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April 4, 2023

All Up In: The Past, Present & Future of CHIRP Radio with Shawn Campbell

All Up In: The Past, Present & Future of CHIRP Radio with Shawn Campbell
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I am so honored to have one of my oldest and dearest ride-or-dies, Shawn Campbell, with me on this episode!

Shawn is the founder and general manager of CHIRP Radio, an independent volunteer-driven radio station here in Chicago. She’s worked in commercial, college, public, and community radio over the course of her career, and I consider her radio’s truest believer.

Together, we discuss her radio career, and it is one hell of a cool story, folks.

Tune in as we also get into:

  • The benefits of hyper-local radio stations for local communities
  • The fun of wandering around an airport with no security on mushrooms (man, those were the days)
  • Sexism in the radio world
  • The difference in managing volunteers and employees
  • How radio can connect us

Don’t forget to smash that subscribe button so you never miss an episode, then come hang with us on Instagram & Twitter!



Music. Welcome to All Up In My Lady Business. I am your host, Mary Nisi. On this podcast, I'll explore the fine line between having it together and losing your shit. Here I share my journey as an entrepreneur, a mom, a wife, a DJ, and randomly a beekeeper. I have no shame and no filter except the ones I use on Instagram. My stories of resilience, a little structure, and a lot of resourcefulness can show you how to take those same things and live your life with your whole ass. Thanks for listening. Music. Alright, thanks everybody for tuning in today to All Up In My Lady Business. I've got one of my oldest and dearest, a ride or die, Sean Campbell, who is the founder and general manager of Chirp Radio, an independent, volunteer-driven radio station here in Chicago. She is a radio true believer who never wanted to do anything else with her life. Sean has worked in commercial, college, public, and and community radio over the course of her career. And has achieved her lifelong dream of almost never having to wake up before 10 a.m. She's married to drummer about town Larry Brown and enjoys cooking, ridiculously fancy meals, that is for sure, reading an endless stream of thrillers and always being disappointed by the endings and dancing whenever she gets the chance. Sean Campbell, thank you for being here for All Up In My Lady Business. Thanks for having me. All right, Sean, I kind of can't believe it took to season three to get you on, quite frankly, considering that you're probably one the most consequential and important women in my life in terms of the trajectory of it. I say that with no histrionics or hyperbole. It is absolutely true. Well, that's really kind. You're like, I don't know what to do. It's true though. I mean, our early days in radio were, I mean, it completely set the entire trajectory of my life in a different direction. That's, that's really cool. That's, I always hope that people have good stories about being involved with the stations I've been involved with, and that's really just a great thing. It truly is. I mean, I think back to the early days, not to make this about me, but back in the WLUW days, which is where I started with Sean, because it was a community station that would allow non-students to be on, even though it was at Loyola, and I had no idea that was even a thing. And you had to have had something to do. Was that how it always was, and you came in, or did you make it more community and allowing outside folks in? When I came in, it had been a community station for, I think, about three years, two or three years. The Department of Communication had taken it over, ironically, because the Department of Communication ended up being the end of all of that and the beginning of CHIRP in a way, too. But it had been this high-energy dance format, very commercial, and then a group of professors in the Department of Communication decided they didn't want it to be that anymore, and so they started making it a community station. I think when I got there was really when I tried to focus on the music side of things and bring in a lot of people who were interested on the music side. I think that the professors who'd been involved a particular interest in the talk programming. And so there was a lot of progressive talk programming, you know, shows in six languages, in addition to English. I remember reading PSAs about that, or promos about that. And that was 1999. Then I really started working a lot, like I say, building relationships with venues and kind of making it the station that you listened to if you were an independent music fan, I think, in Chicago. So just to get back into the Wayback Machine, I feel like you've had radio just baked into your bones and broadcasting in general and just this love of radio, which you said, which I read in your bio about yourself. But I feel like you just are a radio true believer. Where did that start? Because I don't remember a whole lot of female DJs on the air when we were kids. There was maybe one lady who had a smoky voice down here, and she was given one shift at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. Right. No, I definitely didn't hear very many female voices when I was growing up. I think there was Nancy Turner on WMAQ, which was a big country station at the time. My family just always had the radio on. My grandma and grandpa would listen to the country station. My mom and dad would listen to WLS or sometimes to WMAQ, so some pop music, some country music. I just always had music in my life. My mom played the Beatles from the day that I came home from the hospital. I never haven't known the album Rubber Soul. Pretty early on, I just thought, that seems like a really cool job to get to play records and talk about them and get paid for it. I just decided that was what I wanted to do. It took a few different courses, a few different turns over the course of my life. I thought I wanted to be a sportscaster for a while, and I called some baseball games in college and did the sports roundtable show. That's so cool. I mean, even at that time, that was late 80s, early 90s. Yep. I mean, were there a lot of women doing that? There were not. Yeah. And so, I mean, when you would be in those places, would it be you, like, alone talking with sports people or you and another guy, like? Baseball, I was doing play-by-play and another guy was doing color. And then on the sports roundtable, it would be four panelists. So usually me and three dudes. Did they treat you as an equal? Did it feel like, yay, I'm just a person here doing it and I happen to be a woman? I think that because I was working with people who I had gotten to know, at least over time, they were respectful. I definitely had to prove a little bit that I knew what I was talking about. But I think particularly on the baseball side, just because I'm a lifelong baseball fan, and it was pretty clear that I knew baseball. You know, it wasn't bad. I think in some ways, it was the easiest it probably was at that point in college, because Because again, you're working with your friends, you know, you tend to know the other people at the station and, you know, are eating dinner with them and what have you. So there was just kind of some built in respect. So you graduate from undergrad in broadcasting, right? In Rio? Yeah. And then what happens? Like, where do you go? I was all prepared to do exactly what I'd been taught, which was make tapes, send them out and go wherever they will have you. And to be prepared to go to a small market. And that's what happened. I sent out one tape to Lafayette, Indiana, to an alternative rock station, and this was 1993, so the height of the alternative era. Couldn't have been a better time to be getting a job there. Yeah, and so I got hired on that first tape. It was never that easy again. And went out to Lafayette and did overnights at this alt-rock station, six nights a week, midnight to 6 a.m. Wow. $11,000 a year. That would have been good money in 1993. It really was not. You're like, not