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Media: October 2015

| October 1, 2015
Morning show golfThe Drive's morning squad: Miller, Voltmer, McMurray, McNeil

Sometimes you don’t even have to change jobs to undergo a fairly dramatic change in your work environment. Just ask WDRV morning news anchor Kathy Voltmer. Just a few months ago, she shared the morning airwaves on the Drive with long-time morning man Steve Downes.

“Steve and I had a unique relationship,” she says. “We were in a small room together with no-one else around every morning for 14 years, and we really did become best friends. We went through a lot together. We were lucky enough to help build one of the most novel radio stations from the ground up. We were lucky that the listeners embraced us as they did.”

Downes and Voltmer experienced incredible stability in a business not known for it. “I had a bit of a tumultuous time early in my career,” Kathy admits of her seven previous radio stops in Chicago, “Which made me appreciate it even more.”

That all changed a few months ago, when Downes surprised his listeners with a retirement announcement. Kathy knew that day was coming, and supported her friend, but she also confesses to having mixed emotions. “I was so happy that he was able to leave as he did – on his own terms.

He got a wonderful send off from the station and I was proud of him and the station about the way it ended. Personally I was happy for him, but I was also a little sad. I trusted (Hubbard Broadcasting Programming Honcho) Greg (Solk) to steer the station because he had done such a great job with the Drive. I think that Greg realized that there were a million places for listeners to get our music now, and that the audience might be ready for something a little different, and he delivered on that. He turned to Pete McMurray and (former WSCR host) Dan McNeil, an admittedly unlikely pairing. I trusted Greg, but I have to admit I was a little concerned. I think most people would have naturally felt that way. Change is a hard thing to accept after such a long time.”
And this pairing with Dan and Pete was essentially like starting from scratch. “I didn’t know either of them very well, but I have to say this has been a great experience for me – I love doing this show. It’s so fun! Each of us brings complimentary skills to the table.”

It helped that this was not a complete culture shock for her. She had those personality-show radio muscles already. She just hadn’t flexed them in a while.”I have done similar shows before at the AM Loop with Kevin Matthews and Eddie Schwartz, and at WXRT with Lin Brehmer, and at WMAQ with that hybrid-talk format we were doing there, so I felt comfortable in this role, but you never know until it happens.”

There have been a few surprises along the way, but according to Voltmer, all of them were positive. “What surprised me most about Dan McNeil was his love of music. I heard him talking about it on the radio before, but he really lives and breathes music. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of it.

Obviously that is still important to the Drive audience, so it represents a great transition. I also knew a lot about Pete McMurray, but I had no idea what a hard worker he was. Pete’s work ethic is non-stop. He thinks about the show every second of the day from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep. Scott Miller is also an incredibly talented producer – really creative and able to anticipate what the hosts need. I’m also pleasantly surprised at the chemistry we have. I thought that would take a long time to develop, and it’s happened very quickly.”

One of the more intriguing parts of the McNeil/McMurray pairing was the fact that both had previously hosted high profile shows. Industry watchers wondered if either of them could take a back seat or complimentary role. Voltmer says that hasn’t been a problem. “There is no clashing of the egos in the studio at all. When someone wants to take command, the other lets him go. The next time it will be reversed. And they’ve always been very generous with me.”

But tripling the amount of testosterone in the room must have changed things quite a bit. Does she feel a need to go off by herself and light up some potpourri after the show?” (Laughs) I do have my own office now so I can get away from all the testosterone. Greg Solk told me right after he hired them that he wanted me to have my own space. They are in my old office, and I have a new one now. But that being said, it’s not like I’m in a locker room during the show. All of them, believe it or not, are actually liberated and progressive guys and they treat me with respect.”

Which is a good thing, because getting up at such an ungodly time every morning would really grind if you didn’t enjoy the environment. “Like anyone else who does mornings, when the alarm goes off at 3:09, I have been known to occasionally grumble a bit. But I walk into work every day with a smile on my face because I still love it. I can’t imagine having a better time. ”

And this whole experience has retaught her something else very important. “I’ve rediscovered that change is good and you shouldn’t fear it. You should embrace it. That’s what I’ve done here with these guys and it’s been wonderful so far.”

-Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Media, Monthly

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