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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz

After 25 years, Bob Madden (left) and Brian Nelson still share laughs. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Milwaukee Buzz

Nelson: "Since my son was born, I haven't considered leaving." (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Milwaukee Buzz

Madden: "We don't self-promote very well." (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Milwaukee Buzz

Bob and Brian tackle another morning in The Hog studio. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

Milwaukee Talks: Bob and Brian

As co-hosts of the city's top-ranked morning radio show, Bob Madden and Brian Nelson spend five hours a day talking to each other, news director Carrie Wendt, producer Eric Jensen and a huge audience listening on The Hog (WHQG, 102.9 FM).

While that makes them worthwhile subjects for a Milwaukee Talks interview, it also presents a problem:

"What are you possibly going to ask us?" Madden asked before the interview. "Everybody already knows everything there is to know about us. We say everything on the show."

It's true. Avid listeners to the show, which is syndicated on Madison's Fox Sports Radio (100.5 FM) and Appleton's The Fox (96.9 FM) already know plenty about longtime pals Madden (45), Nelson (46) and their journey from Union Grove High School to Gateway Technical College to broadcast stops in Melbourne, Fla., Springfield, Mo., Battle Creek, Mich., and Toledo.

But, we still had questions we wanted answered.

What makes this show tick? How has the show -- and the radio business -- changed in the 25 years the two have been broadcasting together? What impact did ESPN "SportsCenter'' host Dan Patrick and the late Channel 12 reporter Duane Gay, another friend from Union Grove, have on the program? What is the "Death City" story? And finally, what will happen when the duo's newly-signed contract extension expires in 2012?

When it came time to sit down with Bob and Brian, we could think of no one better to ask the questions than OMC's senior editor, Drew Olson, who has been a weekly guest on their show since 1998 and has known the two for the better part of his 20 years in journalism.

What follows is a transcript of a 45-minute interview that was robust, breezy and punctuated with laughter -- much like the morning show. Enjoy this edition of Milwaukee Talks with Bob and Brian.

OMC: A little more than a year from now, in July, 2007, you guys will mark your 20th anniversary doing radio in Milwaukee. Any plans to celebrate?

Brian Nelson: Plans?

Bob Madden: We're way too busy working on the Steve Czaban 11th year CD. We're way too busy to think about that.

Brian: We'll get on that.

Bob: No we won't.

Brian: We tried playing some of our old tapes honoring our 20th year in broadcasting.

Bob: If something happens -- if there is a 20th anniversary celebration for Bob and Brian, it'll be done by people on the promotions staff and they'll just slap our faces and names on it. And, we'll grouse about it.

OMC: Twenty years is a long time for any employee to be at one place. In your business, it's almost unheard of. How many people that you work with now were in the building when you first started.

Bob: One person. Marilyn Mee.

Brian: And she's over at WKLH now.

Bob: I bet that, other than Marilyn, there are positions that have turned over 10 or 12 times since we started.

OMC: How many of the Milwaukee program directors can you name?

Bob: All of them. Bruce McGregor. Greg Ausham. John Duncan. Keith Hastings. Mike Stern. Sean Elliot. And now Keith is back again.

Brian: Keith is like counting Grover Cleveland Alexander twice. It's the same guy, different administration.

OMC: In marking a recent anniversary, you played clips of your early years together. How has the show changed since that time and since you brought it to Milwaukee?

Brian: Less preparation.

Bob: Way less preparation. And no music. We used to play six to eight songs an hour. We actually used to do three for Thursdays on our show. We don't play any music. We don't do any bits any more.

Brian: We used to pre-record some stuff or even write some stuff.

OMC: What were some of those bits? I remember the football soap opera "All My Packers" being a big hit. Some of those were pre-recorded, right?

Bob: We did that Andy Rooney thing and "The Hot List." "Women's Problems" was recorded at first, then we got everyone in the room and started doing it live. A lot of that stuff we would do, Brian would run downstairs and do it and we would have (colleague/production man) Scott Stocki come in early and put it together on a four-track. Then, it just got to be easier doing it live. It was funnier. It was more fun to watch.

