Spike O’Dell, former WGN and Quad City native and radio personality, was the guest on the hour-long podcast Weekly Wilson on Thursday, June 11th, from 7 to 8 p.m.
The hour-long podcast is carried by the Bold Brave Media Global Network and Tune-In Radio, Channel 100. [While the site says it is on at 8 p.m., that is Eastern Time and the “live” call-in format airs from 7 to 8 p.m., our time]. The taped shows are later posted on WeeklyWilson.com for listeners who missed the original airing.
Spike O’Dell, whose father was East Moline’s Chief of Police, began his career in radio at WEMO-AM in East Moline in 1976, moving on to a part-time job at WQUA-AM (now WXFN Sports) and, in 1978, KSTT-AM, where he dubbed the street outside KSTT’s studio “Twinkie Boulevard.”
Spike ruled the Quad City airwaves until 1987, with a brief stint at WBT-AM in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In July of 1987 Chicago’s Dan Fabian of WGN hired Spike away from the Quad Cities and he was on the air in Chicago from 1987 until December 12, 2008, when he retired young (55) and moved to Nashville with his family. His parting comment at his last show from the Metropolis Theater in Arlington Heights: “It was a good ride.”
Spike was voted Billboard Magazine’s Top 40 Personality of the Year for a medium market in 1987, and also received an award for Best Radio Afternoon Show in 1999. In addition to being a member of the UTHS Hall of Fame (2000), Spike was awarded the James A Lovell Failure Is Not An Option award in 2003. In 2014, he became a member of the WGN Radio Walk of Fame, paying tribute to his successful 22-year career at WGN in Chicago.
Spike confided that he had always planned to retire early. Going to bed at 7 p.m. so that he could get up by 5 a.m. to make it to work for WGN’s morning drive was something he did from 1987 until December of 2008. Now, he told me, “I only do what I want to do.”
What does he want to do? He paints—very well, in fact—has his HAM radio license, golfs, enjoys life with wife Karen and a host of grandchildren, who called him “Grand Dude,” at first, [and now just call him “Dude.”] When I asked hi if he would recommend his career to any aspiring D.J.’s, he did not think that was such a good idea.
We talked about his famous interviews with the likes of Michael Jordan, the Beatles, astronauts, and others. (His favorite was an astronaut; listen to the podcast to find out which one). We talked about the millions of dollars his creative ideas had raised for charity, involving such ideas as “Wham! Bam! Traffic Jam!” which gifted money to the Annie Wittenmeyer Home in Davenport, and the Bite Your Butt mustard that sold way more cases than anyone had anticipated.
I had to ask Spike about sharing the news of “Uncle Bobby’s” death on the air waves in Chicago when his predecessor in morning drive was killed in a tragic plane accident. Spike remembers it as one of the worst days of his life and says he felt “numb.” Naturally, the station was scooped by all other stations in the metro area, as they waited for Bobby Collins’ family members to be notified.
Spike has always been a fun-loving guy, and it was the fun going out of the job, somewhat, that caused him to walk out the door at the young retirement age of 55. He described various directives coming down from the top, instructing on-the-air personalities to try to become cookie cutter personalities and, as Spike himself admitted, “I’m a personality guy.” Various words were declared to be off-limits when on air. One was the word “degrees” when discussing the weather.
I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Spike about his time on the air and, while we were on a commercial break and he was asking technician Sean about the extent of the seemingly unending commercial breaks, I happened to glance a foot to my right, at the wall in my basement where a bulletin board hangs on the wood paneling. There was a large black spider roughly the size of a silver dollar right in the middle of my bulletin board
This thing was BIG! It had to be at least 3 inches across, and, initially, I thought my husband was playing a prank and had pasted a “fake” Halloween spider on the bulletin board. It was perfectly in the middle of the billboard, which is plastered with a variety of white memos. (It really showed up well on those memos.) I had not noticed it until the final commercial break, and I was just about to reach over and touch it when it MOVED!
You have not seen a woman jump out of a desk chair faster. I could hear Sean answering Spike’s question about the commercials on the show and I also was thinking, “If I have to speak into that microphone, my head will only be about a foot away from that thing!” I’m not a lover of spiders. I think it is a fear that I have passed on to my children. I remember being 9 months pregnant with my second child and not being able to convince my son (then 19) to climb up and kill a giant spider that was in the corner above our TV set. (We compromised and vacuued it up with a long vacuum tube.)
If you listen to the podcast (posted here within the week), you will hear me coming back from break and thoroughly freaked out by this “spider the size of a Buick.” (“Annie Hall.” Thanks, Woody)
It was a good show, and I want to thank Spike (“At the Mike”) O’Dell for agreeing to spend an hour with me strolling down memory lane.
Please leave a comment on the Bold Brave Media Global Network page, (if you listen to it there) that urges them to compensate their interviewer, i.e., me. Seems only fair.