By Robert Kurson
by Matthew Gilson
On the surface, "Sound Opinions" on
WXRT-FM (93.1) is a talk show about rock 'n' roll–about bands that rule and
bands that suck; about albums great and awful; about the search for
backbeats that move the soul. But listen closely and it's about more than
that. Listen closely, and "Sound Opinions"–perhaps the country's only rock
'n' roll talk show–is about friendship and passion and life.
local rock critics Greg Kot, of the Chicago Tribune, and Jim
DeRogatis of the Sun-Times, the show's formula is straightforward:
Review new music releases, maybe interview a musician, take a few calls. But
like the best rock music, the show–which airs Tuesdays from 10 p.m. to
midnight–isn't slave to formula. These guys let things rip.
recent night in the studio, the theme was "the year's most hyped records."
Neither critic likes the new Michael Jackson record, and neither critic can
discuss the music without discussing the man. "That's an incredibly
believable role: Michael Jackson as ladies' man," Kot scoffs. "Messianic
lunacy," DeRogatis adds. "Historians centuries from now will say, 'Never has
a public figure melted down so publicly as Michael Jackson.' " Both critics
agree that Michael Jackson "has no clue about what the public thinks of
conversation somehow evolves into an analysis of whether longtime producer
Quincy Jones is a hack. "You want proof Quincy Jones is a hack?" DeRogatis
asks. "He's the most Grammy-winning guy of all time!" Kot's deadpan reply:
"OK, that's true. But so's Sir Georg Solti." The free-flowing nature of
their conversation rings true with listeners: Real and passionate people–in
dorm rooms, at work, over dinner–talk like Kot and DeRogatis.
Britney Spears: She is, they agree, a "product, a toy." They laugh at a tape
of DeRogatis quizzing Spears at a press conference: "Hi, Britney. Your album
is pretty hot and horny. How do you think that affects your young female
fans?" Flustered, Spears spits out an answer Kot concedes is pretty good.
"You've got a thing for her!" DeRogatis charges. Kot rolls his eyes. Then
they trash the album.
makes for great radio, but it takes a bold home to air it. Kot and DeRogatis
aren't afraid to criticize some of the music WXRT plays regularly. They also
endorse artists that the station might ignore. Such independence is anathema
in an industry expert in self-congratulation. "From that standpoint, 'XRT is
pretty brave," Kot says.
continues, dotted with gems of insight. Kot: "McCartney is brilliant, but
he's always been at his worst singing about his puppy love." DeRogatis:
"There is a newfound urgency in McCartney's songs after years of life as a
country squire." Kot: "Much like Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger has become a
parody of himself." DeRogatis: "Incubus is the one band in new metal that
doesn't suck." Both: "We hate power ballads." Between reviews, they find
time to play a practical joke on a phone-in guest, then laugh hysterically.
None of the
two hours is scripted, and the hosts' spontaneous humor has attracted such a
loyal following that Chicago superagent Todd Musburger is shopping the
program for radio and television syndication. Until then, Kot and DeRogatis
say, they will soldier on for Chicago fans. "We listen to Britney Spears,"
DeRogatis says, "so you don't have to."
This story was
originally published in March 2002.