In the third largest market where there’s nearly 80 Chicagoland radio stations, the competition can be brutal. Radio can make on-air personalities into overnight celebrities by positioning them into the right daypart slot. But we’ve witnessed major falls—some venturing to secondary markets picking up whatever shifts that gives them a temporary fix.
Mike Love has seen it all and has survived the turmoil of being on various levels.
A Milwaukee native, the Chicago implant rose up in the 1990s as one half of the popular on-air duo “Bad Boy Radio” on WGCI-FM by creating the signature “Birthday Line,” where callers competed to showcase their skills on their born day before Facebook and Twitter were even a thought. Their reign as the highest rated prime time slot ended in 2007, and Love continued to embrace what he loved the most—DJing.
For the past three years, he has graced the airwaves of WSRB 106.3-FM from 2-6 p.m. as part of the introductory on-air line up, helping the station transition from a predominately brokered radio station to the familiar voice many had missed.
With the departure of the longest running Urban syndicated morning show, The Tom Joyner Show—the station shocked listeners with its decision to drop the program from its line-up. In a strategic move to gain more local listeners and throw its hat in the morning show ratings game, WSRB made the announcement of replacing Joyner’s show with “The Morning Mixtape” featuring Mike Love. Soon after, popular karaoke personality and frequent guest host Lady Red was added as a permanent co-host of the show.
“The idea was passed to me by Jay Alan, the Program Director. He told us we were to do a mix at the top of every hour. Initially, I thought that it’s different—it’s something I never heard of for the mornings. We rolled with it because they came to me with an opportunity to do mornings. We knew there would be mixes at the top of the hour. I came in with a list of names and hashtags and things that I wanted to tie in the show. The Morning Mixtape is one of the names within a bunch of things that I jotted down,” said Love.
Since debuting June 5, Monday through Friday, the morning show offers a diverse combination of hot topics, listener feedback and a variety of mixes that cater to an audience that loves Lalah Hathaway with a dose of Nas.
Growing up in the South Suburb of Markham, Red attended Thornwood High School. She went on to study accounting, a field she’s earned a living in for the last few years. Having a career in broadcast was not in the cards.
“Mike Love is the one that brought me into radio broadcasting. I wanted to learn how to DJ. That’s how I got into karaoke. At Club Mix, I shadowed the DJ when they hosted a karaoke night,” she said. Working as a bartender, she often began the show by singing the first song and eventually DJing.
“I would play some music and back and forth and eventually it turned into ‘Crunk Karaoke.’ Mike Love came to one of the shows and asked me if I wanted to be on radio.”
Immediately stepping to the plate, in 2007 she joined him on chiradio.com.
“He gave me some pointers on how to talk and he basically ran the show. I was comfortable. I was on the big station for a week and fell in love with radio. ”
Love got his first dose of DJing by attending skate rink parties as an escape for most Black youth during the era of .45’s, tape decks and converse sneakers.
“In our generation, skating rinks was our first opportunity to hear DJs. You heard the DJs mixing and blending records like New York did in the parks. While in other markets, it was always the radio stations coming out to the parks,” he said. “When I was in junior high school, I knew this was something I wanted to do to get into radio. It was always a dream. After I graduated from high school, I got a job with WNOV-860 AM. That was my first job doing the daily mix Monday through Friday in 1985. From there in 1988, I had a job doing weekend mixes on Milwaukee’s Hot 102.”
There Love was given his first professional radio job by then Program Director Steve Hegwood. He said during his time there, Hegwood asked him if he wanted to be a “DJ for the rest of his life” or did he want to do more in this career?
“So, I did the traffic—all the things Lady Red does now. It was just getting in where you fit in.”
While he built his chops on the air as a radio personality, he also sharpened his skills as a DJ, spinning at local clubs and studying fellow DJ Reggie Brown.
“Reggie Brown was also known as Dave Michaels on WGCI-FM, who was from Milwaukee. When I saw him get on the air, I knew it was possible for me. I would never forget he would get on the mic after me in the club. Reggie would grab the mic and his voice would boom throughout the entire spot and I wondered how did he do that?” says Love. “It’s really something I had to learn, which comes with years of practice and putting a mic in your face.”
Both Love and Lady Red are very comfortable together bouncing off of each other’s personality. Love is laid back with a clever sense of humor and perfect timing while Red comes with the “around the way” girl but playful sassiness. But, still finding her pace, Red admits the morning show role and now as the new host of The Basement show brings nervous anticipation.
She smiles. “I’m a big energy person because I’m always positive and up there. I surround myself with people with positive energy. I go to church every Sunday and before I come in the studio, I pray about making this show great. I pray for everybody including Mike.” Looking over to him, she nudges him. “I’ve been inviting him to church for several years. He’s going to go one day.”
Love shakes his head at his co-host and flashes his famous smile. It’s the same demeanor he shares with his students where he teaches Radio Broadcast classes at the Illinois Media School part-time. He remembers one of the important lessons he learned watching former colleague and broadcast legend.
“One thing I learned from Doug Banks, he was so big as ‘Doug Banks’ yet he would let the people around him shine. If you were coming in no matter who you were, he didn’t have that ego. He understood the more the people around him shined—the better the show got.”