EXCLUSIVE interview with the creator of Chicagolandradioandmedia.com!

Even though various people have asked "Larz", the creator of Chicagolandradioandmedia.com, for an interview, he promised me he'd grant one after his new site was complete. Well, his revised site was unveiled at the beginning of this year, and here is the EXCLUSIVE interview! (btw, I have a radio-related podcast at podcast.radiogirl.us but Larz preferred a text interview.)

What got you interested in radio?

Music has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up before the Internet age, there was pretty much only a few ways to be exposed to new music: from a friend’s record collection, from an occasional musical guest TV spot (usually on a variety/talk show) or most of all, from the radio. I always had a radio near me as a youth: tied to my bike handle bars, next to my shower, inside my backyard tent, and in my bedroom. I was the kid that fell asleep at night with the transistor radio under my pillow and the little white plastic earpiece inside my ear, listening to WLS Musicradio when I was supposed to be sleeping. Holding my attention between the songs were some of the most exciting people on the planet – the DJs. Their jokes and banter were as much fun as the songs they played. The one who stands out most of all for me is John Records Landecker. I blame a lot of my love and obsession with radio personalities on him. His humor, sharp wit, anti-establishment/anti-authority attitude, and fast pacing won me over. For me, that was the epitome of radio coolness.

What do you think of talk radio?

As much as I love music and music radio, I would say that talk radio is probably the most important form of radio right now. It holds great power. When done right, it can interconnect a community, as well as inform and/or entertain the masses. Those in talk radio are given a great opportunity to really connect with their audience on a deep level. Listeners will often feel like the voice coming through their speakers is a good, trustful friend, even though they may never physically meet.

Have you ever worked in radio?

Not at all. Nor do I have a desire to. I enjoy being a fan, looking at it from the outside and from a fan’s perspective. For much of my life, I always had people telling me that I should go into radio, largely because of my vast (albeit worthless) knowledge of music trivia. I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner last weekend, but I could tell you who played on what song, which album it appeared on, the track number, the record label, what year it peaked and then some additional background on the artist. However, despite the urging of others to go into radio, I never felt the urge to be behind a microphone. If I ever do get more involved with a radio or media outlet, it would not be behind a mic or in front of a camera. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes guy. Also, being a bit of an anti-authority type myself, I’m better suited for management and ownership than being the one being told what to do.

Would you want to buy a radio station?

That is something I have looked into already. I strongly was looking at putting together an investor group to purchase a Clear Channel station in another market, and was fairly well into the process of doing so. I was dealing with their broker, had signed all of the confidentiality papers and reviewed all of the documents and contracts. After weighing the upfront costs vs. the return on the investment, I decided to not to go through with the transaction. Unless the asking prices come way down, which a string of bankruptcies may eventually cause, it just isn’t worth it right now.

What do you think is the future of radio?

Radio as we have known it for the last few decades is evolving. Those who can adapt to the evolution will survive and thrive, while others will go the way of the Pony Express, telegram and 8-track tape. In just a few years, Internet radio will be standard in all cars and phones. Shortly after that, WiMax will be standard all across the country, not just in the major markets, much like radio transmission waves or cell phone territories are now. That means everybody will have complete high-speed Internet access no matter where they are. Radio waves will no longer be needed to transmit information or entertainment. From what I have seen, most of the big radio corporations are many years behind the curve in preparing for this new medium. They are still mistakenly holding firm that one day advertisers will flock back to radio waves. Unless they wake up quickly and play catch up, a whole new radio world will be taking over soon.

The pendulum is about to swing in the complete opposite direction that it is now. Soon, radio on the Internet will be like what FM radio was in the early 70’s -- free form, adventurous and able to deliver what the listeners truly want, while opening their eyes and ears to new artists and ideas. It may also be a bit too heavy on “niche” marketing and not local-focused enough, so I would expect the pendulum to quickly swing back toward the center when some more business-minded people finally get on to the Internet bandwagon and work side-by-side with the more creative minded people.

Even though it will not be delivered via radio waves or picked up on radios, I still expect the entertainment to be referred to as "radio."

Radio, in one form or another, will be always be around. It’s not dying like many of the more disillusioned people have been crying. It’s just going to go through a major change. All of media is. Media companies can accept it and live on or fight it and become extinct.

Why do you keep your identity anonymous?

