Sunday, May 27, 2007

Clark Weber

Clark Weber is one of the legendary radio voices in Chicago over the past five decades. He still lives in the area, running an advertising agency Clark Weber & Associates specializing in radio advertising for the 50+ market.


WLS AM 890 – Sept ’61—69
WCFL AM 1000 – 1969- 1971
WMAQ AM 670 – 1971—1973
WIND AM 560 – 1973—1986
WJJD AM 1160 – 1986—1996
WAIT AM 820 – 1996—2001

Rick: I have to ask you this right out of the box because I love this story so much. Could you tell the story about the day you introduced the Beatles on stage at Comiskey Park?

Clark: Capitol Records threw a luncheon that afternoon for WLS and the Beatles at the Saddle & Cycle Club on Lake Shore Drive. A good friend of mine, Jim Feeley, was dating a model named Winkie, and I invited them to come along. Well, Winkie showed up in a two-piece tennis outfit, and she looked incredible. I sat her next to George Harrison and his eyes almost popped out of his head. She made nice with him for a little while and George really thought she was going to be staying with him all day. When Winkie got up to leave a few minutes later to go to a modeling audition, George was wounded. “You’re not going anywhere,” he said. Winkie replied: “Oh yeah? Well watch me.” Later that night Feeley called me and asked if she could come to the concert, and I said—‘You’re really pushing it’, but I did get her in. So, flash forward twenty years later. A photographer from the Sun-Times called me up to say he had a photograph he wanted me to see. It was the Beatles on stage at Comiskey Park. I’m standing to the side of the stage and so is Winkie, and George Harrison is on stage looking right at Winkie, giving her the dirtiest look imaginable. Winkie later married a pro football player, moved down to Texas and had five kids, but George never got near her.

Rick: What was it like on stage that night?

Clark: As soon as Bernie Allen and I walked onto the stage, the crowd went crazy because they knew what was coming. There were 38,000 screaming teenage girls and the sound was indescribable. I told Bernie to hold his hand out with his fingers spread. We could feel the vibrations in our fingers. I don’t think anyone in that ballpark heard a single second of the show. I was standing right next to the stage and I didn’t hear it.

Rick: How did you get your big break on WLS?

Clark: Sam Holman, the PD that started up the top-40 format here at WLS, worked with me in Milwaukee. Sam was a wonderful guy, but a mean drunk. One night we were getting our car, and Sam was loaded. He made a nasty remark to the parking attendant, who promptly pulled out a tire iron and was about to beat the hell out of him. At that time I was able to conjure up an incredibly loud whistle. I ran onto the street and whistled for a nearby cop, who arrived just in time to save Sam’s life. Sam told me that night that he would pay me back someday for saving his life. After he got to Chicago he called me up and said, “Remember when I told you that I would pay you back for saving my life? How’d you like to come to Chicago?” He hired me as the all night guy, and eighteen months later I was the afternoon guy. Eight months later Mort Crowly took ill and he had to resign for health reasons, and suddenly I was the morning guy. Then in 1966, they threw an extra $150 a week my way, and I also became the program director.

Rick: Did that switch to PD teach you anything about either job?

Clark: That’s a great question. Yes, it did. I learned I wasn’t prepared to be the program director. I was just lucky that everyone there got along well. It wasn’t really until Lujack arrived that I started to run into problems. That’s when they brought John Rook in to be the PD, and I was the happiest guy in the building.

Rick: Your career made another transition that served you well for the last few decades of your career. How did you become a talk show host?

Clark: That happened at WMAQ. I was doing a music show, and I wasn’t happy. WMAQ had just announced they were going to switch formats to country, and they wanted me to stay on. I really didn’t want to do that. Howard Miller called me up to have lunch with him—it was my 42nd birthday, and my name happened to be in the paper that day. Well, Howard told me about this station in Denver that had created a new format that was going to be the newest trend in radio—it was talk radio. The more Howard told me about it, the more I wanted to try it. So, I went in and talked to my program director and said, “Look, you’re going to switching the format anyway. Why can’t I try doing a talk show until the format switches?” He said yes, and I worked on my talk chops until the switch to country, and then hopped over to WIND to do a talk show there.

