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Media: April 2011

| March 30, 2011

Jay’s Chicago

In an era of tight budgets and strict bottom lines, locally produced TV shows are a rarity. Good ones are even harder to find.

Lucky for us there’s WTTW-Channel 11’s “Jay’s Chicago,” which airs Friday nights at 7:30.

The half-hour magazine program features producer and host Jay Shefsky talking to a handful of Chicagoans about a hobby, project, cause, or skill that consumes them.

“I like inspiring stories,” says Shefsky, who recently marked 25 years as a producer at WTTW. “I like hearing about people who are doing really good work, whose lives are taking surprising turns, or who have unusual passions.”

Each show has a theme: “Speed Demons,” airing April 8th, features local banjo player Noam Pikelny of the Punch Brothers – who picks so fast his fingers are a blur – as well as drag racers at Great Lakes Dragaway, mountain biking in the city, and lakefront bike-path safety. The April 15th episode, “Not My Day Job,” includes segments on CSO French-horn player Dan Gingrich, who raises monarch butterflies, and puppet-bike inventor Jason Trusty – who invented the dancing-puppet theater to help out a friend who couldn’t find regular work. Other episodes include pieces canoeing in the Skokie lagoon, Chicago mambo dance legends Saladeen Alamin and Gloria Farr, and a behind-the- scenes look at the public radio show, “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me.”

Most of the segments were originally produced for “Chicago Tonight,” where Shefsky shifted about five years ago, after producing long-form documentaries for the “Chicago Matters” and “Chicago Stories” series. “Jay’s Chicago” was born when someone suggested they collect the segments into a show. “One of the things the stories had in common was that they were timeless stories about people and the city,” he says. “The show got a much better response and ratings than we expected.”

Watching the show for the first time, I was riveted, and felt a deep connection to the city. I was also impressed by the respect Shefsky showed for his subjects.

“I try to stay away from having a lot of people who have unusual passions,” he says. “Sometimes it’s easy and kind of fun to make them look kooky. As much as possible, I try to treat my subjects with respect and let them tell their stories.”

Ideas for stories come from many places – including fans who visit the show’s Web site, (where you can also view show segments).

“If somebody around the station says a story sounds like ‘a Jay story,’ it’s usually about someone with a quirky passion or skill – like the guy who rides his bike no-handed on the lakefront bike path – or unusual stories of human perseverance and overcoming tough situations.”

The new season is in the works and will air in the fall or January. Reruns of the first season’s 13 episodes air through May 27th.

MEDIA FAIL – WISCONSIN: It was hard to turn on the TV recently and not see images of protestors and civil unrest far away in the Middle East.

Much harder to find was images of protest and civil unrest happen right here in the America’s Midwest (unless you’re watching MSNBC).

(In case you missed it, Wisconsin’s governor and other tea-partiers invoked a budget crisis in order to eliminate state employees’ right to collective bargaining. So 125,000 marched on the Capitol and camped out there for weeks. In order to postpone a vote, a score of Democrats went into hiding out of state. Similar actions took place in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana.)

The Midwest unrest is far more relevant to an average American’s daily life, since it could mean the demise of the labor unions and, along with it, the death knell for the Democratic party (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Authors Guild).

So why would the media focus its attention on the Middle East, Colonel Gaddafi, and Charlie Sheen?

Perhaps it had something to do with the TelCom Act Of 1996 – which deregulated the media and made it possible for companies to own several outlets in the same market. Corporations gobbled up newspapers and TV and radio stations. Now, the media is controlled by a handful of megacorporations that determine what winds up on the news. Do you think it’s in those corporations’ best interest to have strong labor unions?

Or perhaps it had something to with the 1987 abolition of the Fairness Doctrine, which required controversial issues of public importance to be covered in an equitable, honest, and balanced way. Its demise paved the way for the partisan media, including Rush Limbaugh and Fox “News.”

Somehow, the political right has been able to use the media to convince a large chunk of mainstream Americans that access to health care and the opportunity to join unions that bargain with governments and corporations on their behalf and serve as their greatest lobbying advocate in Washington are somehow bad for them.

Instead, they’re far more interested in what Charlie Sheen and Colonel Gaddafi are going to do next.

ODDS ‘N’ SODS: At press time, Scott Davidson told us that his “Rebel Radio” was about to be picked up by south-suburban classic rocker “The Kat,” WYKT-FM (105.5). Davidson’s unique brand of hard rock and heavy metal was slated to be heard from 10 to 6, seven nights a week on the STARadio Corporation-owned station, starting March 21st. “Rebel Radio” also streams online 24/7 at . . . Jockless Jack-FM’s (WJMK-104.3) recent flip to K-Hits: Chicago’s Greatest Hits Of The ’60s, ’70s & ’80s is like a blast from the local past with former B96 personalities Eddie & Jobo, Gary Spears, and Bo Reynolds spinning everything from REO to Motown. It’d be a real coup if the CBS-owned station added WJMK Oldies legends Connie Szerszen and Dick Biondi to the mix. Or perhaps the kids wouldn’t be all right with that. More at

— Cara Jepsen

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Category: Columns, Media, Monthly

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