Dahl's 35 years in Chicago radio: 'It all worked out'

On February 23, 1978, Chicagoans who were tuned to 94.7 FM awoke for the first time to a 23-year-old radio anarchist from Pasadena, California (by way of Detroit). It was, as the title of the new WDAI morning show warned, a Rude Awakening in more ways than one.

No one listening that day could have predicted that Steve Dahl would go on to pioneer a new form of talk radio, defying convention, testing limits, and paving the way for a generation to follow. Or that he'd still be at it — in Chicago — 35 years later.

Today, Dahl, 58, continues to hold forth behind a microphone five days a week. He does it now from the basement of his west suburban home or from his Florida condo in the form of a subscription podcast. It may not come with the rarefied air or seven-figure salary he drew as a terrestrial radio star, but it affords him the creative freedom and control he always craved. Even as the onetime enfant terrible of Chicago radio approaches elder statesman status, he's still innovating.

On the eve of his latest milestone, I caught up with Dahl for this brief exchange:

Q. Doing anything special to note your 35th anniversary on the air here?

A. Seriously? I didn't even know that. Let me plan something and I'll get back to you!

Q. Any thoughts about surviving 35 years in the market?

A. I wasn't born in Chicago, but I've spent the greater and the greatest part of my life here.

Q. Do you look back on your early years here with pride?

A. People weren't really sure what to make of me when I came to town, but I wore them down, and it all worked out.

Q. To whom do you feel most indebted for your success?

A. Wally Phillips (for punching down when I made fun of him), Garry Meier and Disco.

Q. Radio really stinks now, doesn't it?

A. Radio died the day they started using the Portable People Meter. That's what I love about podcasting — it's like radio used to be back in the good old days.


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)