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Media • April 2024 • Me-TV FM’s Deep Cuts

| March 31, 2024

After a 20+ year stretch on the air in Chicago (WCKG, WLUP, and the Drive), most music fans know Phil Manicki as a disc jockey. But before he became known on the air, Phil had a vibrant background in programming, and that history is helping him in his new role as the program director of Me-TV FM (87.7).

“I was the assistant program director at WPGU in Champaign-Urbana going back to the early 80s,” he points out. “That experience was just incredible for learning how to do things at that level, at that age (his early 20s), and it really set the foundation. My first gig out of out of school was at WWCT in Peoria (one of the stations that is a finalist for next year’s Illinois Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction), which was a heritage radio station, so much history there. I climbed the ladder at that station, from night jock to music director to program director, and all the while the ratings went through the roof.”

After further programming stints in places like Youngstown, Ohio, Providence, Rhode Island, and Cape Cod, Phil came back to his hometown.

“I started at WCKG. And then I got hired at the Loop to do weekends. I had just started doing overnights on the Loop when they bought the Drive. Timing is everything. I was part of the first air staff at the Drive (afternoons at first, then nights). Being around that station while it built that loyal following was like getting my master’s degree. The situation at ME TV FM right now is remarkably similar. When the Drive was starting, the songs that we were playing hadn’t been played on the radio for a long time. It tapped into people’s passion for that music. And today, ME-TV FM’s listeners are also passionate. Once again, we are playing songs that haven’t been played on the radio in years! I feel like now I’m earning my PhD.”

In a time of corporate consolidation and cookie-cutter formats, the station’s incredibly large music library is like a breath of fresh air.

“I’m hearing that a lot. Really, from industry people to regular listeners. I’ll tell you this. Most radio stations that are heavily consulted and research out the yin yang play about, I don’t know, 200 songs, right? We play more than 10 times that amount. We play hits and deep tracks. Songs with horns and strings, Motown, singer/songwriters, disco, yacht rock, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. I mean, just the scope and the variety are incredible. Putting that all together and making it work is not as easy as it sounds. That’s where I’ve been really fortunate. Former program director Rick O’Dell did an excellent job. (Production guru) Bill Cochran is amazing. Those packages he puts together are really well-researched and fascinating. And the man who created all of this, Neal Sabin, is still here too. If he hears something he doesn’t like or feels like it doesn’t fit in, he lets me know about it. And that’s the way it should be. I mean, this is his baby. He created this radio station. Rick O’Dell was here for a long time, and I’m sure they were very, very comfortable with each other, and they knew each other very well. They trusted each other. It took a little time for me to get my sea legs.”

Working in that environment at Weigel Broadcasting, with all their TV properties, was also a change of pace for Phil.

“There are hundreds of people working here—literally hundreds. I know TV is the big dog; I get it. Rich Koz (Svengoolie) is a great guy. He is so humble and cool. His attitude and those people on the TV side contribute to the atmosphere of this place. I’m the radio guy, but we’re all in this together.”

Phil’s favorite part of doing this job?

“Every day is different. Every hour of every day of music is different. You know, I’m looking at Frank Sinatra into the Commodores right now. Petula Clark into Friends of Distinction. I mean, Andy Williams, Lou Rawls, The Grass Roots, Dionne, Warwick. And just the depth of all of this. Elvis. Kenny Loggins, John Denver. For many of these artists we are the only station playing them. When they come to town, we’re the obvious choice for giveaways and things like that. For instance, Donny Osmond is coming to town soon. His people know we have the audience he needs to reach.”

What does Phil most want you to know about the station?

“I think the biggest and most important thing about this place is the vibe of the radio station. It brings back those memories, whether you’re reliving prom, or your first date, or your first job; this music brings back those memories in such a strong way. Music can be so powerful. You may not have heard some of these songs since those days. There are some you’ve probably never heard, from artists you know well or artists you may not know well. Check out what we do. Give us a song or two. Even if you don’t like the first song. What about the next song? Oh, that song! I just know the word ‘Wow’ will come out of your mouth. We are in the business of ‘Wow’.”

-Rick Kaempfer


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