Brand-Name Madison

A while back, when I asked what you’d like to read about on here, our good brother HERC asked for some stories about The Lake, the classic-rock station I worked for from 2006 to 2008. I’ve told a few over the years. Here are some more.

—The picture with this post is me, younger and thinner and on remote with the station vehicle, a 1968 VW bus. Its extra-long, on-the-floor gearshift and tricky clutch meant I needed a driving lesson before I could take it out. It wouldn’t get much above 40 on the highway, but everybody who passed you honked and waved.

—I started in mid-June 2006, and I had done maybe two shows before I was asked to host a private wine-and-cigars party for four listeners aboard a sponsor’s boat. If they were disappointed that their host was not one of the brand-name Madison jocks they heard every day but the extremely new weekend guy, they never betrayed it.

—I used only my first name, just Jim, like Cher, or Madonna. No reason; as I recall, it was a spontaneous decision just before I did my first break on the air. When I went to work for another station in the building with another Jim on it, I had to take my last name back, although I still use just Jim on some breaks now and then.

—We did not regularly play new music, but when certain core artists of the classic-rock format released new records, we mixed them in: Aerosmith, Rush, and Bob Seger are three I can remember. For a while, we played one side of a classic album every night at 11:00, and one weekend we played a side at the top of every hour. They had been digitized for use with the station’s automation, but were sourced from vinyl with clicks, pops, and noise intact, some straight from the jocks’ personal collections. I have never told my wife this, but I took in her copy of Billy Joel’s The Stranger only to have it locked into somebody’s office and then packed off to storage or some damn place, and I haven’t seen it since.

—For a while, the station did a noontime feature called Lunch With Little. Jonathan Little was Madison’s most recognizable radio voice from the 60s to the 90s, a Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Famer, somebody who saw and did everything a radio guy could see and do, and he told stories about it on the show. The first time I was on before him, I ended my last break by saying, “As a kid who grew up listening to Madison radio, I have been waiting all my life to say this: Jonathan Little is next.”

—In 2007, the station hosted a stage at Taste of Madison, the annual Labor Day weekend food festival held on the Capitol Square. At one point, several of the Lake jocks, weekday people and weekenders, were on stage at the same time, firing up the crowd. To be a part of that group was a thrill.

Backstage that day, I talked with Larry Hoppen from Orleans, Robbie Dupree, and others. Joe Lynn Turner from Rainbow told a group of us about being on tour with Ted Nugent, and how one night he spiked the notorious teetotaler’s drink, causing the Motor City Madman to create a scandalous scene in a hotel swimming pool.

—As I understood it, the Lake’s goal was not to win a particular demographic, but to shave enough share points off a crosstown classic-rock competitor to allow another rock station in our building to win the demographic. The Lake had to do this without shaving share points from other stations in our building at the same time. It could not have been an easy needle to thread, but it lasted five years before the company decided to pull the plug, which is about four years longer than a lot of companies might have given it. (By the time that happened—2008—I was working for another station in the building, and two years after that, I started on a second one.)

In January 2019 I wrote, “Just as every radio jock has stories about working at the badly run station in the nowhere town, we all have stories about the most fun we ever had, the best place we ever worked. The Lake is mine.”

We take requests here. If there’s something you’d like me to do—answer a question, write about a song or artist, rank the cuts on an album, dig into a date for the One Day in Your Life treatment, or something else entirely—let me know. 

8 thoughts on “Brand-Name Madison

  1. HERC

    Thanks, jb. This was everything I hoped for and more.

    I don’t recall reading the answer before but of all the titles (jock, PD, MD, etc) you’ve held up and down the dial in a lifetime on the air, what has been your favorite, your most rewarding position and why?

    Other radio vets reading this (and I know you are legion) please feel free to provide your own truth.

    1. Being on the air is the most fun, but one year, 1983, I was music director at KDTH in Dubuque, which was mainly a country station, although it mixed in a few adult-contemporary hits during the daytime. That was my favorite off-the-air job. I didn’t have access to music research or local sales numbers, so I wasn’t making or breaking hits. I’d eventually add most everything that made it into Radio and Records or the Gavin Report, so a big part of the job was clerical. But it was fun, and I got to help shape the sound of the station.

  2. Gene Baxter

    Forgive me if you’ve already covered it but what’s the greatest Top Ten Billboard chart of them all? Gotta be one of those Stones, CCR, Supremes, Aretha, etc. Lists from the sixties, right? And also the worst. Early 90s, I bet.

  3. Yah Shure

    I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog, Jim. But if this post should prove to be its final entry, I’m sure any jury would find that the Mrs. was perfectly justified in packing its author off to storage or some damn place.

  4. mackdaddyg

    Perhaps another post with the specifics involving the aforementioned jackass Ted Nugent and the hotel swimming pool might be in order……?

  5. Tim Morrissey

    The Lake. Ahhh, The Lake. Honored to have been a tiny part of it, doing newscasts in the morning. To me, the ultimate failure of The Lake was predetermined from the day of its birth as a “defensive” station. The philosophy, as you explained so concisely (and correctly) was always to me like “make a cake, but don’t use any eggs, and see if you can borrow the flour and butter from the neighbors, but don’t take too much.”

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