even Indiana money. Although I do remember I had an apartment that was $400 a month and everybody was like, oh my God, why are you paying that much for an apartment? That's insane. In Lafayette? Yeah. And you're like, but in Chicago, this is a $400 doesn't get you in. Oh, no, actually, that's a lie. I want to say my first apartment was my my rent was 400. It was a three bedroom that was 1200. Yeah, this was just a beautiful little apartment in an old Victorian. It was huge. It actually had a bedroom that I bet was 1000 square feet. Yeah. How long were you doing the shift? And did you stay in that shift the whole time? I did stay in the shift the whole time. I did it for a year. And I got promoted to music director after about two months being there. But they didn't take away my overnight. So I would be on the air from midnight to 6am. And then I would go home and sleep till about one o'clock in the afternoon. And then. I'd get up and I'd go to the station and be at the station from two to eight. And then I'd go home and eat dinner. And then I'd go back to the station at 11 and do production work and do my show. They did take one away, so I only had to do five nights a week instead of six when I got that promotion. I have to imagine that the listeners, I mean, I know that's a crazy time slot, but I feel like the people who are awake during that time, especially back then when radio was still, outside of buying albums and listening to, watching MTV, radio is how you did everything. So did you have a lot of creepy, weird listeners? I didn't have so many creeps there. Purdue is in West Lafayette, and so I had a ton of college students listening. And the university community was super supportive of the station and really loved it and fought for it passionately, because it didn't last very long. When I left, I didn't leave voluntarily. They shut it down. They changed format, but they actually took it off the air for like three months, which is unheard of. And when I went in, there'd been rumors floating around because despite the university community really loving it, the sales staff did not know how to sell alternative in rural Indiana. It was- Was it a commercial station? It was a commercial station, yeah. Yeah. And so it just wasn't making very much money. And it was owned by a guy, a single person. It wasn't owned by a company. And there were rumors floating around he was going to shut it down, that he was just wasn't going to pay for it endlessly. I went into work one day and I saw my boss pulling CDs from the rack that were his personal CDs that he had added to the collection. I said, hey, Buzz, are we done? He goes, no, no, no, no. Then he takes my arm and pulls me into the office and he's like, yeah, we're done tomorrow. You can't tell anyone though. His name was Buzz? Buzz Fitzgerald. That's a radio name. Buzz Fitzgerald. Yeah. In fact, I believe it was literally a radio name. Yeah, his name is like Jim Jones, or not Jim Jones, a different radio name. So you leave that radio cocoon in 95-ish? 94. 94. And then where do you go? Then I moved back here. I decided that I had followed the rules to the extent that I was going to, and I hated it there. I came back to Chicago every weekend. I did not enjoy my time. I grew up in a small town, and Lafayette, even though it's got the university there and everything is very much a small town in the middle of cornfields. And I decided I didn't want to do it the way you were supposed to do it, which was go to another small market or a slightly bigger market. And so instead, I moved back here and started working at a whole slew of little stations in the suburbs and trying to piece everything together that way while still sending out tapes to targeted radio stations here on a fairly regular basis. So I worked at WCBR in Arlington Heights, the Bear, which was a cool station, but again, just a very small station that wasn't paying anyone to be a full-time host there. I worked at AM 1480 in St. Charles, which was a full-service AM station. So I was a news anchor and reporter out there covering school board meetings and city council meetings or the Tri-Cities. When you say full-service AM radio, what does that mean? It's kind of an old-school term. It's a station that really is very, very local and does things like the school lunch reports and really does cover school board meetings and report on school board meetings, reporting on the village council. It was a music station, it was a classic rock station, but high school sports, multiple nights a week. Very much a local station that was very focused on community service. I mean, isn't that kind of what radio was supposed to be in the beginning? Yes. I don't know. I feel like there's still a use for that. Absolutely. I mean, I guess the internet's still there too, but I mean, I don't know. It's so much more personal to have a local radio station that you have that connection to and that you feel like you can tune in just to figure out if something's going on, that the reflex action is to go to that station. It's kind of like when that rail track, the train that derailed in Minot, South Dakota. Do you remember this? Absolutely. That is kind of like the definitive point that when you talk about radio stations being owned by corporations and single corporations owning hundreds or even more than a thousand stations at that point and having these economies of scale where you don't have any local staff on site. In that Minot derailment, it was a chemical spill, kind of like what's going on right now in Ohio, and people were trying to tune in to their local radio stations to figure out what was going on and if they were in danger, if they should evacuate. And because these stations were unstaffed and automated, they weren't providing any local news or information. And it is, like I say, in congressional hearings when radio ownership is talked about, broadcast ownership is talked about, That's always an example. If you have a broadcast license, it's supposed to be a public trust that you're serving the community that you're broadcasting in. That's supposed to be a condition of your license. And so that was just a really terrible example of what a lot of commercial radio in particular has become. It's just a jukebox with, you know, removing that live element, that local element, all these strengths of radio. And it's such a waste. And it also just sort of makes it so like, what's the why of radio, you know, at least commercial radio, like at that at this point is like, is it just like another thing like Spotify? Is that we're supposed to think of it? And like when I was growing up, I mean, you know, I know that's such a Gen X joke on the internet is like taping songs off the radio and like trying to get it taped without getting the DJ's voice in there and like calling up and requesting songs and trying to get on the air. Like it was my life's work when I was a little kid, was like calling up Sweet 98 and like trying to be like, can I hear the new Madonna song? And then what's your name? My name is Mary. Well, you sound like a good fan. Whatever. I would do anything to get on the radio. Yeah. My top 40 station was WDEK, all hit WDEK, and they actually let you call in an audition to announce the number one song. And my parents would only let me do it once a month because it was long distance, so it cost money. Uh-huh. And so I would always try to come up with something clever to say for what the number one song was going to be. So, you know, just it's so cool. Did you ever get it? Oh, yeah. Time and time again. Like it became sort of a thing. Like I was a known entity to them. So I'd be like... I love that. Yeah, I'd be like, hi, this is Shawn from Mendota. And the number one song tonight is Nasty by Janet Jackson on All Hit WDEK. I love it. Did you get it for Nasty? Was that one of your songs? That is definitely one. And I had it recorded on a cassette in between two songs. And so that became part of the song. So whenever I think of the song Nasty, I always hear myself ahead of it, announcing it. Did they play it multiple times? No. I would just record it and then I would listen to my mixtapes. So you put your