Rick: You did a talk show for nearly thirty years. Were there any guests that spring to mind that you really loved talking to, or really didn’t enjoy having on your show?

Clark: I’ve always hated politicians. They don’t come clean, they speak in platitudes, and they never say what they really mean. I remember Everett Dirksen once saying to me off the air: “Clark, I don’t think the public can stand to hear the truth.”

Rick: So politicians were your least favorites?

Clark: Yes, but I’ve interviewed a whole series of horse’s asses in other fields too. Frank Sinatra, for instance. The day I had him on my show Mike Royko had made a crack in the paper about Sinatra’s “dome doily” and Sinatra was pouting. He was in high dungeon. Later that day Capitol Records threw him a party and he just sat in the corner, arms crossed. Sammy Davis and Dean Martin actually came up to apologize for Sinatra’s behavior that day.

Rick: The irony is that you have a little experience with a “dome doily” yourself.

Clark: That’s true. I got my first one when I was doing a commercial for a tire company and they said they couldn’t have a bald man doing tire commercials. I bought one to keep the job.

Rick: Over the years, it’s become sort of a bit. I remember when I worked with you, you had one that you brought out to live remotes.

Clark: Yes, that’s true. One time I was on Bob Sirott’s TV show “Fox Thing in the Morning.” I took it off right on television and Bob and Marianne couldn’t believe it.

Rick: Bob mentioned you in a previous Chicago Radio Spotlight as one of his radio heroes.

Clark: I think Bob is going to do a great job there at WGN. That’s such a good fit. I predict a long and fruitful WGN career.

Rick: As long as we’re talking about other radio personalities, let me ask you a question I asked Fred Winston when I talked to him. If you had to put together your dream lineup, who would you hire?

Clark: (laughs) I’d hire Fred, but I’d put a muzzle on him. Let’s see. I’d do mornings. Lyle Dean would be the newsman. Let’s put Fred in middays. Lujack in the afternoons. I’d also have Ron Riley and Art Roberts, those guys were the best. And for all-nights, I’d have Ed Schwartz.

Rick: Who are the great personalities that aren’t remembered today as much as they should be?

Clark: Gene Taylor was a great talent. Soft spoken, but so talented. Dex Card did a fantastic job too, but he was such a good businessman, he left radio and made a fortune. He always knew radio wasn’t his final destination. Dave Baum, when he was on WIND, was probably the best interviewer I’ve ever heard. There are many others, like Lee Rogers who went out west and made a name for himself out there.

Rick: So what are you doing these days?

Clark: I started my business Clark Weber & Associates twelve years ago to cater to the 50+ crowd and everybody thought I was crazy. Yet, it’s quickly becoming the largest part of the population, and I’m making a very healthy living with this crazy idea. I’m also producing a one minute feature called “A Senior Moment” which is on 18 radio stations across the country. It’s a look at the world through the eyes of a senior, and it airs here in this area on WCGO-Chicago Heights, WKRS-Waukegan, Relevant Radio 820-AM, and WRNN-Elgin.

Rick: What advice would you give to kids going into the business today?

Clark: There are two people they should hire immediately if they succeed in the business; a lawyer and an investment or insurance man. I’ve seen this happen so many times. When it’s all over, 90% of the greats have nothing left. It’s so sad, and unnecessary. Also, once you find a mate, make sure he or she can handle your fame. I’ve been so lucky in this regard, but many others have not. I’ve seen it too many times.

Rick: What are your thoughts about media consolidation?

Clark: It has to disintegrate. It has to. It’s just not going to work anymore. This year 31% of the audience was on the internet, and next year it’s going to be up to 38%. The internet is going to drive radio. People won’t sit around anymore for ten minute commercial breaks punctuated with a few seconds of inane talk from a nationally syndicated host.

Rick: In my novel, I predict that too. I really think these media giants will realize that they’ve sucked every penny they could out of these radio stations.

Clark: I agree totally. And when it becomes a local medium again, which is what radio does best, it will be successful again.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Stan Lawrence

UPDATED: 3/7/09

When I interviewed Stan in 2007, he was the co-host of the Stan & Terry show on WCKG. When the talk format was dropped, Stan & Terry were among the victims there...

