Episode 9: From Crap to Chat in Five Days Flat

The Chat Pack era begins
The Chat Pack era begins

Executive producer Allen Kew’s stomach has always been a barometer of how his 10AM morning show, Milwaukee Talk, is performing.

“When Allen tells me his stomach hurts, I know our show isn’t doing well,” long running co-host Mary Margaret reveals.

By 2002, Kew’s stomach was such a nervous wreck he couldn’t properly digest stock-photo-16236213-three-colorful-gummy-bearsfood. Things got so bad his doctor put him on a diet solely of gummi bears.  The gooey treat was easy on his stomach and the small amount of Vitamin C and the protein from the beef tallow was enough to keep him alive.

After the hard-hitting news era fiasco, the jittery race horse-like Kew was looking for something fun and relaxing for the show.  He came up with the idea of broadcasting live on location a week before the grand opening of a casino in Ballast, Wisconsin.  Sounds fun, right?

It was the most tumultuous week in the storied history of the show.

“Allen kept saying how chaotic things were getting that week.”, co-host Vic Shell recalls.  “He was on the verge of some sort of breakdown.  Finally, I pulled Allen aside and told him chaos is a word from the Greek language meaning opportunity.  We got philosophical about that for a while and it made him feel better.”

Legend has it the cast and crew were so busy they ate nothing but coffee and donuts that entire hyper-heated week.  By Thursday morning a final disaster reared its head about 10 minutes before showtime.  And when it did, everyone – true to their own personalities – reached for their appropriate lifelines.  Mary grabbed a refill of coffee, Vic and stage manager Les Tremaine fought over a cherry filled donut, and Allen Kew began hastily writing new show notes on napkins.

Even today, Kew still stands by his decision that week, “You’ve always gotta trust your gut,” he maintains.

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For the past eight weeks we’ve been telling you about the members of The Chat Pack.

But now we’re going to tell you how they became The Chat Pack and made that long jump from local talk show stars to the suave casino strutting coterie of cool we know them as today.

Here’s how Milwaukee’s daily entertainment newspaper, The American Log, reported on “that Friday show” back in 2002.

MTalk personalities take off
MTalk personalities take off

MILWAUKEE, November 16 – Broadcasting live on the morning of the opening night of The Ballast Casino and Events Center in Ballast, Wisconsin, Friday’s installment of WLKE’s sturdy “Milwaukee Talk” was one like no other.   That’s saying something considering there have been well over 12,000 shows.

“A superb cooking segment with a renown chef at the casino restaurant, a brilliant and probing investigative interview with the state’s gaming commissioner on the customers’ stacked, bad odds of winning and a knockout singing finale by the co-host Mary Margaret.  Just give me one of those gold star segments on any show and I’d be a happy camper,” beamed executive producer Allen Kew.

“Homerun television,” was how Honus Knox III put it. “We had a 29 share in our market! We haven’t seen a number like that in years!”

“The coo-coo, laidback vibe of this spank new casino is what finally planted us in our element”, longtime TV blabman Vic Shell cryptically explained.

The real surprise of the morning though was Mary Margaret. As they signed the show off from “Stouts and Shouts”, the live band karaoke bar on the casino grounds, Mary spontaneously got up onto stage and crooned a dynamic and mighty version of Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet”.

By a half minute into the number the crew and casino staff stopped whatever they were doing and turned their attention to Mary Margaret.

By the finale some were applauding raucously while there were others who had broken into tears.

“That kid’s got some chops.  This may be worth re-visiting,” Vic Shell pondered.

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