own breaks into your mixtapes? In some cases. That's not surprising. That's amazing, actually. So have you ever had a job, like a job that didn't involve a radio? Just very briefly. I mean, I did, you know, a little bit of temping and things in that when I was working at all these small stations, because I wasn't making enough money to live. So I delivered food, I temped. And then there were two years when we were starting Chirp, but it wasn't a job. And I had been working at WBEZ and got laid off at the financial downturn and then didn't have a job for two years. So I ended up working at the airport. That's right. That's right. I forgot about that. Yeah. Running a volunteer program at the airport that helps travelers in distress. So I did that for two years, but everything else has been radio. Do you look back on that time as like, kind of, I mean, you worked at the airport. That's so weird. It was completely weird. And it wasn't enjoyable, but I have all this weird airport knowledge now. And so it was definitely a learning experience. You know, it was... Unique. But yeah, it wasn't my chosen thing and I didn't love having to go through security every day even though there are shortcuts when you're an employee. There are 100% shortcuts, you know, you still have to deal with that stuff. And that's still post 9-11 so you're not even getting any of the fun times, the fun kicky times, the before times. What's crazy is like how much older young people are now where like, you know, I'll mentioned like, oh, I remember being able to go to the gate and they're like, what? You got to, and I'm like, I don't even, I don't like that this is also a sign of how old I am is like, I got to see the beginning, like, you know, get to go to the gate and pick up friends at the airport at the gate. Right. Sometimes in college we were bored and we would drive to O'Hare and just go wander around in O'Hare at two o'clock in the morning. I mean, I remember once we did mushrooms when I was in college and we took the train out to O'Hare, just to go into that tunnel between the sea gates and the beach gates. Yeah, that was a thing I did on mushrooms. I don't know what I was, sorry, people who don't like that. Yeah, the neon. The neon structure. Yeah. It was very interesting on mushrooms. I bet. In 1995 or whatever. Anyway, okay, so yeah, so you worked at the airport, weird interlude, but other than that, you've only worked in radio. Yes. That's incredible. I mean, that's actually pretty cool. Yeah, I set out to never have a job where I didn't have a microphone, and I did pretty well. And even when you were at the airport, you were still doing chirps. So it's not like you didn't have access to microphones. Right. I went through my calendars and just tried to figure that out at one point. Like, has there been any period since I started doing radio in college where I haven't had any association with a radio station? And I think there was like a three-month period in like late 1994, early 1995, and that's been it. That's enviable, and I don't think that's possible anymore. I feel like people are... there's so much hustling and struggle that goes on in employment and random layoffs and shit that it'd be hard, I think, to choose your industry and then never leave it. Yeah, no. I mean, it's definitely rare, and especially in an industry like radio where things have just really contracted in terms of jobs. People are expected to fill three or four different roles at a station and still are probably not really getting paid enough to live on. You're not just the DJ. Well, a lot of places you're like, oh, you're the DJ on the country station with one name and then you're the DJ on the hot AC station with a different name. So you're doing middays at this station and afternoons at this station because you're just voice tracking all your breaks. So to do a four-hour show, it takes maybe 40 minutes to record a four-hour show. And are they only getting paid for an hour? A lot of people are. Or like I say, you're voice tracking for three different stations and you're the promotions director and you're doing sales and you're making $30,000 a year. It truly is a labor of love. What's weird is that that's what it's turned into now, but back in the 90s, the end of the golden age of radio, it felt like there was just money being dumped into radio and there was things happening, at least in the alternative world. Did you ever get to witness that side of it? Definitely on the promotion side, on the record side. I came in at the very tail end of record labels just having these unlimited promotions budgets. It was always fun just to get the the random swag. I still have things, like I have pavement golf balls and yeah, and you know, just all this cool and fun stuff. I didn't get in on the, you know, I wasn't there at like the cocaine and hookers phase. I mean, that's your loss. Like you really blew it on that one. I know, I know. So I missed out on that, you know, but I did get wined and dined quite a bit as a music director. And that was, you know, even as a Lafayette, you know, music director, at that point, there were only 54 alternative stations in the country. And so every alternative station meant something to promoters and to labels because there just. Weren't that many of them. So you know they'd yeah they'd take you out to dinner. Yeah, it's like they had all these huge budgets for this stuff because they weren't giving it to the artists. I mean, it's interesting when you kind of think about, like, where did that money come from? And it's like, well, it didn't go to pavement. Yeah. Well, I know everybody was getting huge advances, but then they were having to recoup them. So what does that mean to recoup? Like they have to like, you know, yeah, you don't make any money until you pay back your, your, you know, what you signed for. Is there like any kind of a creative accounting where they're like, well, you didn't quite do that. And like, kind of screwing. Is there like a history of that in radio? I mean, there's some of that. But I think it was just, you know, particularly with with alternative, there was such a feeding frenzy where bands were getting signed and getting these ridiculous advances, that they were never going to recoup, you know, is, you know, and I'm trying to think of an example. And I don't want to just throw out a random band. But I mean, I have to imagine that Sonic Youth never recouped what they got. Yeah, although, although even even Sonic Youth, at least they, you know, had a reputation. So they probably got closer than butthole surfers. That would be a good example. I think they got, what did they get? Half a million dollar advance or something? Wow. I did not know that. And they even had a hit, an alternative hit. Yeah, they had one. But I'm pretty sure that they never recouped their advance. And there were a lot of bands like that, where who's going to be the next Nirvana? Who's going to be in the next Pearl Jam. What's gross is the bands that they wind up trying to turn into that, that just became like the Stone Temple Pilots, you know, like these bands that like, you know. They just had like the drugs and the sludgy sound and not a whole lot of substance. And it's weird to me how wrong, when they have that much power, how wrong they can be. And I feel bad that I'm just kind of throwing Stone Temple Pilots into this pile. They're a band that I have no love for them. But also I feel like I've been kind of coming back to like a lot of the bands I made fun of with Fresh Eyes. And I'm like, you know what, Alice in Chains, they're great. I'm like weirdly into Alice in Chains. Really? Yeah, like every time it comes on, I'm like, I'm turning it up. I'm like finding them, I'm going into like, this is Alice in Chains and listening to a bunch of singles that I never knew were singles. Yeah, Elvis and Chains were legit, legit heavy. You know, that was never my thing. But they, weren't really a fabricated band. You know, it was like when you got into that, like, third and fourth generation grunge, where people were clearly trying to cash in. Even Stone Temple Pilots. Oh, Collective Soul. Oh my god. Ugh. So