Robert Murphy's lengthy
tenure at NBC's (now Emmis) Q101 in Chicago almost didn't get off
the ground. After finally settling contract issues in Charlotte, Murphy
agreed to begin broadcasting on Q101 in January of 1983. But before he
could get to Chicago, representatives from Chicago's fabled WLS (ABC)
made a stealth visit to Charlotte, attempting to sway his allegiance
before he actually signed his contract. But as is now well known, Murphy
decided to stick to his promise and after signing, settled down in the
Q101 studios, where he remained for over a decade.
Facing fierce competition such as WLS' Larry Lujack, Q101 embarked on an extensive promotional campaign that began humbly with a ten second television commercial which claimed that "Robert Murphy is perfectly suited for mornings at Q101" and showed the maniacal looking Murphy in a strait jacket. An avalanche of strait jacket promotions ensued, and in the early eighties, it was almost impossible to escape Murphy's visage. It stared down from (it seemed as though) every billboard, and almost certainly from every bus in Chicago. It glared from the television (as more strait jacket spots were produced), it jumped from the pages of magazines and newspapers.
Meanwhile, on the air,
Murphy was busy tailoring his show to suit the Chicago audience.
Although a few bits traveled with him from Charlotte, he began
replacing it with new material (The Young & The Impotent) almost as
soon as he arrived. Utilizing
both his, and the talents of his staff (Early roll-call included Beth
Kaye as cohost, Chicago voice-over talent Pete Stacker as announcer and
character voices, Dave McBride in the newsroom, Pat Benkowski on sports,
and producers Joy Masada, Carol McWilliams, and Mick Kayler), Murphy was
on his way to bringing Chicagoans a style of radio morning show that
they had never heard before.
And then there were the Switch Parties - so named after the stations promotional slogan, "I switched to Q101"- without a doubt the biggest parties on the Chicago area social scene at the time. Each week, the Q101 airstaff would hit a different club, armed with 101 minutes of free beer, while the Murphy gang would perform and give out prizes. They were more than well attended. One party in Rosemont was rumored to have drawn well over 5000 revelers.
The end result of all of this effort was success. Murphy moved the Q101 morning ratings from 17th to 4th place, and in key demographics, bested Chicago stalwarts such as Wally Phillips and Larry Lujack to ascend to first place. The Chicago Tribune couldn't help but note, "WKQX (Q101) will make every possible effort to resign Robert Murphy when his contract expires... He is by far the fastest rising star on the local radio scene." By the way, they did.
Murphy in the Morning had become a household name in Chicago. He cultivated a reputation as a man about town, and lived up to it, being seen seemingly everywhere. He wracked up more than a few major broadcasting awards, appeared in national magazines and on national TV. He hosted his own local TV show. He made countless appearances for charitable organizations.
Changes were made over the years. New partners in the on air line up included Susan Anderson, Eleanor Mondale, and the very popular stuntman, Danger Dan Walker. The show featured fewer scripted bits and more audience interactive bits, such as Guess The Whoopie and Most Embarrassing Moments. Murphy also used his virtually photographic memory to guess the punch lines of listeners' jokes on Stump The Murf. Major showbiz luminaries dropped by or called into the Murphy in the Morning show on a regular basis - John Mellencamp, Cher, Robert DeNiro, Vanna White, Michael Jordan, Linda Ronstadt, Rodney Dangerfield, Glenn Frye, Brooke Shields, and Cindy Crawford, to name just a few.
In 1992, the management of Q101 shifted the format from Adult Contemporary to an Alternative Rock format. Though Murphy stayed with the station to assist in its transformation, he decided it was time to move on, and asked to be released from his contract. On May 10, 1993, Murphy said farewell to his audience at Q101, and announced his "retirement".
Which of course didn't
last long. After spending the remainder of his contract term with Q101
taking a road trip across the American west, Robert Murphy was
approached again by WLS, who were planning to separate their AM and FM
talk simulcast into two different talk stations. And though most
expected him to sign with an Adult Contemporary station (such as WTMX
), On June 13, 1994, Murphy surprised them all by becoming the new
morning talk personality on WLS-FM, teaming up with Lise Dominique, and
joining an on air staff composed of Chicago Sun Times columnist
Richard Roeper and well known left leaning talk show host, Jay Marvin.
Infighting among ABC management over format direction derailed
the station after a year, leaving Robert Murphy in
While still under contract to WLS, Murphy received a call from WRMF in Palm Beach, Florida. Would he be interested in taking over their morning show? Apparently he would, and the Chicago legend packed up and headed South. (See Palm Beach page)
But, as Sun-Times writer
Robert Feder observed in his column, "Murphy never quite made a
clean break" with Chicago and Chicago radio, noting the entire time
he was in Florida, "he kept his Streeterville condo vacant",
ready to reoccupy. Which he
did, and in January 1999, Murphy returned to the Chicago airwaves as
morning personality on WXXY (103.1) FM, with a morning show line up that
included Jo Ann Genette (later Lyn Taylor) and producers Scott Straus
and Tony Kwiecinski. The station had a weak signal, but was staffed by
well known Chicago radio personalities, such as Fred Winston and Dona
Mullen, and the original Heart & Soul format was soon
updated, as WXXY became one of the first all 80s stations in the
country, known as The Eighties Channel.
Murphy worked out his two year contract with the station, but,
refusing a pay cut, did not renew. He
hung up his headphones in Chicago for the last time in January 2001.
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