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Jonathon Brandmeier off to wobbly start on WGN radio

JonathBrandmeier kicks off his first day work WGN Radio. | John H. White ~ Chicago Sun-Times.

Jonathon Brandmeier kicks off his first day of work at WGN Radio. | John H. White ~ Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: January 11, 2012 8:07AM



Only a week after the announcement of his hiring at WGN-AM (720), where he replaced former morning man Greg Jarrett, Jonathan Brandmeier is back on Chicago airwaves.

It’s his first local radio gig since he left WLUP-FM in 2009, and various other stints at WCKG-FM (105.9) and in Los Angeles.

‘This is the kind of show radio geeks love,” Brandmeier said in the first minutes of his first day on the job Friday morning, after dumping water on the control board. “This is a train wreck, this is fantastic.”

Yep, that pretty much summed up the radio legend’s inaugural broadcast on the self-proclaimed “Voice of Chicago” — minus the fantastic. Unless it’s dripping with irony, as Brandmeier’s was.

Understandably pumped for his recently announced and much-hyped advent to the venerable 50,000-watt station, a wired Brandmeier acknowledged, “the hoopla around this is embarrassing, this is ridiculous … To us, this is a Friday, December 9.”

A day that will go down in infamy. Or at least semi-infamy. Then again, once Johnny B. gets rolling and settles into his new digs, listeners may well forget his exceedingly bumpy maiden voyage.

Early on the host seemed genuinely puzzled about where most of his studio cohorts were located, be it off-site or down the hall or several floors up. It was, however, a decent way to introduce his cast of supporting characters a la Jack Benny — and rib them when he felt the urge.

From a technical standpoint, Brandmeier made no secret of the fact that this was “a test show” and therefore they were going to “drive all over.” His on-air debut in his hometown of Fond du Lac, Wis., he noted, was “better than this.”

And he was right. After playing an ancient clip from that very day, Brandmeier noted, “See, that’s tight there. That guy is smooth!”

This guy — not so much. Not yet, anyway. He unwittingly blew past several official break times, asked “How do I get her on the air?” when a caller phoned in, wondered “Now what happens?” prior to an entrance by news anchor Steve Bertrand, stepped on segues and comically bellowed for assistance from his audio guru Hector Soriano (who formerly worked with Brandmeier at the Loop).

With the notable absence of flatulence humor and boundary-pushing sex quips, the show’s commercial-weather-and-news-riddled three-and-a-half hours were significantly more morning zoo-like than WGN listeners are used to — and a vast departure from Jarrett’s more sedate (critics said snoozy) and straight-laced style.

Aside from the hostfrenetically bouncing between topics, comedy bits included a dialogue with the late Harry Caray, a parody song set to the tune of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (“Working for that station on the Mag Mile beats cutting off your left arm with a knife”) and some funny back-and-forth with a mooning spectator outside the station’s showcase windows on Michigan Avenue. One of the best portions featured Illinois governor Pat Quinn, who gamely read live spots for Donald Trump’s Chicago hotel. When Brandmeier asked him what sort of beverage he’d enjoy at a bar, Quinn’s choice was Bailey’s Irish Cream. “That’s a girl’s drink, governor,” Brandmeier replied. “Has anyone ever seen a man drink Bailey’s at a bar?”

When the best guest, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, chimed in via phone during a film preview segment with the voice of Mr. Moviefone, Russ Leatherman, Emanuel and Brandmeier and the soon-dropped Leatherman (the mayor had half-jokingly groused about his interruptions) expressed mutual admiration for the works of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, both of whom the mayor knows. Emanuel even invited Brandmeier to a pajama party, at which they’d watch “Goodfellas” and “The Departed” “in round robin”-style starting at 8 a.m., with breaks to eat Cheerios.

Dishing some inside poop, Brandmeier recalled how his current deal came together about four weeks ago in the corner of a Lou Malnati’s pizza joint. When Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting’s president of programming and entertainment, asked Brandmeier when he wanted to hit the airwaves, Brandmeier suggested January 3 of next year. Compton’s alleged response: “Are you out of your f----g mind?”

As his disjointed and gaffe-filled but still somewhat amusing circus came to a close, Brandmeier offered thanks all around and told his audience, “Good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

It was morning; “tomorrow” was Saturday.

Give him time, though. He’ll get it right.



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