bad. Yeah. No, what I was... Stone Temple Pilots actually was a really good power pop band. And then they decided, you know, okay, this is what the moment calls for. And they changed what they they were doing. And then later on, they went back to it and made a couple records that were really power pop and glam that weren't bad. And then the lead singer, Scott Weiland, he did like an album of like crooners. That's right. That's right. And then he died. He did. Let's pour one out for Scott staff. Scott Weiland. Yeah. No, I mean, but it's not so far off. Okay, so you worked in radio. Once you wind up getting into radio, how does the gendered shit, I mean, it has to be bad. Yeah, I mean... Not to make you relive trauma, but I'm just like, I've only been in like community and volunteer run radio. I don't feel there's been a whole lot of that. I mean, there has been things over the years, but like nothing like the ass grabbing and the cocaine. Yeah, I was the only female music director on the alternative panel when I was hired. So you know, me and 53 guys. Oh, of all the stations? Yeah. Is there like a conglomerate of like alternative radio stations or something? There would be conferences and things then, you know, and you would report your charts. So yeah, so it would be me and a bunch of guys if I went to conferences. And I was also, I was a 22 year old music director, you know, and so it was not just a bunch of guys. It was a bunch of like 50-year-old guys and 22-year-old me. And so I think that there was just some element of like, oh, that's so cute. That's so charming. It was like I was like a novelty or mascot or something. How did that make you feel? I don't know. I feel like you're formidable. I feel like, I mean, I've always been, you know, vaguely intimidated by you, not like you're like a ball buster, but there's this element of like, you know, like I know what I'm talking. It's almost like you out knowledge everybody. Like I feel like this is the case with every woman who's in a male dominated industry. We could be five times better. Than anybody else. I was at a DJ conference this past weekend, and the guys were like, I've never met a bad female DJ. And I'm like, that's right, because we're not allowed to be. Right. Right. We have to be perfect at all times. Because if we make one little tiny mistake, it's like you get point it gets pointed out to you. Or maybe I can you don't you don't know this as well as I do. Let me take it over. Right. Like how did how did that manifest itself in that world? Well, that was I mean, that was exactly what I did. You know, because I like to shoot my my mouth off. I was in a world where people are talking about music, and I'm like, well, nobody knows more about music than I do. I mean, that obviously wasn't true, but I knew a lot about music. I was very knowledgeable, and I'm kind of a sponge, so I just soak up information. Even when I started in college radio, I didn't know anything about non-mainstream music at all. And I would just sit while I was on the air and I would read, like, literally, you know, books that were in the studio so I could learn about the music that I was playing so I could sound intelligent about it. And so I'd spent a lot of years at that point, even though I was young, just kind of immersing myself in music history. And so when there was a music conversation, I just wouldn't hesitate and I would jump in. And also I had opinions. I knew what I thought was good, and I knew what I thought was not good, and I didn't mind telling people. I think I won over some people with that, just again, just not being shy, not backing down. If people tried to challenge me, I'd challenge them. Back. I remember sitting at a table at a conference with Matt Pinfield. I love it. Keep going. This is the juice I'm in this for. Kevin Cole, who is now at KEXP and was the program director at Rev 105, and just this kind of a legendary music figure. Just people were kind of sitting around and having drinks and shooting the shit and I, Got introduced and sat down and you know, they were in the middle of some conversation I don't remember specifically and I just kind of jumped right in and, I think at first, you know for a minute. They're like, who's this and, Then they're just like, oh, okay. Well, and it was really fun because just like okay, I've I've proven myself and I've been accepted into this group of high profile and well-respected people in the alternative rock world. So that was a really positive experience in that way. But there was definitely skepticism and. Like, how much can she know? It was later on, it was on the air where I ran into some stuff. And particularly, and I'll just call it out, WCBR. Which is where? That was Arlington Heights. Yeah. I did overnights there. And I had a lot of, you know, a decent amount of experience at that point. I wasn't a DJ, I had been on the air for a long time. And they had opening after opening for daytime shift, because again, they were paying hourly. And so nobody stayed very long. Every time there was an opening, I, would apply for it, I would leave voicemails for the program director, be like, can we just talk about this? And he never even returned a call of mine. And I was talking to the afternoon DJ there, who actually went on to DJ a 3LUW with us. And he said, oh yeah, he's like, you know, I just have to be honest with you, Sean. Tim says he'll never have a woman on the air during the day, that women don't belong on the air during the day at a rock station. The quiet part out loud. Yeah. And what do you do with that? Because my friend told me that. I couldn't go and be like, Dave said, you said. So it was shortly after that that I went back to grad school and left, Arlington Heights. That's so disappointing. I mean, I know that the world is littered with that story. I mean, the number of guys who still say to me this day, they're like, I don't know how you have so many women working for you because I cannot find a single one. I can't find a single person who can lift the equipment and talk on a microphone. And I'm like, I don't even know what to do with that statement you just said to my face. I've been doing it for 20 years. Yeah. Or people say, women don't want to do that. Like, what? Really? Like, you know every woman in the world and you've talked to her about it. And I think about how much that saying those things and thinking those things and not having anybody challenge I mean, the fact that DJ heard it and was like, yeah, there's nothing we can do about it. Like, did we have laws back then against that kind of discrimination and we just didn't call people out on them? Like, when did, like, stop being okay to discriminate on the basis of sex? Because I thought that was, like, in the 70s. I'm pretty sure that it would have been illegal if that had been, you know, stated that that was actually the reason. But with any performance-related field like that, people can always say, like, no, no, She just wasn't good enough. She wasn't the right fit. You think about how the world would be different if people weren't. So afraid of losing any ground. And by losing any ground, meaning having just equality with other people. Right. Well, and what makes it really hard in radio as well is then it becomes competitive among women, because in music radio in particular, there tends to be one, like, oh, we have the woman's slot. And, you know, so everybody's kind of competing for that one slot. And it's not really changed too much. I mean, if you want to look at, you know, there's obviously been some turnover at WXRT, for example, a station that there was no turnover at, you know, for decades. And it's still one woman who's on during the day. And that's just- Terry Emmert? No. No, she's not. Yeah, Terry's semi-retired. Like, she does some fill-in and part-time stuff. But no, No, it's a woman who's on in, I think she does the afternoon shift, I think. Is it, is that Laura? No, it's, it's this woman, Annalisa. Okay, so she never says her name. She never says her name. Whenever I hear her go on the air, I'm very aware of it because I know what I have to say when I go on the air. And whenever I hear a DJ not