Moments after Dan McNeil returned to WSCR AM 670 with an extraordinary apology to listeners Friday, the great Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper tweeted that it was “the most honest and self-aware segment you'll ever hear on the radio.”
Kasper was right. With the possible exception of Steve Dahl, no Chicago radio personality had ever bared his soul as fully as McNeil in confessing his addictions and seeking forgiveness from his audience, telling them: “I know I’ve let a lot of you down.”
Just out of rehab and back after eight weeks away from his midday show on the CBS Radio sports/talk station, McNeil, 52, spoke bluntly about his addiction to prescription narcotics, his dependence on marijuana and his crippling battles with depression. (Read the transcript of his comments below.)
“Every day when I wake up, I look in the mirror, I do my gratitudes and I say: ‘Hey, dipstick, you are an addict. That’s what you are,’ ” McNeil told listeners. “ ‘You may be a devoted father, sometimes a very attentive, loving husband, and a good friend to many, and occasionally a good sports talk show host. But you are an addict.’ ”
By his own admission, this wasn’t the first, second or third time McNeil had to explain how personal issues had nearly cost him one of the best jobs in local broadcasting. “You’d think you’d get used to doing this, as often as I have come back from extended absences, whether it’s treating my addiction or having issues with suspensions up the dial for a number of years,” he said. “But it doesn’t get any easier.”
That may be especially true this time, considering how closely McNeil came to wearing out his welcome. Unlike the “real joy” that characterized his last return from rehab in April 2012, Friday’s comeback was greeted with outright skepticism.
“We are glad that you are back,” co-host Matt Spiegel told his partner. “But I will not pretend that it is with full-on trust and full-on joy that it was perhaps the first time [you returned]. In the spirit of honesty with you, and I’m sure that some listeners feel that way as well, you and I have always been real with each other. We’ll continue to be real. That we felt betrayed. That we felt betrayed. . . . We’re here with you. We want to be here with you. But I think you know you have to regain some trust.”
McNeil acknowledged that he had a long way to go: “There’s not a doubt in my mind — 100 percent — I’m a suspect. I got a sign around my neck. I realize that. Nobody did it but me. I’m the one who’s responsible.”
It couldn't have gone unnoticed that while McNeil was away, the station dropped his name from the show, retitling it for Spiegel and Laurence Holmes (who now goes back to evenings). Right up through last week, Rod Zimmerman, senior vice president and market manager of CBS Radio Chicago, and Mitch Rosen, program director of the Score, were known to be exploring other options for middays. In other words, McNeil’s return was hardly a foregone conclusion.
“We support Mac in his recovery, and welcome him back to the Score,” Rosen said in a statement Friday. “I want to thank Laurence Holmes for adjusting his schedule along with Matt Spiegel and the producers all for their patience and professionalism. Most importantly I want to thank our listeners who have listened on the air and online throughout this process.”
In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, middays on the Score ranked 16th overall with a 2.6 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 295,800. Among men between 18 and 49, “Mac and Spiegs” tied for third place with a 4.4 share and a weekly cume of 129,100.
Here's what McNeil said on the air Friday:
I’m a little nervous about this. You’d think you’d get used to doing this, as often as I have come back from extended absences, whether it’s treating my addiction or having issues with suspensions up the dial for a number of years. But it doesn’t get any easier. So I have no notes in front of me. I have nothing prepared other than what’s going to come from my heart in a little bit. . . .
Hello, listeners. This is for you. This is not for Spiegs or Ben or Shep or Mitch Rosen or my wife Sheri or five of my newest, bestest friends up in Lake County, who probably are listening, sitting in the clown car after another fine morning of horse therapy. This is for you listeners, with whom I have enjoyed a relationship for many of you for 25 years. It’s a unique relationship in this regard: I think it’s probably accurate to suggest, and I’m suggesting it, that I’ve let you in to my world as much as anybody who has done this. And if I could rewind to 1988, I wouldn’t do it any differently. There’s a lot more to me than box scores and injury reports. I like life condition stories. The human condition is something that always has been my favorite thing to do when a microphone is open in front of me. Whether it’s talking about marriage, divorce, remarriage, my son Patrick’s travails and triumphs with autism, whatever the case may be, that’s when I am at my best. And that’s when I’m happiest.
I hadn’t been happy prior to the eight weeks that I have been away. And there’s a simple reason for that. [Audio drop-in: “Do you take drugs, Danny?” “Every day.”] Oh, yeah. Every day. Maybe it works for Noonan, but it didn’t work for me. And to suggest that I relapsed is an insult to people who relapse. For me, what a relapse is is when somebody goes on a weekend bender, somebody blows their sobriety and has a weekend blowout, and they wake up on Monday morning and they say: “Oh my goodness, what did I do here?” I didn’t do that. I returned to a lifestyle of daily smoking of weed and taking pain medication.