Brian: We tried doing "The Hot List" live, but it changed. We had a bucket of water and a towel. That stuff runs its course. There are only so many jokes.

OMC: What was "The Hot List?"

Bob: Everyone was doing a hot list back then. What's hot? It was the top five movies, the top five songs, the top clubs ... so, we did our own.

Brian: You have to know some Warner Bros. history. The cartoon where Daffy and Bugs wind up in Nepal or somewhere and they encounter the Abominable Snowman and he talks (effects an accent) like Lenny from "Of Mice and Men," and he calls everyone "George." We started doing things like, "You know what's hot? When the sun has been shining on the chrome by your window on your car, and you roll down your window and set your elbow on that? Gosh, is that hot."

Bob: It got to, "Drinking gasoline and lighting a cigar and your whole head is on fire. That's hot." But, we had a big ash tray. It was copper or tin or something? We'd fill it with about an inch of water and he'd have a sponge and it made the greatest sound of water dripping into what sounded like this huge cauldron. "Gosh, that's hot." It was stupid. It was dumb.

Brian: That was the only bit that we did that resulted in a puddle anywhere.

Bob: It was pre-written, but we actually did it live.

Brian: I found out something, and I would teach this in radio school. I would come upstairs with a recorded hot list or something or some piece of something and I would tell Bob and Marilyn (Mee, the newswoman and sidekick), "This is going to stink. It's going to be awful. This sucks." Undersell it. Then, if it was funny at all, it was way funnier. If you're expecting some super-funny thing and you're just waiting for it to be super funny, it doesn't work. Lower expectations make comedy work.

OMC: Was the show fundamentally the same in all your stops?

Brian: I would say so. We did pretty much the same thing from school all the way through.

Bob: We were in Florida, Missouri and Michigan was in there, too, Battle Creek. We called it summer camp. We showed up in May and left in August. Then we went to Toledo. Those first three or four stops -- until about halfway through Toledo -- I was really nervous about things. I'd say, "We've got to get this just right. It's got to be perfect." Then we got working with a friend of ours, Pat Still, who was like "Boys, it's just radio. It's not that hard." We got to a point where we just said "All right, we'll do what we do." It got to be easier.

Brian: In Toledo, we kind of developed a bit of an attitude because we had management that kind of drove us nuts.

Bob: To be honest, we didn't think they knew what they were doing. We thought they would be the demise of our show, if we listened to them. Luckily, we got together with Pat Still, who they brought in as a consultant. Our first meeting, it was Pat, Brian, me, our general manager and our program director. We sat down in the room, and Pat looks at the general manager and program director and said, "Why don't you guys go get some lunch and we'll catch up to you in about a half-hour." He just dismisses them. They get up and leave, the door closes and he goes, "All right, boys -- here is what we're going to do. It's just us now. We're just closing ranks. It's the three of us. We're not going to listen to anything they say. We're not going to take any advice from them. We're going to do it our way now." At that point, it was like "Boom!" The light went on over our heads.

Brian: Yeah, the chains fell off.

Bob: We did what we wanted and ratings were ridiculously good.

Brian: There wasn't a lot of meddling.

Bob: They tried to meddle after that, but Pat's theory was, "Don't worry about that. I'll give them another problem to solve or you give them a problem to solve." His theory was -- and these were Pat's exact words: "If you don't want the kids to play with the outlets, give them a box to play with." So, he'd give them these phantom problems and kept them out of our hair. That's when the whole thing kind of took off. Then, we got to work with Greg Ausham, who was like Pat Still. He was an in-your-face type of guy.

Brian: Greg was more of a pirate.

OMC: At that time, Lazer 103 was kind of an upstart, underdog station. It had an attitude.

Bob: the one thing I remember Greg said to us: "I want you guys to be the (legendary Chicago radio team) Steve (Dahl) and Garry (Meier) of Milwaukee. I want complaints. If I'm not getting complaints, then you're not doing what you're supposed to do."

OMC: Here is a pretty basic question. Going back to the start of this thing, who was the genius who decided Bob's name should be first? Is that the key to the whole thing?

