Working solo in the suburbs, Ed Volkman finds Star 96.7 audience ‘very welcoming’

Ed Volkman (Photo: Star 96.7)

Generations of fans grew up listening to Ed Volkman and Joe Colborn, the endearing Chicago radio duo known as Eddie & Jobo.

Thanks to their 20-year run as the highly rated morning team on contemporary hit WBBM 96.3-FM and other stops along the way (as well as their ubiquitous TV ads hawking United Auto Insurance), they became rich, famous and seemingly inseparable.

All that ended in 2014 when Colborn turned down a lucrative offer to co-host mornings on classic hits WLS 94.7-FM, suddenly leaving Volkman without a partner and without a job. “Well, that’s all, folks,” Volkman declared. “There will be no Eddie & Jobo anymore.”

While Colborn retired to his native Freeport, Illinois, Volkman set his sights on a solo career. He hosted mornings on WFXF 103.9-FM, the former northwest suburban classic rock station known as The Fox, before joining WSSR 96.7-FM, the Alpha Media southwest suburban adult-contemporary station, in 2019.

From studios in Crest Hill, Volkman doubles as program director of Star 96.7 and afternoon personality (from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday). In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, his show ranks 28th with a 0.8 percent share — outperforming the station overall, which is tied for 33rd with a 0.5 share.

Volkman and his wife, Amber, sold their place in downtown Chicago and moved last June to northwest Indiana, where Amber works as an elementary school teacher. They live with their 10-year-old daughter, Amethyst, who attends fifth grade.

Having grown up in Glenview as the son of legendary TV meteorologist Harry Volkman, the second-generation Chicago broadcast icon reflected on his career, the real problem with B96 and the best advice his dad ever gave him:

Q. It’s coming up on three years since you started at Star 96.7. How’s it going?

A. We’ve had our ups and downs, like most radio during the pandemic, but making it through has been rewarding. As you know, so many in the business did not survive cuts, furloughs, etc., so it’s good to still be standing.

Q. For a radio guy, what’s the biggest difference between working in the suburbs and working in the city?

A. What I first experienced up in Crystal Lake and now down here is a more local, community sense of the audience. They want to know you drive on the same street as they do and eat at the same places. When I was interviewed by Alpha corporate, they asked me how I would compete against The Mix. My answer was: “I wouldn’t! They have to talk to Whiting, Indiana, and Racine, Wisconsin. Star can be much more local.” I was later told that answer was what sealed the job for me.

I love that I’m still doing what I love. Star 96.7 is competitive, but it’s not the angst and pressure of downtown radio. I hired Brooke Hunter to join Kevin Kollins in mornings and she is a pro and sounds as good as she did on Q101, and her fans from back then have followed her here. I work with a tight-knit group of professionals who have all had each others’ backs during tough pandemic times.

Q. Was it harder to adjust to being at The Fox or Star 96.7?

A. I’m pretty adaptable, but I think it was more of a challenge winning over a classic rock audience at The Fox because the listeners mostly knew me as “that guy from B96 and the auto insurance commercials.” But I had confidence in my ability to entertain and engage an audience, and we built a great loyalty. With Star, many listeners in our target audience of 25-54 women were 15 to 25 year-olds when I was on B96 and have been very welcoming and even excited that we’re reunited.

Q. Now that you’re doubling as program director, do you feel differently about any of the bosses you had in the past?

A. I guess I appreciate and understand the unseen workload a program director has, although I have additional duties which I don’t think most of my previous PDs had, such as payroll and multiple computer programming responsibilities.

Ed Volkman and Joe Colborn

Q. Was breaking up with JoBo like a divorce?

A. I never really considered it a “breakup,” but I felt somewhat betrayed after he went back and forth for months over accepting the morning show spot on WLS-FM when it was offered to us. In his final decision he indicated to me in some oddly-worded email that he simply didn’t want to work with me anymore. I just wish he could’ve said something sooner so I could’ve moved on and not had so many plans disrupted. I still consider him a friend and like a brother, but he has sort of self-isolated and keeps to himself.

Q. Do you miss doing those United Auto Insurance commercials?

A. They were fun, but since it’s kind of an entry-level insurance, I’m glad that run is over. I only regret that Jeff Hoover and Mike Toomey won’t be able to make future satires and people know what they’re talking about.

People always ask me if I’m offended by those commercials and I say: “Are you kidding? It’s like having your own bobblehead!”

Q. How would you fix B96? Or is it beyond repair at this point?

A. Y’know, I listen to Gabe [Ramirez] — I actually recruited him as an intern back when we played softball and basketball together — and he is likable, topical, funny and relatable. I honestly feel that stations which traditionally have targeted younger demographics are simply in competition with too many other outlets like Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, etc. and even podcasts from influencers. My own 10-year-old daughter has the attention span of a goldfish, and won’t sit through a commercial or ever wait for a song. Everything is instant gratification.

Q. What do you think you’d be doing now if you’d never gotten into radio?

A. Hard to say, since I’ve been doing this since while I was still in college. I really enjoyed being an instructor at Illinois Media School in Lombard. Unfortunately my schedule now is far too busy. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh, so maybe I’d be doing stand-up in little comedy clubs all over.

Harry Volkman

Q. What’s the best advice your dad ever gave you?

A. It was not long before he passed in 2015 that he said: “Eddie, you need to get your last name back. You have so much creativity you can shine on your own.” I’ve taken that to heart and really tried to establish my individuality and accomplish new things.

Q. Have you figured out how to explain “No-Panties Thursday” to Amethyst yet?

A. I actually have! But after the initial squinty-eyed look of disgust, I explained it was a unisex gimmick, but “panties” just had a sillier ring to it, and that I highly doubted many of our callers were actually “participating.”