Concord Music Hall
Jeremy Wagner
Lovers Lane

Media: November 2018

| October 31, 2018 | 0 Comments

(L-R: John “Swany” Swanson, Melissa McGurren, Eric Ferguson, Brian “Whip” Paruch, Cynthia Skolak Denicolo)

When Eric Ferguson started working at WTMX (The Mix), the studios had just moved from Skokie to downtown, and they were considered state of the art for their time. That time, unfortunately, was the 90s. Now, he is working in state of the art facilities again–brand new studios that are still under semi-construction. “Like anything new you’ve got to get used to it,” Eric explains. “I knew where all the bodies were buried before, and now it’s sort of like re-learning the wheel a little bit. But surprisingly it only took a few weeks to get back in the rhythm. It’s visually nice, that’s for sure. It’s great to be working in a facility that is so modern and attractive.”

He and his cast-mates have certainly earned the new digs. “We’ve been doing it for 23 years now,” he says. “Just started our 23rd year and I feel like the first two or three years were break in years, and in year 3 or 4 or we hit, and we’ve been fortunate enough to continue to deliver the numbers the company expects of us. I think we’ve been #1, or close to it, for seventeen or eighteen years now. I try not to dwell on that too much because it feels like that you’re just waiting for the end of it. I try to look forward and not back.”

The elephant in the room, naturally, is the one significant cast change that happened last year. Eric’s long-time on-air partner Kathy Hart left the show. The ratings were unaffected by the move, but I asked if the dynamic inside the studio had changed significantly. “Not really a big shift,” he admits. “I feel like we’re doing the show the way we’ve always done it, with the people who are here. There has been a renewed sense of energy. Every time there is change and the dynamic shifts, people get up on their toes a little bit, and ready to go. It creates a new [and] exciting energy and allows us to explore new things. In the long run, while that was a difficult and surprising transition, it’s worked out for us.”

It has led to more substantial roles for Melissa McGurren and Brian “Whip” Paruch, but Eric doesn’t want to quantify exactly how he sees their roles today. “Their roles have constantly evolved, and I don’t like to categorize us into specific roles, because I want everyone to be their natural reactive selves. They are real people, and I want them to be themselves. That’s what the audience likes most about us, in general. We’re authentic. We’re not actors. We’re not trying to be something we’re not. We just say, ‘Here we are, warts and all.’”

Of course, the stars of Eric’s show have always been the listeners anyway. All the pre-show planning goes into figuring out ways to incorporate the audience. “I’m always amazed what works and what doesn’t,” Eric admits. “We do share stories about ourselves, but it always has to spin back to the listeners, and to their contributions. There will be times when I’m prepping the show that I think ‘Oh man, this will be a home run,’ and it gets nothing. And then sometimes a thing I prepare as a transitional device explodes and I can’t stop it. I love when that happens–that’s pretty cool. I really do trust my instincts most of the time, but there are occasional surprises.”

One of the biggest surprises over the past few years, in addition to Kathy’s departure, was the health problems Eric endured. Those are now in the rearview mirror as well. “My health is good right now. I’ve been able to take care of the issues that arose because of my schedule and the lifestyle that was required, and finally, my body said ‘enough.’ So I’ve readjusted my life–I go to bed a lot earlier than I used to. You can never underestimate the amount of sleep you need to remain sharp. And as I get a little bit older, I need a little bit more. From a health perspective, I’m feeling much better.”

Has he ever given a thought about how long he can keep doing this? “I do have those thoughts. There was a time in my career when I was thinking about the end, and trying to figure out how to end it with a nice clean bow, but those thoughts are not as prevalent anymore because I work in a perfect environment, I really do. I work at a radio station that lets me do what I do unencumbered, and gives me that creative flexibility. I have an ownership that is clearly behind me, and I can feel it, in the way they treat me–and the way they behave towards me–and that’s a truly rare occurrence in this industry. It’s a tremendous feeling. And those moments when that alarm goes off, and I sigh, I remember all that I’ve got going for me here. I’m not exactly breaking bricks for a living. I enjoy myself, and I’m making good money doing it. Why would I choose to stop that right now? There will be a day. I’m closer to that day than I am to the beginning, but I’m not there yet. My only goal is to leave while we’re still doing good work. The audience still seems to like what we’re doing, and as long as they are with us, we’ll continue to do it.”

-Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Media, Monthly

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