say their name, it drives me crazy, but she never says her name. And it's like, I don't know who you are. I know. Are you not supposed to say, are you a ghost? Are you not supposed to say who you are? Yeah. and she's their newest host. She should be saying her name all the time so people get to know her. But, and I mean, they have an overnight DJ, Emma Mack, and then they have a couple part-time women. But, you know, for the most part, when you look at that, you know, 6 a.m. to midnight, it's one woman, and I know, again, there's some upheaval there right now, but I'd be surprised if we ended up with two women on full-time shifts during the day, you know? And there are fewer rock stations than there used to be. So there are actually fewer jobs, not more. You know, other formats are different. Hot AC. What's AC? Adult Contemporary? Adult Contemporary. Okay. Yeah, you hear more women on Adult Contemporary stations and soft rock stations. Actually, almost exclusively, now that I'm thinking about it, I feel like it's mostly women DJs on like W-L-I-T or whatever, which is. Interesting and weird at the same time. But what was interesting is whenever I I stumble on a light FM radio station, I'm like, I love this song. And the next song comes on, I'm like, I love this song. It's all songs I would never tell anybody that I like. It's like, Taylor Dayne, I Will Always Love You. I'm like, give it to me. Tell it to my heart, Taylor. Tell it to my heart. Yeah. I really love all those stations. I'm like, do I love it because I'm a woman? Are those really just good songs that have just been targeted towards women and men are being denied the raw power of Desiree. I think that there are definitely men who listen to those stations, too. But yeah, more women listen to the softer stations. And I think that it even says something about if women are hosts on those stations, it's like they're supposed to be soothing background. You don't expect someone who works at the light to tell you a bunch about the music that they're playing or to be particularly knowledgeable about the music. It's sort of you're supposed to sound nice and pleasant and make for a smooth background in somebody's office. Yeah, it's like you're not supposed to talk about how Phil Collins used gated reverb on, you know, In the Air Tonight. Like, you're just playing it and making jokes about how we all thought it was about a camping trip gone wrong. Thanks for tuning in to all up in my lady business. If you're looking for something fun to do on a Monday from 12 until 3pm in central standard time, you can tune into the Noonday Underground, my radio show on trip Every Monday, I am there to get you through your lunchtime into the early afternoon. And it's sort of like this podcast, but with way way less talking and a lot more dope jams. Tune in to on Mondays from 12 until 3, and if you go to my bio at, on the DJ's page, you can find an archive of the last two episodes that I DJed. Do it. So you leave all those little stations, is that when you came into the WLW stratosphere in 99, after all these little stations you were at? No, I actually worked at a big station for a while. I worked at NewsRadio 780, WBBM, so the big all-news station in Chicago. And I was a writer and an editor there. I wasn't on the air, but I had been an intern there and had maintained my relationships, and so they needed writers, and I asked them if I could take the writing test. And to be a writer at an all-news station is a very specific skill that not everyone can do. It's very intense. You have to put your head down, And you have a half hour to write a half hour of news. And so you're just writing almost sometimes in real time for the anchors. So you have to be really accurate and you have to be really fast. And there's a ton of pressure. Newsrooms are really noisy. The phones are ringing, people are running around. And the writers just have to sit and write everything. And where are you getting your information from that you're writing? It's coming in, like reporters are putting it into the system, or you have the AP, you have Reuters, you have the wire services. You had City News Bureau at that point. So we're taking news from all different sources. The editors are putting together a lineup where they're telling you, okay, here are the 12 stories you need to write for the next 30 minutes. Oh my God, this is, I want to watch this movie. I loved that job in its own way. It was completely the opposite of most of the jobs I've had before and since. It is so specific and so orderly, you know, it's like traffic and weather together on the eights. So you know exactly how much you're writing, and you know exactly when it needs to be done. And you finish your work at the end of the day, and you go home, and you do not think about it at all until the next day. And then you come in, and you write your news. And after that half hour, that's done, that's passed, then you write your next half hour of news. It's just like this, it really suited my fix for my need for order. And I never thought about it. It never was a job that stressed me out after hours or that I had to lose sleep over or figure anything out because... You weren't like, I put a dangling part at the end of that sentence. It like racks your brain as you're going to sleep. Right, right. And I mean, the anchors sometimes would get mad at writers and I just felt that it was a point of pride that I never had an anchor yell at me. Didn't compliment you if you did well, but they sure let you know if you screwed up. And so I saw a lot of shouting going on, but I was never yelled at. I mean, you are a consummate rule follower. Not at all. Well, true. But I mean, I like to know what's happening. I don't like loose things that I can potentially mess up. I would like to talk about this. I don't know if it's a weird thing to talk about, but I feel like you are... Well, this is a weird thing to talk about. Maybe I just haven't said this to you before, but like, like, you're a really good leader. Thank you. You really are. Like, the fact that you have, I mean, I've been a part of now, I guess, two different organizations that you have run. And the amount of responsibility you give and expect and get compliance and people doing the things. And it's an unpaid, it's volunteer run radio with hundreds of people involved, and you get everyone to mostly do what they're supposed to do. Yeah, yeah. I don't know if you know how rare and shocking that is. I think I've kind of come to realize it over the years, and even just trying to work with other non-profit stations and give them advice and starting up and everything. And I've realized there are things that I've kind of taken for granted, because I'll say like, well, just, you know. Create the departments that you think are important for your station and then identify One or two people to start who you think could be good at it And they don't necessarily have to have had prior experience, you know if you're willing to train them, but just figure out people who seem like they're enthusiastic and they've got good follow-through and. Then give them some responsibility give them some, you know Opportunity to make that department what it is and they're like I can't get anyone to do anything people will tell me. I think that I've just always been fortunate to have a lot of people who were also passionate about radio and really wanted to make things work. But I also think that one of the things that I've been good at is just kind of setting expectations from the very beginning. Because that's the thing, if you don't set those expectations right up top, and then you try to change things and get people to do things that they haven't been doing, that can be really hard. So you just kind of have to set a culture from the beginning and get the buy-in from the people who you start with. And then they share that with people who come after, you know. So ideally it is, you're creating a whole culture where people believe in the work that they're doing. They hopefully feel respected in it and they pass that along. And also the idea that the work you're doing is important. You know, I think sometimes