Brian: We bought it from the "Bob and ... " franchise. There was "Bob and Ray," "Bob and Tom," and then there was "Mark and Brian." Brian was going to come in second, no matter what.

Bob: Brian is secure enough with his position on the show ...

Brian: It's like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. If your name goes first, you get all the credit. If it goes bad, you get all the blame. I'm a coward, so ...

OMC: The station's flip from "Lazer 103" to "102.9 The Hog" last August created a buzz in the city and it seems to have helped ratings in other parts of the day. What did you think about that, and was there ever a time that you liked -- or even cared about -- the music being played on your station?

Brian: I still have trouble telling people I work at "The Hog," when I'm out in public. It seems kind of weird.

Bob: When you're on the phone and you say, "This is Bob, from the Hog" -- see, you laughed. There are times, I swear, I forgot the call letters until about two months ago. Actually, it was a relief switching the music. The name kind of worried me. Even though we didn't play music, we were affected by how that format had completely burned out. We were starting to see some erosion in our daypart because that format was cooked.

Brian: The closest we've ever come to working at a station where we really liked the music was our first job.

Bob: Because we programmed it.

Brian: After about six months, we were in charge of the music. We'd bring in Bob's albums and play them.

OMC: In preparing for this interview, I tried to Google you guys and there wasn't a whole lot of information considering your status as a top-ranked show. Bob, are you aware that there is a Bob Madden's carpet and tile shop in Dayton, Ohio?

Brian: (Laughs).

Bob: I'm glad to hear that. I hope he's doing well. My wife is from Ohio, I could swing over to Dayton. I've got like a week when I'm supposed to be visiting my in-laws.

OMC: I also found out that Brian got a couple of speeding tickets in the last two years.

Brian: You can Google "Brian Nelson." He was some kind of double-crossing terrorist for the IRA, too.

OMC: There is also a guy named Brian Nelson who is younger than you who is leaving delinquent bills and getting taken to small-claims court all the time.

Brian: That's about right. (laughs). Bob sells carpet and I'm a scumbag. I'm even below the carpet salesman. I'd take the carpet salesman. I get demoted lower than that.

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southpaw0609 | Nov. 15, 2008 at 5:14 p.m. (report)

Phil said: "B & B are perfect for Milwaukee, small conservative town that needs small minds. Howard graduated with honors from Boston College while B & B got a Gateway tech degree. This is all you need to know about the level of intelligence of the personalities." You gotta love it when it gets down to posting resume's to make your point, Phil. Go to where somebody cares. From what I've seen of the Ivy League grads who've tried to run things--Kennedy's, Bush's, Clinton's--I'll listen to technical school dropouts in the morning and take my chances.

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imsimply | Aug. 10, 2008 at 9:19 a.m. (report)

Gotta admit, when I started listening back in 1999 I thought you guys were both a**es (and Steve, too). But, the guy I was dating kept referencing the show so I hung in there...I've been listening faithfully ever since. That guy (now my husband) gets the biggest kick out of how much of a groupie I am and how much I love the Man Show (Bob & Brian's night out). Haven't done the golf outing yet, but one of these years...Oh yeah, and you are still a bunch of a**es at times, but I would never want that to change.

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RLDavis | April 16, 2008 at 1:38 a.m. (report)

By the way, my wife absolutely loves the show and listens to it on the way to school! She is in college and is studying Nursing. Women do enjoy the show! In fact all of the women I know who listen to the show regularly are educated too!

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RLDavis | April 16, 2008 at 1:35 a.m. (report)

I enjoy Bob and Brian's show and disagree wholeheartedly with the poster who feels they are "race baiters" and that they somehow are all that is wrong with radio, or the world, today. They are not "anti-intellectual" unless you consider "intellectual" on equal footing with "progressive", "liberal" or any other "left-leaning" label.

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NEVERCON | April 1, 2008 at 9:10 a.m. (report)

Bob and Brian epitomize what is wrong with Milwaukee media. Uninformed, Partisan and willfully ignorant. They are anti-intellectual Race Baiters. AND WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!

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