His Middle Name Really is Records
If you're not familiar with the name John "Records" Landecker, you're either too young or haven't really paid attention to the history of this business. Landecker, who still spins music and talks to listeners on WLS-FM in Chicago at the age of 65, produced some of the best radio on record back in the 70's at WLS-AM. The decade of the 70's was big for Landecker. WLS-AM was one of the most dominant stations in the country as big booming AM's still played a vital role in the radio landscape. He credits his big career break to the late Rick Buckley who once gave him a slot after Joey Reynolds. Landecker has written a book about his journey through radio. It's called Records Truly Is My Middle Name and we recently spoke to him about his successful radio life and why he's written this book.
Why did you decide to write this book?
Landecker: That's a very good question. That's a question I ask myself many times. I didn't have a job for a while there. I had attempted to segue into talk radio. That didn't seem to be panning out. Other attempts at employment didn't work out. I thought about this a lot. For somebody like me, who has spent his entire life going into a radio station and doing a show every day, and that being somewhat of a creative process, where you put yourself out there, if you stop doing that, you don't feel right. I think the book is actually one big show. It's a radio show, only it's on paper. Before, if I wrote something down, it became part of the radio show. It has elements in it that I think if I were in a certain type of format today, I would include as part of my show. I think other people who are in certain types of format include it in their shows … where they came from, who they are, their family, their foibles, sex, drugs, rock and roll. You know, that kind of thing.
RI: Why do you think people are going to want to read it?
Landecker: Because the stories are entertaining. That's it. It has nothing to do with the fact that I was on the radio or that my middle name is Records, which is all in there, of course. It's entertaining. I will just give you a small idea of what I'm talking about. My first wife and I were getting divorced. I had two small girls. I decided, as a responsible father, I should take them on a vacation to someplace secluded, where we could have quality time. I contacted a travel agent who booked the three of us on a small island in the Bahamas. They only had one dining room in the whole place. There weren't many other tourists there. However, there was a group from Playboy Enterprises shooting centerfolds for their Italian edition. I'll let you read the book and find out what happens after that.
RI: Many people got into radio because they used to listen to people like you and Lujack and others. Do you think that can still happen in radio today?
Landecker: Good question. Well, I'm not familiar with the talent on the air around the country, to be honest with you. I don't know. I just don't know. I hope so. But, I couldn't give you a definitive answer one way or another. I know that popular opinion is that no, it can't. I'm glad that I'm not trying to get into radio now, I can tell you that.
RI: At what point do you think the industry changed from being about the personalities, guys like you, names that made radio so strong?
Landecker: The 1990's, I think. When consolidation started. Huge ownership of stations. When programming was aimed more at the bottom line for stockholders than it was for the listeners. Initially, if my memory is correct, that really played havoc with on-air talent. Eventually it started playing havoc with management. When I saw it playing havoc with management, I thought "Uh oh. This really isn't good." All of a sudden you had one GM in charge of multiple stations, one Program Director programming multiple formats. Plus, they eliminated competition, because now former competitors could quite possibly be owned by the same people. That's where I think I noted things beginning to deteriorate. After that came voice tracking and syndication and all that other stuff. But, this is where I first felt something was happening.
RI: If you could give somebody some advice that cracks the mic and goes on music radio today, what would you tell them?
Landecker: Do what you believe in. Be willing to take constructive criticism. Be willing to work any shift in any city. I think it's like any job, if someone is actually really driven to do it, it will work out.
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