The Steve Dahl Show 105.9 FM – WCKG Chicago
reviewed December 2003

I started listening to longtime Chicago DJ Steve Dahl's radio show in the summer of '99, which turned out to be one of his strangest periods in his career – more or less akin to getting into Yes through keyboardist Rick Wakeman's 80s solo piano/New Age albums.

At that time, Dahl was flanked by some of the most lifeless radio "personalities" I'd e'er heard– a nasally, robotic newswit and a perfunctory white female sidekick, both of whom contributed, on average, four sentences an hour.

Strange to say, this made for supremely captivating talk radio, albeit inadvertent. The show's huge, gaping caesuras made Paul Harvey sound like Johnny Moschita.

Dahl was eternally frustrated, left to suffer out in the desert sun changing a flat tire, occasionally poking his head back in the car to yell for more sunblock. Hour after hour would be spent dissecting life's absolute minutae, yet somehow nothing ended up being discussed even remotely in-depth, or with any connection whatsoever between the on-air crew. After long, drawn-out, painful marathons of boredom, finally someone would say something slightly funny, and immediately the show would cut to commercial.

Jerry Seinfeld's show about nothing had made it to FM, truly. It was probably "bad" radio, yet it was … like, Zen.

Not being a Chicago native, I only knew of Dahl prior vaguely through the Disco Demolition stunt, and thought this fumble-around-Zen approach was his modus operandi. Only later would I hear more of his young, crazier glory days with Garry Meier (now with his own superior rival show on the AM band), and how what I was hearing now was more of his Voodoo Lounge period, rather than his Exile On Main Street. Oof.

Actually, though, this only allowed me to hear the show with as fresh ears as possible. I wasn't one of the inexplicable Chicagoans who grew up with Steve & Garry and still treasure their vinyl copy of Pet Fishsticks. Yet neither was I one of his knee-jerk critics who simply respond to his (admittedly irrefutable) stature as an obsolete dinosaur. Without the baggage, I was able to enjoy some really weird radio.

As with most huge cities, Chicago's radio has a significant amount of suckititude going for it, with college and public radio offering the only breaths of fresh air (er, aside, I suppose, from "Fresh Air"), and even these can wear out their welcomes. I guess there's just only so much "out jazz" I want to hear while driving. My stress level is high enough, thank you.

So there's a certain listenability that brings me back to Dahl's show frequently on the ride home, despite being on one of the most floundering, desperately satanic, and corporately-slick stations in the country, WCKG.

Dahl's current sidekicks include other longtime Chicago broadcasters Buzz Killman and Wendy Snyder, both of whom were adopted via station osmosis after their disastrous midday show attempt a couple of years ago. The elder Killman is extremely affable and has a knack of nicely complementing (and/or propping up) a Dahl conversation, while Snyder usually has the opposite effect: throwing potholes in the flow and kissing Dahl's ass to the nth degree.

If anything, the show needs MORE contrariness to his viewpoint, which was vaguely attempted by show member Spike Manton until he jumped ship. To be fair, Snyder herself is probably a cool mom/neighbor and does have a pleasant broadcast-standard voice. The overt sycophancy doesn't soothe frayed nerves when stuck in endless Chicago traffic, however.

Occasionally a quality guest like a Harry Shearer will sit in and raise the show's quality meter up a few notches, but strangely enough, guests usually bring the show's pace down, with too many cooks asking too many questions.

Ideally, you want to catch the show during a flowing, substantive Dahl rant, or Killman contribution, or mumbling Brian Wilson appearance … but best throw in a mix CD on the stereo when a Dahl regular a la Sun Times columnist Phil Rosenthal sits in and endlessly yammers. No thanks.

2003 was Dahl's 25th year on the air, so at time of this review, the listener is regularly flanked by flashbacks in the show of past glories. Normally I get suspicious of extra nostalgic-basking, and WCKG leans on its early-fortysomethings' memory banks especially hard. But the world of broadcasting is a harsh mistress – no, make that a miserable hell-bitch – so to be fair, more power to Dahl for staying around. Surrounded by the right people and topic, he can still whip up a pretty interesting dialogue, though you often find yourself envisioning a dreamy thought-bubble above his head filled with flashy, slo-mo Disco Demolition footage.

Review by Marco Niedstrom