It started in late August of 2012. It actually started before I took my first hit. Because I got complacent. I got lazy. I stopped working a program that I know works. Stopped contacting my sponsor, stopped going to meetings. “Think I deserve a treat.” It’s an all-too-familiar battle cry for a lot of us who are addicts. That is what I am. I’m an addict. It’s not a very gentle word. But that’s the only accurate way of saying it. I can’t "taste" on occasion. If I could, that’s how I’d live. That’s how I’d roll. But I can’t do that. I can get away with it for a short while. I get a quarter oz. instead of the half. I save it to last me five or six weeks, which it did for a short while. And then I’m back to half oz. every month. Two-thirty routine. Right after I get home. Out to the gazebo to blaze away.
And the pain meds as well, about a year ago: “I deserve a treat. So I’m going to get me just 30. My knees are creaky. I had back surgery. I should have just a little bit. It’s the holidays. Just a treat.” And that works for a little while. Until I hurt my back in April and call the doc and say, “Load me up.” And then it was off to the races. Just like it was several years ago when I hit the breaks on it in February of 2012. I had to do it again because I was heading into those same dark places.
There are different lows for people who suffer from addiction and alcoholism. Many people die. Some people go to prison. Some crash cars. Some blow up their finances and their families. My low is a burning desire to be alone. My low is isolation. Living in my own private Idaho. Sealing myself away from most of the world. And that’s where it went again for me. Very few things that used to give me enormous joy were working.
I came back from a fishing trip on the Chippewa Flowage with two of my sons and my buddy, AT&T Brian, and didn’t want to work the following Monday morning. So I get out the legal pad in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep and I start looking at my finances: “I’m going to sell the house, and here’s where my stocks are, and I could move this around. I’m just going to build a cabin somewhere and go away.” And that’s not who I am. I like people. This is a job I wanted since I was 8 or 9 years old. And I’m fortunate to have it. Mitch Rosen is the reason I still have it. What I said to him that Monday morning, most guys would have whacked me. And that’s what I deserved. “I’ve been on that stage 30 years, pally, find yourself a new dancing monkey.” He should have. Most guys would have. Yeah, I said that. Because that’s where I went.
I’ve had some education, too. And the pain meds, by the way, it’s not Vicodin. It’s Norco. Vicodin is child’s play. It’s the little yellow birds. The poppers. The bingers. Call them what you will. We have clever names, those of us who are addicts. How’s that working for us, being clever? But yeah, I mean five or six of those every day plummets your energy level — my energy level. The testosterone is gone. And makes me want to sit there and watch “Office Space.” My idea of exercise is getting up off the couch to go get a pint of ice cream. My idea of being productive is locating the remote in the sofa cushions.
I’m grateful to be here. I know I’ve let a lot of you down. I’ve been humbled and inspired by so many of you listeners who have reached out to me via social media. Hundreds and hundreds of well wishes. I’d forgotten, I’d lost sight of our relationship. Because we do have one. With some of you, it’s a relationship that we have had in brief moments during remote broadcasts, whether it’s here or at other radio stations. But with most of you, it’s just been over the air. You’ve allowed me to be your companion. And that’s a gift I have. And I was wanting to throw it away. I was desirous of giving every one of you the middle finger and saying, “I’m going fishing. I’ve done this long enough.” I haven’t. I’ve still got some game left. And I’m glad to be back here.
I’ve said what I need to say, I believe, to the guys on the staff, and to Mitch, and to my wife Sheri, and to all of my friends, whether they’re lifelong friends or people on the program. But I apologize to you listeners for not being here for the last eight weeks — and for not being present for many weeks prior to that. It’s a mistake. Hopefully I learned from it. Hopefully I make sobriety a lifestyle. Because that’s what it has to be if I’m going to succeed at it. It’s good to be back here. . . .
I absolutely know where you guys are at. And I understand it. And I will work today — because that’s all I have is today — at fixing that. Every day when I wake up, I look in the mirror, I do my gratitudes and I say: “Hey, dipstick, you are an addict. That’s what you are. You may be a devoted father, sometimes a very attentive, loving husband, and a good friend to many, and occasionally a good sports talk show host. But you are an addict. You can’t have a ‘taste.’ Do the things that are necessary this day to remind yourself of that and stay away from the garbage. Because ultimately it’s back to the same old routine.”
It’s a progressive disease and it’s one I’m always going to have. And I will miss, Mother Nature, the sweet sticky ganje. Whoa, my goodness. We’ve been pals since 1977. I recently broke up with a friend I started a relationship with on my 16th birthday at the old International Ampitheatre when Alice Cooper was on stage. School has been out for the 36 years since. That’s how it’s gone with me.