Stan: After WCKG flipped in October 2007, Terry Armour and I tried to find a new radio home for our show. Our agent advised us to sit tight, and something would probably open up in the spring (2008). When Terry died unexpectedly on 27 December 2007, I decided to take a job out of the media. I've been working as a project manager for a small engineering firm in Oak Brook, IL.

Take One Video Productions (630-953-8030) recorded the entire Terry Armour Birthday/Memorial Service, and has made it available on DVD. The celebration would have been in Terry's wheel house, and I was honored to be a part of the event. I gave Terry a lot of crap because his so-called "buddy" Russell Crowe always had an excuse for not calling into our show. I have to eat crow because the man came through for Terry. Here's the link if you'd like to order a copy.

At Terry Armour's memorial service, Dean Richards invited me to sit-in on his Sunday morning WGN radio show. After being on Dean's show in November, I got a chance to sit-in with Bob and Marianne Sirott for a special Oscar's movie review, also on WGN.

Thanks to the support of Dean Richards and Bob and Marianne Sirott, I have an on-air audition Saturday, 14 March 2009, from 09:00am - Noon, on WGN 720 AM, with Dan Deibert.

The original interview follows...

Stan Lawrence is the co-host of the Stan & Terry on WCKG 105.9 FM, heard every Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Contributor—Steve Dahl show (WDAI)
Contributor—Steve & Garry (WLUP-FM, WLS-AM, WLUP-AM)
Co-host—Best of Steve & Garry (WLUP-AM)
Co-host—Ebony & Ivory (WLUP-AM)
Co-host—Let’s talk about Sex (WLUP-FM)
Contributor—The Garry Meier Show (WLUP-FM)
Contributor—The Steve Dahl Show (WCKG-FM)
Co-host—The Stan & Terry Show (WCKG-FM)

Rick: You got your start as a contributor to Steve & Garry’s show a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve ever asked you how that came to be.

Stan: When Steve first came to Chicago at WDAI, he did a bit called McHampsterhead restaurants, which was a take-off on McDonald’s…only they served hamster-meat. I called in on that bit a few times, and we hit it off. When he went to the Loop and starting doing the show with Garry, they had a contributor named “The Prince” who called in pretty regularly. Well, apparently he became a bit of a nuisance, and they were looking for somebody else. One day Steve was talking about the boat people living in the Orange Bowl in Miami. He said that he wanted to get one of them to be his housekeeper. I called in to say “Yeah, I bet you do. You want to get between those golden arches, don’t you?” He had never heard that term before, thought it was funny, and gave me the coveted hotline number. I’ve been a contributor to the show ever since.

Rick: I want to ask you something that I think only you can answer. You were there throughout all of the Steve & Garry years, and saw the ups and downs while it was happening. You were also a part of Garry’s show immediately after the breakup, and then a few years later you became a part of Steve’s show. I just wanted to set the stage for all you knew and all you had seen before pointing out that you were also there last summer at the beach when Garry showed up at Steve’s live broadcast. What was going through your mind as you watched that now famous one-day reunion happen?

Stan: That was kind of weird. The show had been planned for a long time. It was part of Steve’s back to the beach tour. Early on we heard rumblings that Garry was within earshot, but nobody on Steve’s current staff knew Garry, and they weren’t sure it was him. When Steve invited him up and he actually came, I had no idea which way it was gonna go. Up until that moment, I was sure that the only way those two guys would see each other again was when one of them was in a box. I was really rooting for it to go well—because you know you just get to a certain age and realize that you don’t have enough time left to be bitter—you just have to let it go. And they did, and it was actually pleasant. When they got back on the air together, and dealt with each other in the way they were most comfortable dealing with each other, you know, on the radio, it was fine.

Rick: I thought it was one of the most memorable shows I’ve ever heard in my life.

Stan: Me too.

Rick: And now you’re on between them. How weird is that?

Stan: Not weird at all. You know, I was there at the Loop when it was Steve and Garry in the afternoon, and Johnny B in the morning, and the vibe in the hallways here at CKG now is much more relaxed than it was at the Loop in the day. We’re all on the same team here. The goal is the same—to make this station as good as it can be. Steve and Garry are both working as hard as they can to make that happen, with good radio.

Rick: So let’s talk about the Stan & Terry Show. What is it like working with Terry?