The whole "mystery identity" thing was just a fluke. Once it became this whole "Who is Larz?" thing, I just found it hilarious and kept it going. It was never meant to become this huge mystery, though. Quite a lot of people in the local media industries know my real name. Rob Feder has printed it in his column a couple of times (in his old Sun-Times column) and Cara Jepsen has in her IE Media column, as well. "Larz" was an old college nickname. A good friend of mine in college started calling me that (college is/was all about giving people nicknames... and drinking, of course). He claimed he went to high school with a Swedish guy named Larz and that Larz was Swedish for my real name. (I doubt that it is really the Swedish translation, but I never have checked.) When CRM started, I needed a "handle." All message boards seemed to use aliases, especially the moderators, so I just picked that one. I gave it just about 30 seconds of consideration. Now, just like in college, I'm stuck with that nickname again. People call me both Larz and my real name (and sometimes things much worse, of course). It really doesn't matter to me. Anyway, once my name became this mystery, I just found it to be hilarious that anybody would even care and just kept it going. It still gives me a chuckle. That's the simple story there.

I am working on some projects that, if all goes well, will start happening over the next few months and beyond. I have a feeling my real name will get tossed around a lot more then. I’ve been getting a lot of flak for just having funny pictures up on Facebook, so I'll probably start putting real pictures of me up there soon. Assuming I don't get complaints from parents saying the pictures are giving their kids nightmares, I might even let them stay up for longer than a day.

When did you set up the site? Who went there at first?

ChicagolandRadioAndMedia.com started up on the 4th of July, 2005. It was an offshoot of another media-themed message board (which itself was an offshoot of yet another). It was just a simple message board then. I had no hit counter on it at that time, but I’m pretty sure it was a very low amount of traffic. In fact, when it started out, it was almost a parody of a media-message board, much like how David Letterman’s old Late Night show was a parody of talk shows, while still being a talk show. It was just myself and a handful of people I knew from a couple of other boards goofing off on there. That started to change after just a few weeks, though.

When you set it up, did you ever think it would become so popular?

Not at all! I also just assumed it would be a hobby thing for me for a few months. I’d have a few laughs and it would just fade away. That wasn’t to be the case, though. As I noticed more and more traffic coming to the message board and postings appearing, I started taking it much more seriously. At one point early on in CRM’s life, back when I was not taking it seriously, I made some smart-ass comment about a certain media figure in town. I did it just for laughs, not realizing anybody besides the few people on the board would have seen it… or so I thought. I later heard from that person, who was none to happy about that comment, and deservedly so. I instantly learned a few lessons about the board, including that it was reaching a LOT more people than I thought, including those within the Chicago media industries and that if I was to keep this going, I needed to take it much more seriously. As I would hear from more and more people within local media and beyond, I started to grasp just how big this was becoming. This all happened fairly fast, too. Just a matter of months.

Why do you think your site is popular?

I may be a little too inside of it all to give an absolute answer to that one. There are probably many reasons. Some of it has to do with the fact Chicagoans have always had a love and fascination with their local media. They take their radio stations, television shows and newspapers (and the people who work in them) VERY seriously -- much more so than most other markets. Since that is basically what my site is all about, it attracts many eyes. For the people who work within the industry, it is an appealing place to visit to see what is going on within local media and to see what the fan reaction is like.

Some of it probably has to do with the fact I try to keep it as upbeat as possible. Message boards in general tend to get into ugly areas fast. It’s easy to do when you are anonymous and have no chance of reprisals for an ugly remark. Words typed on a message board are quite different that words one might say to another’s face. I do what I can to minimize that ugliness, making it a more welcoming environment for the masses. The only ones who may be angry with me for making the board like that are the ones who enjoy being Internet jerks. I can live with that tiny minority of trolls being upset at me. I also try and focus on the positives of story, over the negatives. When industries are in a downward spiral like most of media is, it is too easy to be sucked into negativity. I try and find a more positive spin, while still being realistic.

Lastly, I would say because I work hard at it. I was the first Chicago message board to have a custom domain name. It’s a simple thing, but nobody had done that before. It was always the name of a hosting company followed by backslashes, numbers and letters. Too complicated. I made it easy and memorable. I marketed the site on MySpace and later Facebook. I gave the site a unique background that catches the eye (or hurts the eye, depending on who you ask). Most of all, I make sure there is always fresh content on there so it gives reasons for people to want to return often.

How long did it take you to revise the site?

