UPDATED January 2012
JOHN RECORDS LANDECKER
Rick: So one day you're doing a talk show on WIMS in Michigan City, and then suddenly out of nowhere, it's the John Records Landecker Music Explosion! How did that happen and why?
That's how it started. I re-named it the John Records Landecker Music Explosion, and I played songs off my iPad, and people e-mailed me songs from all over the country--because they were listening online, and it really took off. Radio guys started sending me jingle packages, and customized things, and I played it all. It was a blast!
Rick: Is that when WLS came calling?
John: Yes, but that's not why. The WLS thing was something I had put in motion a year ago or so. I heard that all the Citadel stations had been purchased by Cumulus, and one of my good friends--someone that I had worked for years ago in Chicago, Jan Jeffries--was the guy that ran their programming. I called him up and said: "Look I want back in." I knew that I never should have been let go from there in the first place, and now they were even using the call letters W-L-S again, and it seemed so natural for me to come back.
Rick: But it took quite a while for the sale to go through.
John: It took over a year, and this was no ordinary transaction. We're talking multi-billion dollars. Jan was doing a million things during that time, so I didn't want to bother him, but eventually the sale went through--and then he let me know he was moving to Chicago. And now, amongst his bazillion or so responsibilities, he was actually going to program WLS-FM! We finally met up not too long after that, and hit it off just like we always did. He said, "Why don't you try it out quietly over the weekend to see if you like it, and if you still sound good we'll let you do a weekend shift." And it went great! Now I'm doing weekends and fill-ins. I've been on for Scott Shannon quite a bit over the last few weeks.
Rick: So you're working seven days a week now?
John: Well, that's not going to work, unfortunately. I was on the air last week on WLS, and on Facebook I gave everyone the wrong call letters to listen online. I thought to myself, I can't do both anymore. My last show at WIMS was Thursday.
I loved being on WIMS. I really did. I loved working with Ric Federighi and Johnny Rush and Paula Griffin. They are great people and great broadcasters, and I'll miss working with them. But the opportunity to come back to WLS, working for someone like Jan Jeffries was too good to pass up.
Rick: I can hear how happy you are through the airwaves. Just hearing you say those call letters...it just sounds right.
John: It feels fantastic. Unbelievably cool. Just way beyond anything I could conceive of. It's like somebody built a radio station for me to work on. And Jan and I get along unbelievably well. This is his concept, and he's the driving force behind it, and I'm there to have a good time and be the icing on his cake from the WLS music era.
Ever since I left nights at WLS in the 70s, everything has been a challenge. I did different shifts. Afternoons. Mornings. Talk radio. I sought out those challenges, but in all of those situations I never would describe it as being in a comfort zone. I'm glad I did 'em, but this is a party. This is the best thing I've done since coming to WLS since 1972, and I think Chicago is going to eat this station up. I consider this a new beginning.
JOHN RECORDS LANDECKER
I interviewed my old boss and pal John Landecker several times for Chicago Radio Spotlight (and he has even interviewed me). Since we last spoke, however, he has begun broadcasting the afternoon show on WIMS Radio in Michigan City, Indiana (he also does a weekend show on WLS). I called him up the other day and asked him to tell me more about going back to his roots and doing small-town radio...
John: I love it. I love it. Are you kidding? It reminds me of my early days in Ann Arbor at a station in the country under the transmitter, but it’s also totally unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s a talk show, first and foremost. To use a term Paula Griffin (my co-host) coined, it’s “go with the flow” radio. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, and taking that attitude, it can go anywhere. Any topic, any off-hand comment can lead to a new direction, going on line, Googling things as we talk, finding movie clips. I don’t worry about content. If I want to blast something locally in the news—like the local school superintendent, I do. Or the shooting downtown at Randolph and Michigan—that's what I do.
We don’t take a lot of calls because there’s only one phone in the studio, and it rings while you’re on the air (laughs), but when we do take a call it's kind of reminiscent of Boogie Check in a way because I have no idea who is calling and what they're calling about. That has been so much fun. We get great calls, but it’s mainly us. My co-host is Paula Griffin and she is a native of the area and has worked here in radio for quite awhile. I still do some of the stuff I've always done, like the little quicky parody songs, and what not, but this is local radio so, literally, anything goes. And the commute! The commute is rough. (John lives in Michigan City). There was a truck on the road the other day and it made my commute 12 minutes! You probably can't pick up the signal in parts of Chicago, but you can listen on the internet. Just go to www.wimsradio.com
The original interview follows below...