Stan: (laughs) It’s all about the T-dog (shown here with Stan & comedian Chris Rock). When he’s in a good mood, happy and excited, we’re all in a good mood, happy and excited. When he’s not…

Rick: How is he different than your previous co-hosts? You’ve worked with a buttoned-up German boy (me), an unbuttoned Porn Star (Seka), and now Terry.

Stan: There are a lot of similarities. Terry is like Seka in that he was a known person before he starting doing radio—he was already Terry Armour, Trib columnist. Seka was known too…although guys weren’t used to knowing her with both of their hands unoccupied. The big difference between the shows is that Let’s Talk About Sex was really the Seka show. I was really just there to run the controls, and move along the show in a coherent direction. Here we’re really a partnership like you and I were with Ebony & Ivory (photo). But there’s also one huge difference between then and now, and that’s the FCC climate. We could never get away with the kind of material we did on Ebony & Ivory now. Not even close.

Rick: That’s true. Most of the material you did with Steve & Garry couldn’t be done now either.

Stan: I know.

Rick: How do you feel about that?

Stan: It’s a pain in the butt. I went back recently and looked at some scripts I did for “Cecil & Hash Brown” (a bit Stan wrote for Steve’s show) and those won’t fly now. None of them can be done in our current climate. And it’s not just for obscenity or indecency reasons. It’s just too easy to offend people now. Terry made a comment about autism the other day and we got a bunch of upset e-mails. Our policy is that you can’t apologize for everything all the time, because if you do, then those apologies don’t mean crap.

Rick: What are your thoughts about the Imus controversy?

Stan: I don’t know him, so I can’t say the guy is a racist. I think what happened there is that he got a little too comfortable. He said it for his audience—he was trying to entertain his audience, and he knew that they knew what the show was all about. But he just got a little too comfortable. He probably would have been fine if he stopped at “nappy headed” but as soon as you drop a “ho” on people... You could hear in his voice that he was a little uncomfortable after he said it—like he was thinking— “Ooh, that’s got a little hair on it.” But then his producer hopped in, and dropped a jig-a-boo, and it was all over.

Rick: So you thought he should be fired?

Stan: No, I don’t think so. I don’t condone what he said, but I do think he has the right to say it. Don’t get me wrong, he should be ready to take the heat, but he shouldn’t be fired.

Rick: Do you think the sponsors cancelling had anything to do with his firing?

Stan: Yes. It had everything to do with it.

Rick: So now that you’re in the groove, working on the air full-time, doing a talk show five days a week, has your approach changed at all?

Stan: Not really. My approach hasn’t changed. My mindset has changed. When I was only on the air occasionally I really over-thought things—tried to make every word count. When you’re on five days a week you discover pretty quickly that that don’t work no more. So you try to pace yourself, and that’s the great thing about having a partner. On days when you aren’t at full speed or you’re worried you aren’t bringin’ it, you have someone else to pick up the slack.
(Photo: Stan & Terry with Joan Esposito)

Rick: I must say, I think the two of you sound really relaxed on the air. That’s not easy.

Stan: It’s a mindset. We don’t think so much about all those listeners out there, we’re just talking to each other, trying to make each other crack up. The trick is to beware of not being too inside, and make sure you don’t fall back on visual gags that don’t translate over the radio. Sometimes you see that with stand up comedians who do radio shows, where they’ll have a facial expression or something that gets a laugh…and the listeners are thinking “What’s so funny?”

Rick: You got an Emmy nomination for your work at Chicago Tonight a few years ago. Are you planning on doing any more television?

Stan: I’m actually planning another “Back in the Day” feature for WTTW now—and that should be on soon. Terry and I would love to do a celebrity interview show too—we’ve done so many interviews where we thought ‘Damn, it’s too bad that wasn’t on film.’ Although, if the cameras are there, who knows, maybe that changes the whole laid-back dynamic.

Rick: You’ve interviewed a ton of celebrities on the show now. Were there any that surprised you?

Stan: Russell Simmons. I thought he was going to be this laid back dude, but when he was on with us he was constantly checking his Blackberry and talking on the cell-phone, and when the interview was over he was outta there, like his clothes were on fire. John McCain on the other hand, I thought he would be stiff, but he was totally cool. He made us laugh. And Halle Berry got so comfortable with us she actually swore. That surprised me.

