Feder flashback: When Chicago met Spike O'Dell

Spike O'Dell

Spike O'Dell

Twenty-seven years ago today, Chicago got its first look at Spike O’Dell. By the time he left town 21 years later, he had succeeded two legendary figures at WGN AM 720 — and had become something of a legend himself.

Hired to replace Wally Phillips in afternoons at the Tribune Broadcasting news/talk station, O’Dell settled in comfortably until 2000 when he suddenly was tapped to take over mornings from Bob Collins, who died in a plane crash. O’Dell rose to the occasion and kept WGN’s huge morning audience intact. For the next eight years, his show delivered top ratings.

In 2008, at age 55, O’Dell voluntarily walked away from it all and retired with his wife to Nashville, Tennessee. “We have four grandchildren and will welcome another in the spring of 2014,” he reports. “I expect to be a single-digit handicap on the golf course this year. (You can tell what I've been doing with a lot of my spare time.) Life is good!”

Here is my Sun-Times column of March 12, 1987. (Posted with permission.)

WGN plucks newcomer as Phillips’ replacement

A 33-year-old disc jockey from Davenport, Iowa, has been hired to replace Wally Phillips as afternoon host at WGN-AM (720).

William “Spike” O’Dell, morning man at adult-contemporary KIIK-FM in Davenport since 1982, will join Chicago’s top-rated station in early May.

Although his precise hours here have not been set, O’Dell is expected to take over all or part of the 3-to-7-p.m. shift currently held by Phillips.

Spike O'Dell (1983)

Spike O'Dell (1983)

WGN’s nationwide search for a new afternoon personality was launched after Phillips, 61, asked out of that shift to launch a new midday program. Phillips has worked afternoons since July, when he voluntarily ended his 21 years as morning man.

O’Dell’s new three-year, six-figure contract was negotiated by Chicago attorney Saul Foos, who also represented Phillips during his most recent contract talks with WGN in 1984. Foos described O’Dell as “a wonderful, down-home kind of guy.”

WGN program chief Dan Fabian, who first considered hiring O’Dell three years ago, called him “as likable as anybody I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard to spend time with him and not feel he’s nice. No doubt he’ll fit in here just fine.”

Prior to his latest job in Davenport, O’Dell spent a year as morning man at WBT-AM in Charlotte, N.C., and four years before that as morning man at KTSS-AM in Davenport. Last year, he wrote and recorded a novelty song called “Wham Bam Traffic Jam.”

Still undetermined are new on-air assignments for WGN personalities Ed Schwartz, Paul Brian, Al Lerner, Ed Curran and Orion Samuelson — all of whom will be affected by the move of Phillips and the hiring of O’Dell. Fabian said he hopes to announce a new program lineup by next week.