John Records Landecker is a radio legend. He is a former Billboard Magazine air personality of the year, and has won countless of other awards for his on-air work, including induction into the radio wing of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Until recently he was doing afternoons on WZZN in Chicago, and is still on the air here as a fill-in on WLS AM-890, and as the host of the syndicated show "Into the 70s", which airs on WZZN. (Full disclosure: I produced John's show on WJMK from 1993-2003.)
Rick: What happened at WZZN?
John: When I initially signed the contract, it combined doing afternoons on WZZN and filling in on WLS, and it was a two year deal—but both of us could get out of the second year with 90 days notice. So three months ago, they told me that they wouldn't be needing me anymore, and I was given the choice of going home and collecting the rest of my money, or staying through the end of the first year. I decided to stay on the air instead of leaving.
In my mind, it was a bit of Don Quixote move, charging at windmills looking for a superhero ending, hoping everyone would change their mind. It didn't work out that way. As my agent said in Robert Feder's column, the ratings were good for that station and that daypart and that format…but, well, for some reason it wasn't enough.
The ironic twist is the day after they took me off the afternoon show, they signed up my syndicated 70s program to be on their station every Sunday night from 7 to Midnight.
Rick: Why would they do that?
John: I know you have super intelligent readers and I'll leave it to them to conjure up why situations like that should occur…
Rick: They obviously want to use your name without paying you.
John: But that's not a bad thing for the syndicated show. In fact, it's actually great news for the syndicated show. They did me a big favor in that regard. There are no hard feelings. I have to accept what's going on. I still have a good relationship with everyone there and I still work for WLS doing fill-in…
Rick: With Turi Ryder?
Rick: How did the two of you hook up?
John: I only knew Turi (photo) in passing at WLS when we both worked there, and then when she was working in Minneapolis in 1991 or so, I was working in Cleveland, and she called me to say that I should give talk radio a try. She talked me into filling in for her. That led to a weekend at WLS which was a total disaster. At the time they were very strident and politically oriented, and I had a bad cold, had been given some medication, and was in outer space. Wow, was that bad.
Anyway, jump years ahead (after WJMK, and WGN), and I had been on WLS with Catherine Johns and Judy Baar Topinka…and those shows were going great. I loved working with both of them. In the meantime, Turi had been making her living the past few years as a national fill-in, filling in on stations all over the country. I heard that she was going to be used by WLS to do a weekend fill-in, and I said to (WLS Program Director) Kipper McGee (photo): "How about trying a show with me and Turi?" I remember my pitch. I said "It might be so uncomfortable that people will listen to it." I knew Turi had never worked with a partner before, and it would be out of her comfort zone, and initially she balked at it.
Well, an opportunity came up a little later, and we went on, and it went great. One show led to four, which led to her admitting to me that this was the most fun she had ever had in the business. We decided that since neither of us had something fulltime, we should start pitching ourselves around. We have airchecks of our shows together on her website shebopsproductions.com. The plan is to get out there as fill-in hosts over the holidays. We can fill-in anywhere in the country. All I need is a studio with ISDN line…and she does her part from her house in San Francisco.
I'm actually really excited about it.
Rick: Talking to anyone in Chicago?
John: We're on the fill-in roster at WLS, and Kipper McGee has been very supportive of both of us.
Rick: Let's talk about your syndicated show: "Into the 70s." What do you know about the 70s?
John: (Laughs) I was a street person during the 70s, and I don’t' remember it. Of course, that was my era. That's what people remember the most about me.
Rick: Aren't you sick of those songs yet? Didn't you play them every 90 minutes in the 70s?
John: Are you kidding? After you've played music from the 60s for 13 years, the 70s are amazingly refreshing. "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty never sounded better. It's been a lot of fun. It's a Top-40 show with great music from the 70s. It’s not disco, or hard rock, or classic rock, it's Top 40, just like I used to do.
The show had existed for a few years before I came aboard. When the previous host left, my agent got a call from the syndicator out of Dallas, asking if I would be interested. I was excited to do it. I've never done anything like this before.
It's a different way of doing things, and I'm still getting comfortable with the process, but the affiliates are happy, so we'll see. This week my syndicator TKO productions merged with a bigger syndicator named United Stations, and I'm hoping that's a good thing. I know they have a much bigger marketing and sales staff.
Rick: There's so much to cover about your career that we can't even begin to cover it all. How about if we just go decade by decade.
Rick: The 60s…
John: Graduated in '65. Went to Michigan State Univerisity. When I was in college, between my freshman and sophomore year, I got a radio job in Flint Michigan at WTRX. At the time, they were known as "Home of the Jones boys." Everyone who did a show had to use the last name Jones. I convinced the boss there to let me have a weekend show, and he let me use the Jones name I wanted…Dow.