Rick: I heard she even kissed you.

Stan: Yes, she did. I usually don’t do the friendly kiss thing. That’s just not my scene, but Terry did it, and I thought—hey man, I don’t want “He turned down a kiss from Halle Berry” on my resume, so I got one too.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

John Records Landecker interviews Rick Kaempfer

This week, the tables are turned. Instead of interviewing a radio personality, a radio personality is interviewing me. The focus of the interview is my first novel, "$everance," available now at John Landecker got an advance copy of the book to conduct the following interview, which originally appeared in the April issue of SHORE Magazine.

By John Landecker

I’ve been on the radio in Chicago for quite awhile, so when I heard about this new novel ($everance on ENC Press) that satirizes the broadcasting business from the point of view of a Chicago radio personality, I knew I had to get my hands on it. The fact that it’s written by Richard Kaempfer, the executive producer of my morning show in the 1990s, made me want to see it even more.

Of course, Richard is his fancy author name. I’ve always known him as Rick, and as long as I’ve known him he’s been using his sarcastic wit to write some pretty hilarious topical satire. In this book, he takes on the business that employed him for twenty years—the media. I finally got a chance to sit down and talk to him about $everance recently.

John: Full disclosure. We worked together most of the 1990s.

Rick: That’s true.

John: And during those years, broadcasting as we know it, went through some radical changes.

Rick: I’ll say.

John: It’s my guess that those radical changes, combined with your sense of humor, and your sarcastic disgust for life…

Rick: (laughs loudly) Wow, that’s harsh.

John: (laughing too) …have led to this cutting critique of broadcasting morality called $everance.

Rick: You could say that. It’s about a Chicago morning disc jockey who is trying to get fired so that he can collect his severance.

John: But this campaign for his severance starts out as a joke—tongue in cheek, doesn’t it?

Rick: Well…sure…but that’s only because the morning host doesn’t have any weapons. The boss has all the power. That’s why everything the host says is said sarcastically. On the surface his words are positive, but the boss knows their actual meaning—he just can’t prove it. It’s classic passive-aggressive warfare.

John: Aha! I knew something was familiar about this character…

Rick: He knows if he says anything overtly insubordinate, he can be fired for cause.

John: OK, what is this company he works for?

Rick: A Megamedia giant.

John: And why does he want to be fired?

Rick: It’s a mutual feeling. The company wants him gone too, because they have to meet their unrealistic corporate goals. They want a cheaper morning show, but if they fire him, they’ll have to pay his severance. So, they try to make him as miserable as he can possibly be—to make him quit. It becomes a battle of wills—the creative morning guy against the corporate Megamedia giant…both of them strongly motivated, neither of them willing to budge.

John: Now people will read this and think…that doesn’t happen.

Rick: It happens every single day.

John: It does. It didn’t happen to me here in Chicago, but it happened to me in another city I was doing mornings, and the station really did go out of it’s way to literally make me as miserable as possible so that I would get discouraged and quit, which would have relieved them of having to pay what they owed me. What you’re writing about is based absolutely in fact.

Rick: Yes, that’s true. And I think it’s not exclusive to the broadcasting business. Anyone who deals with corporations has dealt with this, especially people working for corporations in industries that have recently been deregulated. Once an industry is deregulated, there are mergers after mergers after mergers, and soon just a few companies or corporations own the entire industry. When that happens, the employees have no choice—no alternative—no power. They can’t go to another employer in their industry, because there aren’t any. So sometimes the battle comes down to this: ‘All I have left is my severance, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give that up too.’

John: So in your story they are trying to make him quit. What does he do about it?

Rick: He sends an e-mail to the CEO of the corporation sarcastically telling him ways that the company can be even greedier. He thinks that this will so infuriate the boss, he will immediately fire him.

Tell them what the e-mail says, because that’s my favorite part.

Rick: His main suggestion is getting rid of every single person who doesn’t bring in money to the corporation—he calls them the revenue drainers—and keeping only the salesmen, or the revenue attainers. Oh, and he also recommends hiring armed security guards to watch over the office supplies.

John: (laughs) And ironically enough…what does management do with this e-mail?

