Radio legend Landecker, Mount Prospect writer team up for memoir
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It happened periodically throughout the years: Influential Chicago radio personality John Records Landecker would think about writing a memoir, then reject the idea out of hand.
"Some other radio person would do one and I'd think, maybe I should do that," Landecker said. "But then I'd think, who'd be interested in reading about me?"
After insistent prodding from his former producer, Mount Prospect resident Rick Kaempfer, Landecker finally followed through. The result is "Records Truly Is My Middle Name," a funny and brutally candid look at Landecker's life and career. The book came out in March from Eckhartz Press, the publishing company Kaempfer co-owns.
"I actually feel pretty blown away by how great the reception has been for the book," Landecker said. "I guess Rick was right."
Landecker, a lifelong radio junkie who set up a pretend station in his bedroom closet while growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., arrived in Chicago in 1972. He joined the staff at WLS AM 890, the hugely popular Chicago station with a roster of on-air talent that included Larry Lujack and Bob Sirott. When he settled into place in the evening shift, Landecker began to change the way people thought of Top 40 music radio.
"He broke through a big wall," said Kaempfer, a former radio man who would spend 10 years working as Landecker's producer before becoming a writer and publisher. "At that time, music personalities didn't take calls, they didn't do anything that could be considered 'out of the box.' He changed that, and his approach is so commonplace now that it's hard to imagine anything else."
Among the bits for which Landecker became famous was "Boogie Check," which involved him simply picking up the phone and answering calls live on the air. It became a sensation, and young people would make it a point of pride to be heard on the air during a Boogie Check.
Landecker writes that one of the contributors was a kid from Glendale Heights who would go on to become one of the world's biggest rock stars — Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.
"There was no planning to that whatsoever," Landecker said of the Boogie Check bit. "It really just came from me being bored and deciding to pick up the phone. But it was very unusual at that time and in that format."
Landecker became a star on WLS, and he began to hobnob with celebrities. He writes of the day when he accompanied a pre-"Saturday Night Fever" John Travolta to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg for a promotional appearance. They were expecting a few thousand people to show, but roughly 30,000 screaming fans filled the mall.
"It was incredible," Landecker said. "Later Travolta told me that that appearance was what made him realize that his celebrity had jumped to an insane level."
By the end of the 1970s, the landscape at WLS had changed. Landecker, feeling betrayed by shifting standards at the station, bolted for a job in Toronto. He would return to Chicago a few years later, working stints at a variety of stations, including WLUP and WCKG.
Landecker writes honestly of his personal troubles during that time, troubles that included excessive drinking, drug use and extramarital affairs. He expresses regret in the book for not being a good father early on for his two daughters.
"I felt that if I was going to do a memoir, I had to be honest about the bad stuff," he said. "And it wasn't hard to write it all down, because it's baggage I've left behind. I haven't done that kind of regrettable stuff in 25 years."
Landecker is still on the radio, and at his original Chicago radio home — he does evenings on WLS FM 94.7. The business and the medium have changed dramatically since he started, with radio stations more programmed and generic.
"It's also that there are so many more ways for people to spend their time now," he said. "Today, it's not a priority for people to listen to the radio at night. When I started, it was."
Despite that, Landecker is delighted to be doing what he's loved his whole life, he says. And he's particularly happy to be on the air in the city where he made his original splash.
"This will sound corny, but there is something so cool to me about being on the air in Chicago at night, and saying those three call letters, WLS," he said. "Those call letters mean something to me, and I know they mean something to a lot of people. So no, I have no complaints."
"Records Truly Is My Middle Name" is available in paperback at eckhartzpress.com.
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