Legendary local broadcaster Bob Reitman, who graced Milwaukee’s airwaves for 40 years at various stations, is retiring after more than a quarter-century as part of the morning team at WKTI (94.5 FM), where he shared the studio with longtime partner Gene Mueller, Amy Taylor and producer Gino Salomone.
Reitman, who turns 65 next week, isn’t leaving radio forever.
At 7 p.m. on Jan. 25, he’ll start a new weekly show “It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Music,” on WUWM (89.7 FM). As the countdown to his final WKTI show crept into single digits, Reitman settled into a booth at a restaurant near his North Shore home and talked about his past and future as a fixture in Milwaukee radio.
Enjoy this Milwaukee Talks interview with Bob Reitman.
OnMilwaukee.com: We’ve seen a number of high-profile media people retire recently, including Jerry Taff from Channel 12 and Mike Gousha and Paul Joseph from Channel 4, and they got extended sendoffs. What has it been like for you since you announced that you were leaving? Has it been like attending your own funeral?
Bob Reitman: It’s exactly like being at your own funeral. It’s really strange, especially when you’ve got nine months. It’s like being pregnant. Time goes by. I kind of locked it into the seasons. We announced in March and there were no leaves on the trees. I said “Well, the leaves will come out; it will be a nice summer. Then the leaves will start changing, this might get more real.” It really accelerated in October. October and November just zoomed. All of a sudden, I’ve only got a few shows left.
OMC: When do you think it will hit you that it’s over? Will it be during the last show? Will it be the first day that you don’t have to get up at 3 a.m.?
BR: Probably. It’s right around the holidays, so we’re off around the holidays anyways. It will probably hit me on Jan. 2. Maybe it will hit me the next day. I don’t know.
OMC: Are you the type who stops to smell the roses? Do you walk in thinking “I won’t be coming to this building this much longer” or anything like that?
BR: A little bit. That building was built the year I was born (1941). I remember going in there when I was, like, 7 years old. When they did the old Gordie Thomas show (“Top of the Morning”) and they put the camera outside and the kids would wave into the camera. He said to me, “You have such long eyelashes.” I remember going to that lobby. That lobby is very interesting. I remember that and never thinking I’d end up working there.
The building is just a neat building. It’s a broadcast building. That’s all it exists for; its sole purpose. I ‘m going to miss the place, but it’s time (to leave), I think.
OMC: So, do you have any immediate plans for retirement?
BR: I’m going to do a show on WUWM. I can’t wait to just get down there and meet those people and get a show under my belt.
OMC: You started in radio at WUWM, didn’t you? What kind of stuff will you play?
BR: That’s where I started, in about 1966 or ‘67. It’s full circle. I’m sure there will probably be an inordinate amount of (Bob) Dylan. I’ll play whatever I want. It’s a different way of thinking. I made road tapes for years. I think I have more than 120. I still think I’ll do that. I’m very interested in putting sequences of songs together.
OMC: That’s the kind of show that you could voice-track (pre-record) if you wanted. Will you do that or will you do it live and take calls from listeners?
BR: I’m going to do it live. As far as taking calls, I think I might. I’ve got a couple ideas about how to do that. I want it to fit into the show.
OMC: How did this all come about?
BR: When I announced my retirement in March, this (show) was in the back of my head. Could that happen? I thought, “Well, it’s too early to call these guys.” I was going to wait, but then they sent me an e-mail within a week and said “The door is open.” I thought “Oh, my God.” It was like a dream come true. I went down there and they have just treated me so nicely.
I told them I wanted to play records and they said they only had one turntable and it was broken. A week later, they e-mailed me and said “You’ve got to come down and see this.” They got two brand new turntables. Some of the younger people working there said “What are those?” They had never seen one.
OMC: For all of the advances in technology, they still can’t beat the sound of a vinyl record. It just seems to have a kind of warmth to it.