They consider him a financial genius and name him the COO of the company. He still wants to get fired, of course, but in order to get fired now-- he has to make the stock price go down. So he spends the rest of the novel trying to make that happen.

John: Which is the irony of the whole thing…

Rick: The hard part for me was satirizing the business in a way that was more ridiculous than real life, because the business has really gotten ridiculous. There are six corporations that control all the information and entertainment we receive through the broadcast media, and virtually every decision they make is made with only one consideration: money. No other considerations come into play at all. But what makes this industry different from other industries is that they are supposedly entrusted with informing the electorate, and that’s one area they do a really bad job right now.

John: One of the other points of $everance has to do with the conservative and/or liberal slant of talk radio and cable news. Talk about that a little.

Rick: Right. Well, in my opinion there were two decisions made in the last twenty years that are responsible for the transformation of the media into what it is today. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which Bill Clinton signed, allowed for this massive media buying frenzy—and let six corporations own everything. Before that bill was signed, Clear Channel owned 43 radio stations. Now they own 1200.

John: Wow.

Rick: The other decision was made in 1987 by Ronald Reagan’s FCC. They eliminated the Fairness Doctrine. Before 1987, equal time had to be given for differing political points of view. You could spout all you wanted, but you had to allow the other side to spout too. Now it’s all one-sided spouting and people don’t have to listen to both sides, they can just hear what they want to hear. In my opinion that’s directly responsible for the polarizing of the country. You don’t have to give the other side any credit at all if you don’t even know what they’re saying.

John: As the sarcasm seeps through the pages in your writing, I notice that you seem to imply that the political viewpoint, whether it’s conservative or liberal, doesn’t really matter to the company. They can own both kinds of media outlets…as long as they make money.

Rick: They can and they do. Look at Rupert Murdoch, for instance. He owns the Fox News Network, which is undeniably conservative, but he also owns media businesses in Communist China—which aren’t exactly conservative, to say the least. He also came up with the idea of having naked women in the newspapers in England.

John: Are you saying conservatives don’t like naked women?

Rick: (laughs) I’m saying that’s not exactly a conservative idea. And the same is true of the so-called liberal networks. They may have a liberal slant, but they are consumed with maximizing profits, and that’s not exactly the most liberal of philosophies. When you meet these media CEOs, and I’ve read about all of them extensively and met a few of them in person, you realize very quickly that they aren’t partisans. They aren’t ideologues.

John: They’re not even broadcasters.

Rick: Not at all! They’re businessmen. They’re CEOs. They are just like every other CEO.

John: And they’re not interested in viewers or listeners, they’re interested in one thing, and one thing only…

Rick: The stock price.

John: Can you tell that Rick and I have talked about this a few times before?

Rick: Everyone in the business talks about it.

John: But the thing that’s wild about it, and sure we’ve kvetched about it for years, but you actually did something about it. You wrote a book. And I obviously think it’s a great, funny, sarcastic, entertaining, and thought provoking book too—that really shows how broadcasting has changed over the last few years. And you actually got somebody to publish it! Who is this publisher?

Rick: They’re a boutique NY publisher named ENC Press, and they specialize in controversial satires like this. You should check out their website at ENC stands for Emperor’s New Clothes. You can buy $everance right there on their website.

John: It’s going to be very interesting to see who picks up on this book, and whether or not they invite you on their shows to tell this story.

Rick: Well, if the thesis of my book is correct…

John: I love it when you use the word thesis.

Rick: (laughs) If the thesis of my book is correct, they will have me on because they aren’t really concerned about a political agenda.

John: And you’re attacking all political agendas by the way…very even handed. It’s not about agenda, it’s about profit.

Rick: That’s right. If you check out the hardcore right wing blogs or the hardcore left wing blogs they read all sorts of political motivations into the actions of these companies. Let me tell you as someone who worked for them for twenty years, that’s just not true. Both sides are wrong about that. The motivation of these companies couldn’t be easier to figure out. It’s always the same. Always.

John: And people might recognize some of the personalities in this book too.

Rick: They might. But they aren’t necessarily real people—they’re composites of real people.

And it’s funny.

Rick: Thanks, I appreciate that. That’s the most important thing I was trying to accomplish. It’s not a downer of a book at all. It does have a very hopeful message and offers a way to solve some of the problems of the modern day media.

