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Thursday, May 1, 2003 02:20 pm

Nice guys finish first

Bob Murray steps back up to morning drive-time

Bob Murray

The rumor that had seemed obvious since last week turns out to be true: WTAX-AM 1240 has hired broadcasting veteran Bob Murray to host its morning drive-time "news watch"--the same shift left open back in February, when WTAX fired the rabblerousing Donald "One-Eyed Jack" Jackson.

So in essence, Murray--who prides himself on being a gentleman--is replacing Jackson, who prided himself on not being a gentleman.

"It's like Montovani replacing the Sex Pistols!" says one shocked jock, who asked not to be quoted by name.

Jim Leach, news director at Murray's former home, WMAY-AM 970, calls this turn of events "a delicious irony," recalling that Jackson "was talking smack about Bob back when he [Jackson] moved to WTAX."

Richard Fazi Falzone, Jackson's former producer, was stunned but pleased to hear this news. "Bob Murray is everything that One-Eye's not--a team player, nice guy, all those things," Falzone says. "Jack had a talent of stirring up controversy, whereas Bob has a talent of being nice and friendly and bringing people together."

Jeff Hofman, producer of Sam Madonia's morning drive-time show on WFMB-AM 1450, calls Jackson and Murray "night and day."

"One-Eyed Jack's confrontational; Bob's not," Hofman says. "At the risk of making it sound like saccharine, Bob does not avoid confrontation, but he doesn't go looking for it either."

As for the folks at WTAX, they're happy to talk about Murray, and trying to forget about you-know-who. "As we looked at people in and out of the market, several factors came up that just made sense for Bob to do a show like this," says WTAX program director Joe Crain. "He had hosted news on WAND-TV, he was comfortable with a format that blended everything from hard news to the lighter side, and he obviously has a lot of name recognition.

"Also, he has that appeal that a lot of successful radio stations around the Midwest have . . . where the host blends news and topics of the day in conversational tone, almost like you're talking to your neighbor over the fence, someone you rely on and trust like an old friend," Crain says.

Murray, whose on-air duties begin at 5:30 a.m. Monday, May 5, is thrilled about his new job. "I'm real excited," he says. "The new people I'm working with are just great."

He spent this past week in the studio, familiarizing himself with the equipment. Jackson often said he had designed that studio himself. "If that's true, if it is his custom-built studio, it's one fabulous studio, it really is," Murray says. "The equipment is just state-of-the-art."

The format WTAX has used for the past couple of months will not change much with Murray. There will be news at the top of the hour, weather, sports, market watch, and pieces from CBS's Charles Osgood. Murray will have up to 10 minutes each hour to do what he calls "close-up interviews with newsmakers of the day."

One thing that will change, though, is Murray's gym schedule. Having lost more than 200 pounds in the past year, Murray is committed to continuing his exercise regimen. (Murray and Leach were the subjects of an Illinois Times cover story, "The Incredible Shrinking Talk Show Hosts," in March.) Now, instead of hitting the treadmill before work, he will exercise in the afternoon.

"I'm feeling terrific," Murray says.

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