BR: You recognize that. But, there is a whole generation of people who will never hear vinyl. Maybe by playing it on WUWM … I don’t think people will run out and buy vinyl, but they’ll know it’s there. A lot of stuff I have is on vinyl and I can’t afford to replace my whole collection.
BR: We didn’t talk much. That wasn’t the idea. It wasn’t personality-driven radio. It was music-driven radio.
OMC: Do you plan to talk a lot on the new show or will it be mostly music?
BR: I want to give the listener enough information so that -- I know one thing that annoys me is if you hear five songs in a row and you want to know what the third one is and they don’t tell you.
I’d like to start off with a song with a certain feeling to it; a certain message. Sort of like “I saw this girl standing across the room … I wonder who she is.” Then, the next song is “I met her.” The next song is, “We went out.” I just envision, musically, just weaving that around.
There are different things I could do. I could take an album, say Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and play the songs in order performed by different artists. I’d like to get a 17- or 18-year-old kid in the studio and play some of his favorite music and see what he’s listening to and see if we like some of the same stuff.
OMC: You don’t hear anything like that on modern radio.
BR: Now, it’s mostly focus group stuff. It’s research. That’s one way to do it.
OMC: In the years you’ve been at WKTI, has there been a lot of music that caught your ear? Or, do you mostly ignore it? I don’t imagine you’ll be playing the latest Green Day mega-hit on your new show, will you?
BR: If it’s good, I would. I like (artists like) Bright Eyes and The Paper Chase. I also realize I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. A lot. I don’t want to be an oldies show. I just want to play good music; I don’t care what era it’s from. There is good stuff from the '30s and '40s. If you listen to the new Dylan album, its roots are way down into that.
OMC: Sort of like Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions album?
BR: That’s a great example. There are roots in American music. I’d like to explore that.
OMC: It sounds like you’ve got enough ideas to do a lot of shows.
BR: There are a lot of directions I can go with this. I’ve thought about bringing people in to talk about some of their favorite songs. Wouldn’t you listen to the show if the mayor was on with his favorite seven songs? I would.
OMC: We’ve been talking about your new show. What about the show you’re leaving? What will you miss most about doing mornings at WKTI?
BR: What I’m going to miss, really, is what happens after a long time being in a market like Milwaukee. You run into people and they say “I’ve been listening to you since I was in high school. Now my kids listen.” People come up and are so nice -- “You gave me a wakeup call on my honeymoon.” I’m glad that the kind of stuff we were doing on KTI involved the listeners a lot. It’s kind of like being in a small town.
Of course, after working so many years with Mueller, I’m going to miss him. I had a couple partners before Mueller, but nothing really clicked. Gino has been with us a long time. Amy hasn’t been with us quite as long, but it’s been fun with her.
OMC: When you work that closely with someone, it’s almost like being married, isn’t it?
BR: It’s a marriage without sex. We went to five or six Olympics. We went to the Soviet Union together. We went to Mexico and Jamaica about 18 times. We made a deal early on, if there is a problem, get it right out there. Don’t let it go. It’s worked.
OMC: What’s the secret to keeping it fresh?
BR: When you work with somebody, you have to find out where the borders are. A long time ago, Gene and I figured out where we could go with each other. With Amy, she was there a shorter time. It was a work in progress, but that was fun. We were figuring out where the borders are. It made it exciting.
OMC: What do you think will happen to the show after you leave?
BR: I honestly don’t know. I would hope they would keep that morning show together. I think they’d do fine. Mueller was around about as long as I was. Gino has been around. At this point, I don’t know what they’re going to do.
OMC: Here is a question you’ve probably heard a million times since you announced your retirement. Are you looking forward to sleeping in? Were you able to get on a “normal” schedule during vacations or did you still get up at 3 a.m.?
BR: I can do it pretty well. I sleep about 6 or 6 ½ hours. I took about a 40-minute nap before I came to meet you here. That nap just shakes me up. But, I only have to get up a few more times.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.