Which are…

Rick: People will have to read the book to find that out.

John: I do have one complaint, though.

Rick: What’s that?

John: There aren’t any sex scenes.

Rick: (laughs)

John: You expect the people of this country to buy a book with no sex scenes!

Rick: If it weren’t for you, they wouldn’t have known!

John: Maybe in the next book?

Rick: You got it.

John: I see movie rights down on the road on this one. Great job.

Rick: Thanks.

Richard Kaempfer’s novel $everance is available at (Listen to an audio preview. Watch a video preview. ) For more information about the author, check out his website at, and his daily humor and media blog at

John Records Landecker is the currently the afternoon host at 94.7 Real Oldies in Chicago. After his legendary stints at WIBG in Philadelphia in the 60s, WLS in Chicago in the 70s and 80s, CFTR in Toronto in 80s, and WJMK in the 90s, he was honored by the radio wing of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for his contributions to the industry.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Jeff Davis

Jeff Davis can still be heard everyday on Chicago radio as the voice of WLS. He lives in Los Angeles now, doing voice and film work.

Rick: Your voice has been a staple of WLS for quite awhile now. How long have you been the voice of WLS, and what are some of the other stations across the country that we can hear you?

Jeff: It’s hard to believe, because I’m so much younger than all the other personalities, but I’ve been involved with WLS for 33 years. I’m also better looking… seriously, it has been a long time and, professionally, the most fulfilling experience. Currently I’m the national voice for a couple of shows, I’m the voice you hear introducing Bob Uecker on the Milwaukee Brewers radio network and, later this year, the Green Bay Packers. I’m on radio stations all across the U.S., including WLS, WTMJ-Milwaukee, WSB-Atlanta, KCMO-Kansas City, WDBO-Orlando, WNTR (“The Track”) in Indianapolis and many more.

Rick: Chicagoans probably remember you most for your contributions to WLS in the music radio days. What are some of your fondest memories from those days?

Jeff: I think to see WLS evolve has been exciting and to be a part of that evolution has been interesting. Very few people get to be in that transition and survive through two distinct eras. Naturally, I have lots of great memories. One thing I’m most proud of is when I discovered an old Styx song on a local Chicago jukebox. They were then a local group from Chicago, without a recording contract, and presumed to be dead in the water. I lobbied hard to get WLS management to let me play the song I heard on the Werlitzer. Tommy Shaw is still a good friend and, in fact, we live next door to each other out here in Hollywood.

Rick: People may not realize that you are also one of the foremost WLS historians. Tell us a few things that we might not know about the history of WLS.

Jeff: Almost everyone knows that WLS stands for World’s Largest Store and in its first several years was owned by Sears. Since its inception it has been responsible for many radio “firsts” and a stack of awards. The WLS First National Barn Dance was the inspiration for The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, having been brought to Nashville by George D. Hay, WLS’ first announcer. In the early 1930’s we were the first to simultaneously broadcast from land, sea and air. In 1937, WLS feature reporter Herb Morrison reported from Lakehurst, New Jersey as the Hindenburg derigible exploded and uttered the, now famous, words “Oh The humanity!” We won a DuPont Award from Columbia University in 1948. We’ve won many awards from news agencies such as AP and UPI and multiple wins of the Edward R. Murrow Award over the years and Legendary Station props with a MarconI Award. The number of awards won by our personalities is staggering.

WLS has also been home to legendary radio people who have gone on to Hollywood including Western movie stars Gene Autry (photo), Rex Allen and Max Terhune. George Gobel (your parents will remember him as “Lonesome George”) was a national television pioneer who also was a regular on Hollywood Squares, Patsy Montana, Andy Williams, the legendary Pat Buttram (Mr. Haney on “Green Acres”) and… oh yeah, me! I’m co-starring in a new movie just being released on DVD called “Hell To Pay.” There were many, many people who transitioned to even bigger careers from WLS. I may write a book about WLS soon and the history is so rich it will probably be hard to lift! Sorry for the shameless self-promotion!

Rick: As you mentioned, these days you're working out in Los Angeles--acting, doing voice and film work. Where can we see and hear some of your film work?