with volunteer organizations, especially arts-type, you know, volunteer organizations where you're not saving the world, you're not feeding the hungry or housing the homeless. I think sometimes people are like, well, this is just a fun, silly, casual thing, and I don't have to abide by deadlines or anything. I think that I've just kind of made sure that that doesn't fly. Too much. If people want to have a more fun, casual, you know, I don't want to make it It's not like it's just like, no, it's not a, it's not a heavy, but I mean the thing, it's interesting because like it was, I mean, one of the first, I mean, I hadn't done any volunteer work really prior, I mean, I had done little things here and there for like church youth groups and things, but I had never like voluntarily joined a volunteer organization. And You know, it's like one of these things where like, I think the first time I got in trouble for something, I don't know, whatever, I got in trouble. I was late for a shift or something or whatever. And you yelled at me or something. I'm like, what? This is supposed to be cool. And it's like, oh, wait a minute. This doesn't work if you just don't show up or if you're late. Like it taught me a degree of responsibility that I don't think I would have gotten otherwise. Like I did and always have taken, you know, the station very seriously. And it's like, you know, It's like getting subs, people just calling off a shift at a job. I would rather miss a day of work than not show for my radio show. There are other things I would slack off for, but for radio I don't. A lot of that is just how you've led me for 20 years or so that I've been doing radio with. I started in 2001. I started in 2001. Right. Yeah, no, that sounds right. That sounds right. Yeah, no, I and I, you know, if I yelled at you about it, I'm sorry. That's the thing. I feel like that's a leadership style where you feel comfortable. Like, this is where I'm a terrible leader is I whenever somebody does something bad, like, hey, guys, you know, you shouldn't do it that way. And they're like, yeah, Mary didn't seem to really, I didn't like, there was not many consequences to this bad thing. You know, and so I just wanted to keep on. Yeah, but I think it is something that like, I've learned over time, because when I started at WLUW, I had never managed volunteers. And so my thought process was just kind of, I treat everybody like I would treat employees because you make a commitment, you do the stuff. And I think that over time, I learned more about the differences, like working with people who aren't getting paid versus working with people who it's their job. And I made some adjustments and things on that in terms of tone and just making sure the people always know that I, you know, how much I appreciate their work and how important it is to the organization. I can say this because I occupy the exact same place because I lead a group of creatives as well. And sometimes people just are going to be mad at you. And you have to just be okay with that and know that you have to make decisions that aren't necessarily popular or cool or the punk rock thing to do. And you have to make these decisions and just be okay that some people are are going to be just not like you. I'm not saying that about you, but I myself have to put up with that. I know that that's a heavy thing, especially when you're leading volunteers. You're like, I'm not getting paid for this. It's like, well, then don't get a radio show if you don't. Yeah. I feel like I've been pretty fortunate. That stuff arises from time to time. I think mostly people just in those cases feel like, well, this isn't the right fit for me, and they move on. There are some other places you can go if you want to have complete free freedom and no rules. Yeah, I mean, it's happened. But I think in general, we've built a good culture where, like I say, I mean, I keep saying that, the culture thing, but the expectation I think is pretty clear from the time that volunteers join. I just did a survey of our new volunteers. We just had 70 new volunteers come in, in the past six months at CHIRP. Wow. Yeah. After not having any new volunteers for three years. I did a survey asking them some questions just about their new volunteer experience. One of the questions I said was, what surprised you the most so far about your time at CHRP? And overwhelmingly, people said, it's really organized. You have a lot of different pieces, but it all is organized and runs well. So I really, I appreciated that. Yeah. I have since been a part of a lot of different volunteer organizations and I almost wonder like maybe you need to write a book or start a podcast on how to run a volunteer organization. Who has time? I mean, right. You know, I was actually thinking about this the other day. I don't feel like I have a moment that belongs to me. And whenever I do have time to myself, like, I'm like, I really want to read a book, you know, but then I'm like, I need to clean something or whatever. But I always seem to have time to like dick around on Instagram. I don't know where all that time comes from. But it feels like everything has been sped up. And I don't know if that's just the normal thing that happens to people as they get older, or if it's just this post-pandemic collapsing of society. Yeah, yeah, there's definitely some of that. I mean, in a way, I feel like, I think I know what you mean when you say it feels like things have been sped up. And I think it might be because for a couple of years, things slowed down. And so by comparison, you know, just things that are maybe what it was before the pandemic feel busier now. I know sometimes for me, just for a couple of years, not having meetings in person, you know, and I have so many evening meetings, so, you know, having a couple of pandemic years where I didn't really have those evening meetings, it made things feel really quiet. And then as they've picked back up over the past year or so, I'm like, Oh my God, I'm so busy. How can I? Ah, you know, and I think that I'm not busier than I was in 2019. I think I just got a little unaccustomed to it. Yeah, I don't do anything like at night, but I always feel like I don't have anything. I don't feel like my time belongs to me. And part of that might be to be like the momness of the whole thing. You know, there's a child that I have to keep alive and all of those things. I don't know, maybe a part of it is also moving to a different town. There's not a whole lot of stuff. To do that I want to do. Is this what getting old is? When I was younger, I'm like, when I'm older, I'm going to keep doing stuff, and I'm still going to be cool. Then I get older, I'm like, I don't want to do stuff. Yeah. There were years where I went to more than 100 shows in a year. And I certainly don't do that anymore. JGT I'm really jealous of your tracking of every show you've ever gone to. CBT Yeah, I do have that. JGT Is it in a spreadsheet? CBT No, no, it's all low tech. It's in a binder that I have had since 1995. JGT Really? CBT Yeah. JGT And is it just like, you know, the Pixies, 1994, the Aragon? Or is it like... CBT Yeah, it's not. JGT They opened with... No, there's no description. It's just any band who was on the bill, the venue and the date. That's amazing. I mean, I went to so many shows like The Bottle and stuff that never had tickets anyway. But now it's like the digital ticket bums me out. I'll sometimes pay extra just to have it sent to me. Yeah. See, and this is going to sound like such an, asshole thing to say. I never had tickets. I was always on the guest list. Then you're like, I saved all my stickers. Those are your backstage passes. I do. I do have another binder with my backstage passes and my VIPs. That rules. I have mine sticking on random things if they even made it. So WLAW was such a collapse and it's such a story in and of itself, but we don't, need to go there necessarily. But you were in the newsroom, which that sounded kind of amazing. I wish I could. That sounded like it was such a learning experience. How long were you there? About a year and a half. I continued to do some part-time work for them