By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Mar 22, 2005 at 5:36 AM

{image1} Sandy Maxx, the host of 99 WMYX's mid-day radio show, traveled a long and winding road to return to Milwaukee after she graduated from college. In fact, this self-described radio junkie has worked in many formats, from '80s to oldies, from college to rock, in three cities across the country.

She has a great knack for identifying with her listeners, mostly because she remembers when she was that kid calling into her favorite DJs. And if working in radio isn't enough, Maxx keeps herself busy as a PA announcer for Marquette and a Game Day host for the Brewers. She also dabbles in Internet radio and the occasional voice work.

It's no wonder then that we were drinking coffee when we recently sat down and talked to Maxx about how she got here, where she's been, and how she wound up singing backup on a country-punk album. Enjoy this latest edition of Milwaukee Talks.

OMC: You've taken a rather circuitous route to get to Milwaukee, haven't you?

SM: Well, sort of. I grew up in Louisville, but came to college here at Marquette. I knew I wanted to do radio, so I got involved in the student station immediately. As many people in Milwaukee have done, I did a tour of duty at WQFM, if you remember that. I started out as a promotional intern, and within a month there, I was on air during the weekends. It was the AC/DC, Slaughter years.

OMC: Were you listening to that kind of music back then?

SM: Oh, God, no. Because I was also working at a college station, I was listening to Love and Rockets. Every Saturday and Sunday for my junior and senior years, I was on the air, which was great. Once you spend every weekend in a tiny room and figure that's what it takes to be on the radio, I knew what it took to get a job in the field. After college, I got hired in Atlanta as a promotions assistant for an oldies station. It was a ton of fun and a great city to be in. I did that for about three years. I figured I would work through the Olympics and then go back to Chicago and say, "How do you like me now?"

OMC: Why Chicago?

SM: I always wanted to work at XRT in Chicago. It is one of the most legendary stations in the country. It had the coolest jocks who knew everything about music. I got the job way ahead of schedule. I was the promotions director for five years. I worked really, really hard there doing some great promotions. It was like being a party hostess for my listeners. It was very time-consuming, and I got a little burned out. But radio gets in your blood. It's strange, I can't imagine being out of radio.

OMC: How did you get to Milwaukee?


SM: I fell in love. My boyfriend was here. I thought, this is the old college town. Do I really want to be here? I've been there, done that. I was working in Chicago doing the '80s channel there, which was another dream come true. But that station had changed formats, and I had no future there. I was hired at the Zone, which was the competing '80s station. Then I was a project manager for Jellyvision, the software company that did "You Don't Know Jack." It was one of the best experiences ever, but I was still doing radio as a weekender in Kenosha. Radio was in my blood; my father did radio news when I was a child. But I got laid off at Jellyvision, and I was in love, so moving to Milwaukee meant I would see him more often. And I had no job there, and I had no job here, so what's the difference?

OMC: Yeah, it's probably easier to be unemployed in Milwaukee than in Chicago.

SM: It actually really is. So I moved here, and I was unemployed for about a month before I got a job at WKLH working weekends. This was in 2001. I was the go-to girl. I worked overnights. I quarterbacked the morning show if Dave Luczak was out. I did traffic reports for Dave and Carole. I filled in for anyone who couldn't make it. And I totally loved it. It was so flattering. I was at the Mix doing nights, then got promoted to mid-days just in time to enjoy nights off for Summerfest.

OMC: Why is your job fun?

SM: Because I'm talking to people a whole lot like me. Everyone who calls in is having fun, and they're coming to me for information. If someone who's 20-something or 30-something is taking the time to call in, that's pretty significant.

{image3} OMC: Is it hard to play music that you don't necessarily listen to?

SM: In terms of format, the "Deep End" on the '80s station was my end-all-be-all job. Now I look for bands in the 21st century that turn me on just as much as the '80s, because I don't want to live in the past. I don't want to be that sad girl who only likes Tears For Fears. So I'm totally digging Maroon 5, who I wouldn't have heard if I didn't work at the Mix. I'm always learning. When you're in radio, the common misconception is that you're rockin' out to every tune. As a DJ, I'm doing 18 things at once -- editing a phone call and really talking to people and finding out what they're doing, because I'm trapped in a little room.

OMC: Do you ever feel like a Milwaukee celebrity?

SM: No, but I do get recognized sometimes from doing the Brewers Game Day hosting during the summer.

OMC: Did you enjoy that last year?

SM: Yeah, my job is to make you feel welcome at Miller Park and to interview fans. It's very similar to what I do on the radio but in an open environment. It's been a really interesting experience. And it's nice that I can't see myself on the video screen, because that would freak me out. I think it's a great concept for the Brewers. Hopefully I have some visually interesting things for the fans, whether it be the guy in the rainbow wig or the guy with the "John 3:16" sign.

OMC: Tell me about your announcing gig at Marquette games.

SM: I was recommended to do PA for women's volleyball and basketball. I was flattered, and it sounded fun. I've learned a lot, and it's gotten me more involved with the university. The Al McGuire Center was built on the site of one of my old apartments. But I love that energy at the games.


OMC: And your boyfriend, Mike, does the PA for Marquette men's basketball, so that's pretty unique, right?

SM: If we tried to plan that, it wouldn't have worked out. We might be the only boyfriend-girlfriend combo in college basketball. You just can't plan that sort of stuff.

OMC: Let me change gears for a second. Is it true that you once sang backup for Jello Biafra?

SM: I had a really diverse musical taste growing up, from The Monkees to the Dead Kennedys. This was before the age of the Internet. I had a wicked crush on Jello Biafra, because he was so smart and so witty. He came to speak at Marquette my freshman year. He invited me to go to George Webb's with him, and I kept in touch with him. I saw him again in Atlanta, where I had some vacation that I needed to use or lose. So I thought, what the heck, I'd go to San Francisco and hang out with him. But he was in Austin doing a country-punk album with Mojo Nixon, and he gave me the studio phone number. He offered to give me a tour of Bob Mould's house, so I took the trip, got to sing backup on the album, and it was amazing. It was one of those things that when I look back on it, I probably wouldn't do it now. You just don't think, you just go for it.

OMC: I'm assuming it's not a secret that Maxx isn't your real last name. How did you pick it?

SM: A radio tradition is that you either pick a really generic name like "Summers" or a city that you love. "London" would have been perfect, but the man who hired me was Dave London. "Maxx" is a tribute to my mother's maiden name, and we were just out of the '80s, so we were playing songs by bands who had singers who's names were "Rykk." But I like it -- it kind of suits me now.

OMC: Last question: what do you like about living in Milwaukee?

SM: Milwaukee is a smaller, cleaner Chicago. Now that I've lived in Chicago, I appreciate Milwaukee much more. You can park. There's such a lively music, arts and social scene here. I hate it when people say they're bored. Whether it's beer, brats or bowling, or the Calatrava or great coffee shops, there's so much to do here. I've seen a ton of good shows here. It's such an accessible city.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.