Jeff: “Hell To Pay” is available in 20,000 stores including Blockbuster, Walmart and Another movie I did with Coolio (photo) is currently a top seller and that film is called “Gang Warz.” Those are the most recent. I’m also set to be in a movie with Faye Dunaway that will begin shooting in a few months. There are some others but those are the most recent.

Rick: Do you get back to Chicago often?

Jeff: Not as often as I’d like. I was back a couple of years ago to host the WLS live broadcast from the Chicago Theatre with Rush Limbaugh, Tony Snow and some WLS legends such as Clark Weber (photo). Clark’s one of the best and I consider him to be a good friend. I was also a guest at the Radio Hall of Fame Awards in 2005.

Rick: When you do, who are some of the people you look up, and what are some of the places you like to visit?

Jeff: Most of the people I look up are friends not in Radio! If I’m at an event and there’s a WLS alum there it’s like no time has passed. I occasionally speak with Larry Lujack from his palatial estate in Santa Fe, NM, Tommy Edwards mostly by email or pass along words to Landecker, all of whom I admire and feel proud to call friends.

I stay in touch with some of our tech people because I used to bore the hell out of them with technical questions. I once asked a former WLS chief engineer back in the 70’s, “If TV audio’s on the FM band, why can’t broadcast TV audio in stereo?” Seemed like a reasonable question. Without missing a beat he fired back, “Who the hell would want to do that?” I got the same response a few years later when I asked, “Since computers use magnetic media and audio tape is magnetic, why can’t we use computers to edit audio?”

We all have an inkling of what the others are doing. In radio, it’s about the closest thing to being a member of the Beatles in terms of the way it feels. We were all part of a unique club that will never happen again.

Rick: As someone who has been in the business for years, you have a pretty good perspective of how it has changed. What are some ways it has changed for the better, and what are some ways it isn't as good as it used to be?

Jeff: It actually started changing before I got into radio. In the 60’s when I was still in grade school various music acts would make appearances with local Deejays to promote their music. As time went by and the money motive became the dominant force it became de rigueur to expect to be paid for those appearances and, thus, that disappeared. Radio became a business after the 1920’s and it has been morphed into something that is more business than creative that a lot of creativity has been choked from it.

Voice tracking and technology has made it possible to do the things stations need to do with far fewer people. The exodus of music stations from the AM band allowing “baby DJs” access to what was going on in other cities caused that resource to dry up. Now we have, after that long dry spell, the Internet, to hear what is not only happening in Atlanta, GA but also Athens, Greece. So it has come full circle.

But the business aspect has choked creativity with the exception being a handful of people dotted across the country who are self–motivated to excel at their craft and work “off the clock” to make their work exceptional. They do it for themselves and the listeners. There is no more farm team, so to speak, and this has given stations fewer options when it comes to finding talent.

Most PD’s will tell you that the work ethic has also changed… and not for the better. The quest to be a good broadcaster, it seems, has been replaced with an attitude of “show me the money.” The problem is that there are fewer “big money” jobs and when the money base for talent dwindles the motivation to make it a professional choice falls to those who aim low and achieve it. The talent pool is drying up due to the heat put to the feet of local stations to do the work cheaper and with smaller staffs.

Technically, broadcasting has never been better. The tools to extraordinary work are at the fingertips of even the smallest market radio station talent. There are some amazing talents out there but there are fewer top caliber people left to do stellar work. No matter how much technology is available there has to be true talent to bring life to a radio station. There is a perception among older broadcasters that radio companies could care less about quality as long as it doesn’t affect the bottom line. It’s all about money now… and that’s sad.

We had lots of fun when I was in radio as a personality and the kinds of things we did that made it fun are not as prevalent now. (Photo: 1984 WLS on-air staff) The PD’s I worked with— and I’ve worked with some of the best— hired good people who loved radio and let us do our jobs without a lot of interference. We knew how to sell the radio station without flip cards because we related to people one-on-one. If you worked on WLS it was impossible not to be enthusiastic when you were on the air. You were on the legendary 50,000 watt blowtorch! We had a blast because we had mentors, collaborators and instigators. There was more freedom to experiment on the air. Radio personalities had more celebrity status in the 60’s and 70’s and, I think, into the early 80’s. Some of us even got fired for having too good of a time. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.