(Above: JRL in what is described as a “pensive promo shot.”)
I’ve been tremendously lucky to have worked with some of the most talented people ever to grace a radio station. I’ve joked with students that in some ways I was a sort of Forrest Gump of radio, being in the right place at the right time to witness an improbable amount of radio history, especially as it pertains to Chicago. As a young college DJ I hoped to have a chance to grace the airwaves of a major station at least once before hanging it up. I got to grace several of them, and work alongside the very people who I listened to as a kid in Tinley Park. John Landecker was and is one of those guys.
You get any group of Chicago radio people together who have a reasonable amount of years between them and start asking them who their influences were, and the same names come up again – all usually connected to WLS or WCFL. Lujack. Edwards. Winston. Britain. Biondi. Kent. Hellyer. But one starts the storytelling perhaps the fastest, and that’s Landecker. Countless radio personalities went to sleep with a transistor under the pillow, listening to see how the Boogie Check or Americana Panorama sketch was going to play out. Me? Guilty as charged.
What impressed me most about John was how hard he worked at not being a nostalgia act. Many of us get in a rut, no matter what it is that we do for a living. (I took a master’s class where the instructor opened the first day of class by turning on an overhead projector and pulling out typed transparencies. This was in 2010.) John wasn’t afraid to take a chance on the new, the current, the way things were going. He tried talk radio – the hardest thing there is to do well in radio. He did the oldies circuit, but always made sure to talk about current events on his morning show. (A consultant I had the misfortune of working with years ago dismissed this as “the wrong way to do the format.” He truly believed that people existed in a vacuum that ended in 1968.) Landecker tried syndication. He’s now experimenting with Youtube video. In other words, he’s as quick to evolve as many of the students I work with now, and it’s to his credit.
In a sense, that makes the reason I thought of him this morning seem strange. In 1974 John, with the help of just about everybody at WLS, put together a “break-in” record in the style of Dickie Goodman. For younger readers not familiar with Goodman, his collection is worth seeking out, if for no other reason to see if you can guess where the jokes are coming from. Goodman may also be largely responsible for the phenomenon of sampling. His records took the shape of stories, and the punchlines were always taken from popular songs of the day. His first effort, 1956’s “Flying Saucer,” made it to number 3 on Billboard and got him sued for copyright infringement. I first got turned on to Goodman with his last major hit, “Mr. Jaws,” which capitalized on the shark movie craze and made it to #4. In-between there were a lot of topical records – one of which was “Energy Crisis ’74” – that surely inspired Landecker to create the parody at WLS. (Goodman never realized the success that he was owed, and sadly took his own life in 1989.)
Landecker’s “Press My Conference” was released in limited quantity on vinyl, with a parody of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” called “Make a Date with Watergate” on the flip. You can hear many recognizable WLS voices on the track – Lyle Dean as the announcer, Fred Winston, Tommy Edwards, and others. Some of the humor takes a knowledge of current affairs in 1974 to understand, but it’s well worth revisiting. They don’t make ’em like they used to – in the case of the drop-in record, maybe it’s time to make ’em this way again.
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