John Records Landecker has never been to Las Vegas in his life. And with no NAB Show this year, he might not get there anytime soon.
But the lack of a physical event in April doesn’t diminish his accomplishment. The National Association of Broadcasters chose him this year for induction into its NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
The legendary top 40 radio jock has spent 50 years on the air and still works a weekly shift for WEFM(FM) in Michigan City, Ind.
He became a national name during his tenure at WLS(AM) in Chicago. The 50,000-watt station reaches audiences in some 40 states.
IT STARTED WITH A DICTAPHONE
“John Records Landecker has had a profound impact on radio and has inspired generations of new talent,” said NAB Executive Vice President of Industry Affairs Steve Newberry. “His induction into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame symbolizes the personal connection between DJs and their audiences and how innovative personalities can influence radio programming.”
Most stories about Landecker start out explaining that Records was not just a clever addition to his name to play off his radio work. The origins of that can be traced back to his mother’s maiden name.
In fact, his autobiography is titled “Records Really is My Middle Name.” In addition, he has released six albums based on his bits and satirical songs accumulated through his career.
Landecker, 73, was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., just outside Detroit, and his earliest memories of radio are of several hometown AM radio stations that were fairly typical of that time.
“I didn’t really tune in for the music or even recall that part of it. But the announcers did everything. They hosted talk shows, read sports and weather, they did call-in buy and sell shows and remotes. I found it fascinating. So I began tape recording myself around the house,” Landecker said.
His father had a Dictaphone that Landecker was allowed to play with, and when he first heard his voice come out of it he was convinced that radio would be his career choice.
“I just knew it even at a very young age. Maybe it was part ego, but I wanted to be the guy on the radio talking to people through this magic box,” Landecker said.
Landecker landed his first job in radio during high school in 1964 following a live on-air tryout. “I went to visit WOIA(AM) in Saline, Mich., where my girlfriend’s mother wrangled an interview for me with the station manager. So I get there and the jock handed me some copy and told me to read it when the light came on. I did. Then he joked on-air about it later. But it was my ever so humble start in radio,” Landecker said.
He attended Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., and later transferred to Michigan State University and majored in communication arts. While in college Landecker honed his craft while pulling air shifts at WTRX(AM) in Flint, Mich., WERX(AM) in Grand Rapids and WILS(AM) in Lansing, Mich.
Landecker, already inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2017 and saluted in an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, fondly recalls the phone call that led to his first big break to major-market radio.
“I was still in school at MSU in my senior year and working nights at WILS when a man from Philadelphia called my mom and said he was looking for me. It was WIBG(FM) in Philly. I called them back and took the job. I thanked my mom profusely for relaying the message to me,” Landecker said.
Landecker says he credits two listeners of his show in Lansing for sending a tape of his show to radio executives that eventually landed him the gig.
“They were just radio aficionados in Lansing that I didn’t even know, but they were impressed with my work at WILS and thought I deserved to work in a bigger city, so they put together an air check and sent it on to Mike Rivers in Detroit at CKLW(AM). He eventually moved on to Philadelphia where the tape ended up with the top executives at WIBG. It was crazy that it worked out,” he said.
HOME IN THE WINDY CITY
Landecker was forced to change his name to Scott Walker to begin his Philadelphia radio tenure, but Chicago came calling a few years later and so began a dizzying span of about four decades in Chicago where he worked for multiple radio stations, beginning with WLS(AM). His career also included stops at WLUP(FM), WJMK(FM), WGN(AM) and WLS(FM). In between were brief stints at Toronto and Cleveland radio stations and hosting duties for “Into the Seventies,” a syndicated show from TKO Radio Networks.
“Chicago was the best for me and became home. The WLS success was really a team effort. There was only one person on the air at a time, but we all helped each other behind the scenes. We fed off each other’s energy. Nobody does it alone,” Landecker said.
“And I worked with some incredible talent over the years. There was Larry Lujack at WLS and I worked with Bob Sirott and many others. Unbelievable talent. It was real radio.”
Landecker banged the phones and developed bits at WLS(AM) where he worked from 1971 until 1982 and developed the “Boogie Check,” a nightly feature of a quick succession of phone calls from listeners, all without the parachute of an on-air delay. “There was some risk taking. I relied on the staff engineers to get me out of trouble as soon as possible!”
The old-school jock in Landecker has a hard time appreciating the current brand of commercial radio in this country with its “liner card reading” style of presentation, he said.
“I guess if I was any good at voice-tracking I could still be successful. I think radio is kind of flat right now,” Landecker said.
“That was really why I left WLS(FM) in 2015. There were so many rules. You only had a few seconds to talk. I had to execute the format and try to match to the PPM clock. It really wasn’t much fun. So I quit.”
For young people who aspire to communicate to the masses there are many other options like podcasting and social media, Landecker said.
“I just don’t think radio has the attraction now. There are so many different opportunities for young people to have a platform, it’s just not in radio. The days of knocking on the door of a program director and saying ‘Hey, I want to be in broadcasting’ are sadly over.”
Recently, Landecker has found a new outlet for his creative nature by taking to the stage for live summer theater in Michigan City and was expecting to be in another play this summer, at least before the coronavirus crisis erupted.
“I even took acting classes in Los Angeles, where my two daughters, Amy and Tracy, live. I went to the Lesly Kahn Studios for acting lessons a few years back. The average age was probably 22 and I was 70. I took a comedy intensive session and loved it. Acting really is a team sport and I feed off the energy of other people,” he said.
In addition to perfecting his acting chops, Landecker continues to work that air shift each Friday afternoon at WEFM(FM) in Michigan City with his friend and co-host, Mike Dempsey. “It’s really free-form radio. We talk about music or go out on remote. It’s live. I still get a chance to talk up the intro of a song and hit the post if I want. I still find it energizing. It’s just me being John Records Landecker,” he said.
And there is that famously fitting middle name again that still seems so appropriate. Turns out Landecker was bequeathed a name fit for a future member of the NAB Hall of Fame.