Posted by Joe Cocker on August 13, 2011 at 15:42:29:
Ken's out standing in his field-
At station, cows are rock stars
Employees of WCPT-AM in rural McHenry County say they're not embarrassed to broadcast their affection for their cud-chewing bovine mascots, Elsa and Lollipop.
October 07, 2007 | By Jeff Long, Tribune staff reporter
When the corporate owners of a liberal talk-radio station in Chicago bought property in rural McHenry County a few years ago, they acquired a studio and four towers, as well as an unlikely addition to their broadcast family -- a pair of cows.
Elsa and Lollipop graze peacefully in the field behind the WCPT studio, unfazed by the battle for ratings, advertisers and air time. They've become beloved, cud-chewing pets.
The station's handful of employees don't mind when they have to slip on boots and trudge out to the pasture hauling buckets of feed.
Ken Cocker does everything from voice-overs and public service announcements to making those daily feed runs. After 25 years as a radio personality in the turbulent Chicago market, he figured he'd seen everything, until he landed in McHenry County.
'"I'll tell you this," he said. "I never saw any cows walking down Michigan Avenue."
The cows are owned by Cocker's company, Newsweb Radio, which operates "Chicago's Progressive Talk Station," WCPT-850 AM. The station broadcasts liberal-leaning, nationally syndicated shows from a radio tower that looms over the field where Elsa and Lollipop graze, near McHenry County College. Leasing space in the building are two stations owned by NextMedia -- Y103.9 and Star 105.5. Cocker fills in as a weekend host on Y103.9.
Cows have been part of the corporate scenery since before Newsweb bought the building and land in 2003 from NextMedia, which acquired it from Pride Communications in 2000.
NewsWeb officials say someone with Pride Communications started the bovine tradition sometime in the 1990s because the land was zoned for agriculture. The cows remained through the shifts in ownership. No one is sure how many have come and gone over the years, but nobody seems to mind their company.
"We kind of inherited the cows," said Harvey Wells, vice president and group station manager at Newsweb, who works at the corporate office in Chicago.
When Cocker arrived at the studio in 2005, someone casually mentioned the cows and pointed out the boots near the entrance. They'd keep the mud off when it was time to feed the hefty pair of belted Galloways. The distinctive ring of white around the animals' middle gives the breed its name.
The boots didn't bother Cocker. After all those years in Chicago radio, he's learned to roll with the punches -- and watch where he steps.
His title is operations manager, but the cows just know him as the guy with the food.
Cocker, 51, dons the boots and shuffles out back at about 4 p.m. In winter, he's out there by 6 a.m. He also drops by on weekends to feed them. Their domain consists of about three-quarters of an acre and a small shed where they huddle in bad weather.
On a recent afternoon, the cows saw him coming and ambled his way, slowly at first then more quickly. It was dinner time.
Cocker admits he's grown fond of the chore.
"I don't know anything about cows," he said. "But it's really kind of peaceful. I'll lean over the fence and think about life -- like why I ever got involved in radio."When Cocker gets busy in the studio, receptionist Kathy Kruse feeds the animals. She quickly learned to watch out for Lollipop, who has been known to head butt. "She gets an attitude," Kruse said. "But not Elsa -- she's a lady."
Lollipop arrived in 2005 after Newsweb bought the station.Kruse remembers looking up from her desk and seeing Lollipop staring at her from across the parking lot.
"She looked enormous," Kruse said. "I remember thinking, 'I hope she doesn't charge.' Time kind of stood still."
Lollipop managed to break out of the pasture once, trampling a fence. Elsa quickly followed, and the pair spent two hours trotting around the neighboring college campus. Eventually, a professional wrangler rounded them up. "It was like something out of a western," Cocker said. So what happens when these two radio mascots have to retire? Will they be sent to the slaughterhouse?
Don't even think about it.
"There are no plans to eat them," Cocker said.
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