Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Media: August 2019

| July 31, 2019

Twenty years ago this summer Phil Manicki started working for the radio company Bonneville International. At the time they also owned The Loop (WLUP), and just a few years later would create a brand new radio station called The Drive (WDRV). Manicki became part of the on-air lineup on that very first day and has been there ever since, even surviving a change of owners (Hubbard Broadcasting now owns The Drive). Eighteen years and counting at one station. In radio, that’s several lifetimes. How has he managed to stay in that job in this volatile radio world?

“I keep the [photo] negatives that I have of the bosses in a very safe place,” he jokes.

In real life, Manicki is a humble Southwest side (Kennedy High School) boy-next-door. He looks like a guy you’d meet at the Home Depot and chit chat with about the latest White Sox game. You would never guess that Manicki is a rock & and roll disc jockey at night. And you’d never guess that he genuinely had a passion for the music. But all of those things are true, and that authenticity is what has helped Phil form a bond with his audience.

“That may sound corny,” Manicki says, “but it’s true. The connection to the audience is real. The love for this music runs deep, but it’s evolved into more than just the music. We’re doing appearances–we’re out and about. We’re seeing people and making face-to-face connections.”

I wondered how people react when they meet him.

“People know what you look like when you’re on TV, but they don’t really know what we look like [when you’re on the radio]. Still, when they meet us, it’s like they’ve known us forever. The radio is not just in your house. It’s in your car; it’s on your phone; it’s in your pocket–the world has changed so much over the past twenty years. We’re so mobile. It’s so personal now.”

In these last twenty years, Manicki has seen everything at The Drive.

“I really enjoyed the birthday parties we did–the free concerts,” he says. “Joe Cocker, the Moody Blues, Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dennis DeYoung, Heart, Crosby, Stills & Nash. That was amazing to see all of these guys and even meet a few of them.”

And he still has moments on the air that bring him joy.

“We do a feature called ‘The Long One” at 9, which is a long song – over 6:30 minutes long – every night. We all have one feature [segment] that we control, and that’s mine. It makes it more fun and allows you to show a little personality and share with the audience things that really mean something to you.”

One thing that truly means something to Manicki is rock & roll. I see a bit of that passion when I ask him if rock & roll is dead or dying.

“Rock & roll is very much alive and well,” he says emphatically. “One band, in particular, shows me that–Greta Van Fleet. I’ve seen them live three times. They are the future of rock and roll. It’s like it was when we were growing up…‘When is the next album coming out?’ ‘What are they going to do next?’ These guys are kids, 21-22 years old. And I’m not that age (ahem). But I love them.”

What has he learned over his two decades on the job?

“I’ve learned that you have to be consistent. When you’re surrounded by some of the best jocks in the business, you have to step up your game. You borrow something from Bob Stroud or (Steve) Seaver. And then you put in the pot, stir it up, and make it your own. Playing classic rock is a challenge because there aren’t any new songs. But that’s part of the job. You’re an entertainer. When you do a tease, you come up with new things about that same song you’ve played before. You have to keep it fresh. If you’re having a bad day, you can’t have a bad day on the radio. That just comes with practice, with doing it every day. When the shit hits the fan in your personal life, you have to leave it outside the studio door when you walk in.”

Another challenge he faces is his timeslot. Manicki is on the air at night (7 PM-midnight), which means keeping a regular family-man schedule a little more complicated.

“That’s true,” he admits, “although I’m not complaining. But when I come home, I’m still on a high, and I can’t go right to bed, so I have to sleep in shifts. During the school year, I bring my kids to school in the morning, so I have to wake up with them. The negative part of it is that I can’t really bring them to practice or games on the weeknights, but I do have the weekends, and I do get to spend plenty of time with my family.”

Manicki also considers the audience part of his family, something he points out to me when I ask him if he wants to say anything directly to them.

“Thank you for sticking with us,” he says. “The music is what draws us all together, and that’s not going to change. Thanks for your love and passion for the music. That’s real. We’ve been around for a while, and we’ve gotten to know each other, and that tie will always bind us.”

– Rick Kaempfer


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