The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Howard Stern Cohort Earned His Radio Chops in Chicago

CHICAGO — Tim Sabean's biggest contribution to the Chicago radio scene might have been helping bring a young Jonathon Brandmeier to WLUP in 1983. 

But to more than 24 million satellite radio subscribers around the world, Sabean is better known as the 57-year-old Senior Vice President of the Howard Stern Channels at SiriusXM Satellite Radio — who occasionally goes on-air on the shock-jock's wild show.

Sabean, a Minnesota native who spent 10 years at several high-powered Chicago radio stations, said he now sometimes has to "pinch myself" on his walk to work from his home on the Upper East Side to Stern's Midtown offices in Manhattan.

"I am thrilled to still work with the greatest show in the history of radio. Out of the millions of radio people out there, that I was chosen to do this job, I've been very thankful," Sabean said. "If it ended today, I could say I did it."

Long before Sabean was managing the antics of the legendary Stern, Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate, he was a prodigy at WLS, WLUP and WCKG in the Windy City.

In a recent Stern segment, Sabean said his biggest influences were his father, Sam, a member of the Minnesota Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and John Gehron, who brought Sabean to Chicago to be the music director at WLS in 1981.

"He had the skills I was looking for," said Gehron, a Gold Coast resident who's now the chief operating officer of AccuRadio. "He's somebody who knew music, who could suggest what we could be playing and someone who was very, very versatile.

"And he's been the same way for Howard. To have lasted in that environment of chaos for as long as he has and keep that ship going in the right direction has to be difficult in one sense and exhilarating in the other."

Born to be in radio

It's fair to say Sabean has pioneering in his blood.

His father spent five years working on the family genealogy and discovered that a Francis Billington, born 11 generations before Tim, traveled with her parents to America in 1620 on the Mayflower before marrying Samuel Sabin — from which the Sabean name originated.

Sam Sabean was in the radio business for 30 years and gave Tim, then in high school, his first disc jockey job while he was the general manager at WAYL-FM in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

But Sam also gave Tim critical advice at a young age, telling him he didn't know many 50-year-old DJs and for Tim to find an alternative.

For Tim, that was executive leadership, determining what types of music audiences would favor, and, perhaps most importantly, developing talent.

"To this day, Tim has an intrinsic value in his heart and soul of who is good and who will be good," Sam Sabean said.

Sabean was a key figure in bringing Brandmeier, a Chicago icon, from Arizona to WLUP in 1983.

Brandmeier said even though he worked with Sabean for only about a year, he still embraces his advice.

"He leads by example, and his passion is contagious," said Brandmeier, now the morning host on WGN. "The best thing he taught me is this is show business and we have to give 100 percent every day. And you have to come in every day like it's your first day and have a passion for life."

John Howell, who was hired by Sabean at WCKG from Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1988, said Sabean is "if not the single best radio professional I know, he's pretty close to the top of the heap."

Howell, now the WIND morning host, described Sabean as a "Roman candle of creativity who's a great motivator but also a maniac."

"I learned more from him in the two years I worked with him than in totality," said Howell, of Lake Forest. "He finds unique talents that makes people successful and eliminates the negatives in their radio skill set."

Sabean said he's been "thrilled" to work with Stern and his cohorts. He was first introduced to "The King of All Media" while Sabean was program manager at a Stern affiliate WYSP in Philadelphia in 1991, and the two have been cohorts since.

"Howard loved all the ideas and promotions that Tim did," Sam Sabean said. "They became closer and closer."

He was hired by Sirius in 2005 to oversee Howard 100 and 101 — channels devoted to all-things Stern, the incomparable phenom who dominated terrestrial radio for decades.

Sabean said satellite radio brought a new list of challenges. Without the FCC restrictions, he said "things happen here that would not happen in a normal environment."

That included off-the-air endeavors. Sabean knew he was in uncharted territory, when, during a post-launch party, Stern employees Richard Christy and Sal Governale ran naked through the crowd.

But Howard 100 News reporter Shuli Egar said Sabean's transition from regular radio to satellite has been seamless.

"You remember the guy with the spinning plates on the 'Ed Sullivan Show'? That's like Tim," said Egar, who lives in the Astoria neighborhood in Queens. "He's been nothing but amazing since I got here."

Like many Stern employees, Sabean has become relatively famous for his on-air appearances — specifically his robot-like delivery of phrases including, "If it was created by man, it can be solved by man."

He's also known for his inability to spell — Sabean was stumped by the word "definitely" in a spelling contest — and a bizarre tale known as "S--- Gate" when it was discovered that he had an accident in the bathroom.

"Everybody's human. We're all human," is all Sabean would say about the ordeal.

In fact, if it was up to Sabean, he would stay off the air altogether.

"Hate it. Hate it. Hate it," Sabean said of being on the show. "I don't feel comfortable in that role. I never did. I'm a behind-the-scenes kind of guy."

Sabean said a "zest for life" and a "zest for learning" have kept him at the top of the radio mountain.

Brandmeier, who was reportedly rumored to consider joining Sabean at SiriusXM in 2010, said he and his old friend "always say we're going to work together again."

"And we will," Brandmeier said. "Tim's the kind of guy you'd go to battle for. But I would have separate bathrooms."