for another maybe year, so maybe two and a half years total. And so then you come to WLAW, you learn how to run volunteers, the university completely fucks us over, and then the eight of us go to that fateful dinner. Was it eight of us? I don't know the exact number. Somewhere between eight and twelve of us. Yeah, at Moody's Pub. At Moody's Pub and planted the seeds of CHIRP. And I have to say, we don't have a ton of time left, but the story of CHIRP is, I don't know. It's a magical one. I feel like it can't be normal. No, I think what we did was pretty incredible. We built a radio station from scratch. And I think that because we had the work that we did at WLUW, there was a lot of ground work laid and a lot of people came out of that. So having that built-in core group really. Made a difference and having people who knew how to do different things involved with radio and the fact that I'm just a radio junkie, so I knew the legal side of things and had had been following the low-power FM efforts and... So, it never seemed impossible to me. I know sometimes talking to people, because the thing is, of course, we had to pass a law through Congress before we could have a broadcast license in a city like Chicago. So, starting out, we were talking not just about building a radio station, but changing a law at the federal level. And I just was like, nope, we're going to do it. We're going to do it. And I never doubted it. And I will say at the time, you know, like I had never been a part of the slow grind of democracy. I had never written a letter to a congressperson. I'd never called a congressperson. I had never tried to convince other people to have to do so. And it was one of these things where I'm like, I'll do this. I mean, Sean says it's going to work. She tends to not be wrong about these things. But boy, does this seem like an uphill battle. It was a lot of work. It was a lot of work. And the fact that we got it through is crazy. And that you had so much to do with it. I mean, you personally had so much to do with it. I mean, there were some national organizations that definitely laid the groundwork and did a lot of the lobbying in D.C. before we got involved. We quickly became the biggest and best organized local low-power FOM organization. And I was able to go to D.C. a couple of times and meet with FCC staff and meet with some congressional staff and talk to them about the bill. And it just seemed so obvious to me, because everybody thinks that their voice is not represented by the mainstream media. So, you know, it was one of those rare issues that actually didn't feel partisan. And that's part of why I felt really optimistic, I think, from the beginning, even though the bill failed twice before it finally passed, I just felt like this is just ultimately a no-brainer. It's just getting it in front of the right people. Yeah, because there's such a hunger for it. When did it pass? In 2010 it was signed into law. Early 2010. That was the year we went on the air? That was the year we went online. Online. Yeah, launch the station online at Do I remember correctly that the bill was passed in the Obamacare, like in the same bill? No, no, not in Obamacare. It was passed with another measure that was about loudness on television commercials. Oh! Yeah. So that was actually paired with another like, like, oh, this is another audio bill. So we'll just pair them together and pass them. Why did I think it had something it was like, was it passed around the same time? It was around that time. Yeah, that was part of my story. I thought we got past it. It was like pork in the Obamacare bill. It was its own thing. I like my story better. Sorry. I like the idea of it being pork. And getting more radio made everyone healthier and so therefore it could be lumped in with a... Well, it was a big deal. And so then we started on the online station in 10 and then once the bill got passed in 10, it took forever. Yeah. Yeah, because, you know, it's the federal government, so nothing ever moves quickly. So the FCC then had to write rules for a new application window for new stations. That took them a few years. Then they had to open the window. They did that in November of 2013, I believe. That was when they were ready. Then there was a year. It was November of 2014, I believe, we actually got our construction permit. And so then we had to find a location and deal with permitting and things like that and figure out where we could put something on top of a tall building in Chicago. The emails about that were just endless. Endless emails. Yeah. And so engineering studies and all this stuff. So it took us then another three years to get it up and running. So that was October of 2017 that we launched the broadcast at 107.1 FM. And I have to say it's like the combination between the artistic brain that knows music and then just, I mean, your ability to understand bureaucracy and like engineering studies. And I mean, it's like you're like, blah, blah, blah, I'm working on a grant, blah, blah, blah, which to me writing a grant seems like I don't think I could do it. I don't think my writing skills could allow me to take it on that road. And it's just your ability to understand that stuff and not lose focus of the real goal is not many organizations have someone like you. Well, there are parts that I definitely enjoy more than other parts. Great writing isn't my favorite part, but it's just a necessary piece. But I think it's funny, talking about the engineering and location studies and things, literally the way that I found a location for the transmitter and antenna was I drove around with a notebook and wrote down addresses of tall buildings that I thought might work, and came back. Our engineer gave us a radius. I just drove around in that radius, made notes, and then came home and Googled all these building addresses to figure out what the property management companies were there. Then just cold-called the property management companies to ask, hey, can we put a small antenna on your roof? And will you not charge us $10,000 a month? And so it was all very, yeah, not very scientific, very organic. That's probably better than if you would have just been like, okay, I wrote a code that showed me all the topography and then I found the tallest building and then, you know, like, you know, the story is way better. I was driving around and I saw that you're a tall building and I need one, like, you know, I love that. This needs to be a book. You need to write a book. I can. All the time. I need a ghostwriter. I need a ghostwriter then. There's a lot of those. It's sad how many ghostwriters there are out there, because I actually looked into someone ghostwriting something for me, and I was like, what's the deal with ghostwriting? And I'm like, it's not that expensive. I mean, when you think about that they're writing a book for you, and I'm like, how are they going to 100% get my oil and whatever? I was going to say, but I couldn't do it then, because I'd be like, no, I would have to write it because I wouldn't be happy with it if it was ghostwritten. What you do is you get them to ghostwrite the first draft, and then you just go in and fix it. Edit it. Yeah. So we got Chirp in 17, and now we're just a speeding freight train of rock. That's right. We survived the pandemic, and it was the only thing that kept my sanity together was that radio station. And it seems like people are strong. I feel like we came out of the pandemic stronger than we went in. I think absolutely that's true. And it was a strange thing, because I don't want to say, it's not like, oh, thank God for the pandemic or something. But I think what we really saw in the pandemic was the proof of concept of everything we've been doing. Because I've always talked to new volunteers who come to the station about the power of radio to connect and create these very personal feeling relationships. And I've got that line, I say it a million times, but because it's That's really true. Now, like, radio done well. Can make you feel slightly less alone in the world in a way that your Spotify account never will. It's about human connection. And there were so many