The new and improved website launched this January 1st. I first starting thinking about making some changes over a year ago, but it never went beyond the thinking about it stage. When the 4th anniversary came around last July, I knew it was time for a big change and started the search for answers then. There were three different skeletons of sites made, before I decided to go with the current one. The actual designing of it began in the beginning of August 2009. Between having limited time to devote to it and being too much of a perfectionist sometimes, it was a very slow process. I would add new things and rework parts of it an hour here or there. I finally was talked into letting somebody with better web skills than myself help get it all set up, based on my directions. Once that was completed, and it looked more like how it looks now, I spent much more time on it, getting it finished. It took a long time to gather up the content (links, pictures, videos, etc.) and I’m still adding new content to it each day, but it’s been a fun labor of love. The site itself took almost six months, but probably could have been done much faster if I had used some different processes. Live and learn. It will go quicker next time.

How do you stay motivated if you don't make much or any money from the site? 

It’s a labor of love, pure and simple. It may open up some doors for me down the line, but regardless, I don’t do any of it because of money.

What's the craziest comment someone has left?

After four and a half years, there is no way to pick just one. There is no way to pick even a dozen. Crazy postings come in often – sometimes they are trying to be serious, but are just way out there; sometimes there are purposely hilarious. I love to laugh, so I enjoy them all.

What types of problems have you encountered?

The only real problem has come from spammers and trolls. The spammers are just a minor annoyance. It boggles my mind that there are people out there that think the CRM readers would be interested in their Russian knock-off generic Viagra or their get rich quick investment schemes. Those are removed before anybody sees them, but they come in daily. The bigger problem comes from just a couple of hurtful trolls that get perverse enjoyment out of ruining everybody else’s fun on CRM. Until a few months ago when I switched the message board over to “approval only” for all postings, these trolls would post up graphic porn, discriminatory hate messages, links to viruses, and so on. It got to the point when this would happen about three times a day everyday, so I had to make the board go to “approval only” instead just allowing posts to freely appear. Since these trolls use software that masks their true IP address, they can’t be banned. I am looking into new message boards that may possibly help prevent this from happening in the future, but still allow trusted posters the ability to see their messages up immediately. That should come together in the next month or so.

Where do you see the site going?

Hopefully, it will continue to grow and evolve, without ever losing the interactive quality that made it what it is today. The new site is only three weeks old and I already have numerous upgrades planned for it that should be appearing over the next couple of months. The site may somewhat tie into one of the other projects I have going on later this year, as well.

I also hope to use the site to help out Chicago media and those working in it, even more than I have in the past. Without giving out any specifics, I’ve been able to help many people and organizations out behind-the-scenes over the last few years and want to be able to continue doing that as much as possible.

In one respect, I am the driver of the ship, but in another, I am along for the ride just as everybody else is. It’s been a fun ride and I hope it continues for years to come!

Do you know all the famous radio/media people in town?

Not at all. It still surprises me when I find that one of them knows me. I still get a huge rush when I receive a note from somebody I have long admired. I’m still a fan and hope to always be that way.

Who have you met?

I’ve been very lucky in my life to have met hundreds of “celebrities” -- from local, to national to international. This dates back from long before I ever started CRM. It is not really something I have ever sought out to do, though. It just seems to happen though work or through just chance. There are only a few (maybe five) local media people that I have actually asked to meet with. Everything else just kind of happens naturally. Not being a picture or autograph hound, I don’t even have any physical mementos of these meetings. I have a few autographed 8”x10”s and a few autographed album covers in a closet, plus about half dozen autographed books. I have a really bad photograph of me with Cheap Trick and one where I am in group photo meeting Corey (“Sunglasses at Night”) Hart, but that it’s it. Meeting famous people has never been a priority to me. As for who I’ve met from local media, I’d rather keep that quiet. I tend to keep my meetings with people private, be they emails, phone calls or face-to-face get-togethers. It just works better that way.

You won't say who you've met locally, but have you been disillusioned by any celebrities/local media stars that you've admired from afar who turned out to be less than pleasant?

Not at all. Everybody I have met, spoken with or even just emailed with has always been great with me. I have nothing bad to say about anybody.

Who's the coolest media star you've met?

I'm going with the safe answer here and say… Margaret Larkin. :)

Umm...weird answer...I'm not a media star!

You mean to say... not YET.

Any advice for people who have sites/message boards/blogs?

More than anything else: Keep it real and keep it active. A stagnant site will die quickly. An active one will continue to grow. It has to be filled with honesty and freshness. Stealing from others without giving proper credit, instantly discredits the whole site. Most readers have built-in BS detectors, too so it has to be truthful. If possible, make it a resource. Offer more than just a blog. Give people numerous reasons to visit. Lastly, keep it positive. Negativity tends to flare up hot, but burn away quickly. A positive site that doesn’t dig in the dirt will have greater staying power.

Are you hiring? :D

Not right now, but as the site grows, who knows???

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