faces, and I would think, ‘I am such a lucky person’. It was such a privilege to do what I do every single day. I mean, I absolutely loved every second of being on the air.”
In addition to working with some of the radio greats, she got to interview some of the rock and roll greats. Most of them went incredibly well, but there was one exception.
“I remember one interview I did with the Police. It was obvious they didn’t want to be there. One of them was reading the paper, another was pulling his shirt over his head, and I shut off the microphones and yelled at them. They were much better after that.”
Patti remained in Chicago radio until the turn of the century, with a very successful stint at WCKG, and again at WXCD (94.7), but that last stop in Chicago radio was a little on the unfulfilling side. On November 29, 2000, she was on hand for one of the strangest format changes in radio history.
“I went into a commercial break,” she explains, “and the station changed formats during that commercial break. It was classic rock before the break and alternative rock after (The Zone). That was the last thing I did on Chicago radio.”
She later had a stint working in Jacksonville, Florida, but Patti has been off the air and living in her home state of Michigan for the past few years, raising her daughter (now a student-athlete at Michigan State University).
When she was asked if she would ever consider a return to the radio dial in Chicago, Patti didn’t hesitate for a moment. “In a heartbeat,” she said. “I’d love to get a chance to finish that break.”
– Rick Kaempfer