messages over the course of the pandemic from listeners who were just echoing that back to us, who were saying, I don't know what I'd do without you. I'm at home by myself all day. People who lived by themselves, I can't see my friends. I feel like I know the people who are on the air. I feel like you're my friends. You're keeping me scene. I had parents who talked about how they involved chirp in their routine with their kids. So that there was some semblance of a schedule. Like, oh, every day at four o'clock, we turn on chirp, and we listen to music in the living room, and dance around to it. There were just all these stories about how important people felt that the station was to their daily lives. I've always believe that. But of course, you don't always get a lot of feedback for radio. People are listening, but they don't necessarily tell you how they feel about listening. To have all these messages where people really were saying, this is important to me, this has made a really positive difference in my life. We were really lucky because our fundraising during the pandemic was really great. People really did not just tell us how much they they cared, but they supported us financially. I had no idea how that was going to go. The first thing we did when we went into pandemic mode was cancel the pledge drive. There was supposed to be a pledge drive that week that lockdown went into effect. We called it off. I just thought, huh, I wonder how this is going to go for the rest of the year. We did fine. I'm just really grateful to everybody who listened and saw it as something, not just like, this is important to me, like a lot of different things, but like this is important enough to me that I'm actually going to make a donation to it even in these uncertain times. Yeah, it was fun to fundraise during that time because I had so little connection to the world that like, you know, just, oh, look, donations are coming in. It's like we're having a conversation through money. You really are listening to me. I'm not just alone in the world. And I think so many DJs felt like that too. Like it was the one reason to leave your house. You know, some DJs broadcast remote, but others came in and we just had really rigorous procedures in place to keep everyone healthy. And it was, yeah, especially in that first month or so where I wrote letters for people to have so they could show the letters if they were stopped and asked, why are you out of your house? I remember that. There was that moment. And I remember driving to the station and there just being no cars on the road in the middle of the day. Or even just like the procedure of like getting the DJ in front of you out and you in and wondering is there cross-contamination happening? You know, you're just like, I hope this thing I'm talking into that somebody else also talked into for three hours isn't going to murder me. Right. You know, like this baby sock is like the only thing keeping me from certain death. Baby socks. And I would, what's so funny with the baby socks, for those who are listening, we use baby socks over the mics. Well, yeah, but to like, so they could be disposable. So there would be like some layer of barrier that everybody would change rather than just speaking into the same mic with the same windscreen. Every time I come, I would dig through the socks, try to find one that was like, cute, like wasn't like it wasn't just like a pink sock, like it had to have like a soccer ball on it. Like, that just made me feel better that my like baby sock was a little bit cuter than you know, what it what it could have been like, dumb. I just remember that like What a dumb pandemic era ritual I had was digging through the sock bag trying to find a cute one. Yeah. I remember having alerts set on my phone so I could buy wipes and Lysol spray and everything because it was so important for us to have them in the station to be able to keep doing what we're doing. Sometimes we'd get down to, like, oh my God, we only have five more packages of wipes. I'd just get an alert and I'd be like, I have to try and buy boxes of wipes and things. That preoccupied my mind for a ridiculous portion of my workday some days. Oh yeah, I had my own version of that. I was sourcing Plexiglas to make mobile DJ booths. Oh, it was such a bad time. Are the wipes just numbered, just like that's how many we've gone through? Yeah, yeah. I just, about a month in, I decided to start numbering them just to see how many we would go through. Because we're at like 227 right now. Yeah. Which is crazy. Well, we are over time at this point. I could do this forever with you, Sean. But is there anything exciting you want to promote going on with the chirps or anything else? Well, I just always encourage people to tune in and check it out. If you've never listened to the station before, and there are a lot of ways you can listen. If you're in Chicago on the north side at 107.1 FM, anywhere in the world at, you can tell your smart speaker, or play Chirp Radio. That's where I was going to go. You know what's so funny is we got an Alexa show or something, I finally broke down and got one and the first thing I did was I turned on the Alexa skill of Chirp. I've been talking about this numerous times a day for years now and I'm like, hey Alexa, turn on the Chirp skill. And it was like, all right, turning on the Chirp skill and all of a sudden it was just playing. And I'm like, now that is cool. It's always funny. I always get excited. I still enjoy hearing those stories. I'm like, yeah. And even though you're involved directly, I still like that. Like, yeah, reinforce that notion of the Alexa skill. Do it first thing when you get your device. And it still is exciting when I get in the car and hit the preset and there it is. Like that, as much as I believed it was, I mean, it wasn't a guarantee. Yeah. Well, and even just the notion of creating a terrestrial radio station in 2015 or whatever, 617, I mean, it's like, I remember a lot of people questioning that wisdom and it's like, you know, like, it's classes to not have it, like, radios is egalitarian. It is, it is, and you know, it's everywhere, it's accessible, and even though people, a lot of people don't have radios in their homes anymore, now there are so many other ways to listen, which is great, but you know, radio listening in cars is still the absolute number one thing. And And people still talk to me about it and talk about how important it was to have the broadcast signal. And they aren't necessarily people who are 50. People who are 24 have said to me, like, Oh, you know, I never really listened to Chirp when it was online. But now I listen on my radio, you know, and people just have particular tastes for that, you know, and their styles of listening and everything. So some people, you know, have never listened to anything but digitally. And some people have never listened to any way but over the air. And so, you know, I think the more methods we have for people being able to listen, the better we are. But I, yeah, no, I still am a believer in traditional over-the-air radio and I'm not alone in it. No, you're not. Well, thanks so much for being here. And where can people find you, Sean? You can find me on Saturday afternoons from noon until two. I DJ on Chirp. So tune in and Perfect. Thank you so much, Sean. Thank you. Thanks for listening to All Up In My Lady Business, a podcast from a Mary Nisi production. It is written by me, Mary Nisi. It is edited by Emilia Ruby with Softer Sounds. It is recorded at the Toast & Jam offices in Logan Square in Chicago, Illinois. And it is also sometimes, recorded in the attic of my house in Evanston. You can find resources and links from this, episode in the show notes at all up in And if you enjoyed this episode, and you did smash that subscribe button and send it to somebody who's ass could be a whole lot holer. Oh, and also if you're the kind of person that reviews things on the internet, please rate and review us on Apple podcast and Spotify. It really does help people find the show and, And don't forget, whatever you do this week, do it with your whole ass. Thanks for listening. Music.