After that I went back to school and got a job working nights at WILS in Lansing. There were some radio geeks going to school there, and unbeknownst to me, one of them taped my show and sent it to a big time DJ named Mike Rivers at CKLW (out of Windsor). He later moved to WIBG in Philly and they were looking for additional DJs, and he played the aircheck to the program director.
So, one night, I got a call to fly out there for a job interview. I took the job, and dropped out of school. They gave me the midday shift, and changed my name to Scott Walker. That was not a good time. It was super strict format, and I wasn't allowed to do anything creative. Luckily, that lasted only a year or so. The station got sold to Buckley broadcasting, and these guys were like cowboys. They brought in Joey Reynolds (photo) to host afternoons, and it went from strict to wide open. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to try this new wide open format, but I wanted to go back to my own name. The next day I was John Records Landecker again, and I was following Joey Reynolds. That was a wild time.
Rick: The 70s…
John: I came to WLS in 1972 just as the Watergate story was breaking. ("Make a Date with a Watergate") Everything started clicking shortly after that. There was 3-4 year span where WLS was in total synergy from programming to air personalities to sales to promotions. We got along. We hung out together. We were actually friends…and the station was super duper successful.
Rick: You're talking the mid-70s.
John: Yeah, and there were some individual high points for me too. I was just thinking about one the other day. It was in the news that the space shuttle took a light saber from Star Wars because it was the 30th anniversary, and it made me think of my Star Wars bit…Radio Star Wars. I don't know how we did it, but we actually got Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (photo) to participate in the bit. Rick Dees' song "Disco Duck" was a part of that bit too, and I've been talking to his company lately, so I just sent it to him too. It was a great kick to listen back to it. Bob Sirott was in it. The newsman in that bit, Jack Swanson, is now the GM of KGO Talk radio in San Francisco.
Those were some pretty incredible times. One day I was doing something like that, another day I had that memorable afternoon at Woodfield Mall with John Travolta, and another time I was doing the show from the original great America when it was owned by Marriot's. They flew me out there in a helicopter to be the very first person to ride "The Tidal Wave." There was a plaque up there for years.
Rick: What about the 80s?
John: Ugh. Not real fond of the 80s…just generally speaking. Although, it's funny. I run into people now that listened to me in the 80s and say it inspired them to get into the business, and I'm always surprised by that. A guy down in Indy had a complete set of airchecks of my shows from WLS in the 80s. I guess it was just bad timing. The climate had changed, and music radio on AM radio was dying. We didn't really have a chance.
Rick: And the 90s…
John: Pretty good. We had a nice long 10 year run doing mornings at WJMK. We won a few awards locally and nationally, and worked really hard at it. Actually, I had that job longer than my job at WLS in the 70s. The thing that stands out the most from that era to me was hooking up with Legends. We recorded all of those parody songs ("He's the President", "YDNA", "King of *arts"), put out CDs, toured in concert. That was an absolute blast!
Rick: And since then…
John: It's been all talk with the exception of WZZN. I've been priveleged to work at some of the biggest talk stations in the country. WIBC in Indy…WGN and WLS in Chicago …and I love it. I've been working hard at crossing over into being a talk show host…and the crossover is now complete. That's what I would like to do for the rest of my career, although I love doing the 70s show. There's no reason I couldn't do both.
Rick: Let's clear this up once and for all. I know it drives you crazy when people put your middle name "Records" in quotes. It's not a nickname; it's actually your middle name.
John: Yes, I once brought my mom into the radio studio to confirm it for everyone. Her maiden name was Records, and she gave it to me as my middle name.
Rick: I feel like I'm forgetting something important. Am I?
John: Go Blue.
(John grew up in Ann Arbor, Rick went to U of I in Champaign)
Rick: Shut up. I mean about your career.
John: (laughs) Oh. Right. Well, I'm very anxious to work. So if anyone reading this is a programmer, contact me through this website. Rick knows how to get in touch with me. I'm ready to go on the radio….
Rick: And you're doing an event this week for AFTRA.
John: Yes, I've talked to them, and I know it's coming up. When is it exactly?
Rick: (laughs) It'll be at Columbia College's 'Film Row Cinema' @ 1104 S. Wabash, 8th flr, from 6-7:30p on Friday Nov. 2nd. It's an evening with you, Fred Winston, and radio Hall of Famer Dan Ingram, and it's being moderated by Doug James.
John: Yes, exactly. See you there.