Saturday, January 21, 2006

Guest Blogger: John Records Landecker

John Records Landecker is one of the most recognizable names in Chicago radio history, and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the 1970s, he was named the best radio personality in the country by Billboard Magazine. You may remember him from his stints at WLS-AM 890, WLUP FM-97.9, WCKG FM 105.9, and WJMK FM 104.3. He also worked at classic radio stations WIBG in Philadelphia, and CFTR in Toronto, and in television as the movie critic on "Chicago Tonight" on WTTW. Records is his actual middle name--it says so on his birth certificate. It was his mother's maiden name.

I asked John to contribute to the blog today because it is Wolfman Jack's birthday. It takes a radio legend to explain another radio legend.

Happy Birthday Wolfman Jack
by John Records Landecker

Can you hear the party goin’ on in heaven? I believe The Wolfman walked up to God and said, “It’s all about your boogaloo situation, ya understand.” God said: “Have mercy.” Wolf said, “Hey, you stealin’ my material?”

I am not going to give you a history lesson on Wolfman Jack. Lets just say that from the early 1960’s until his passing, Wolfman Jack was the most unique personality in the history of rock ‘n’ roll radio. Not only legendary, but in fact the legend itself, howling into the night on the most powerful radio station on the planet. He was a mystery in the dark. It was wild. As a kid, filmmaker George Lucas tuned in from southern California. When he made the movie “American Graffiti” he cast The Wolfman as a rock ‘n’ roll DJ. The film was a huge success and Wolf was part of it. For eight years in the 1970’s he hosted one of television’s first rock shows: THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. This is where I come in.

Throughout the 70’s I worked as a nighttime rock jock on a big station in Chicago. I ran into the Wolfman three times. Bob Sirott, who was on the air in the afternoon, told me he saw an ad that said Wolf was making an appearance at some bar/nightclub near O’Hare airport. Bob suggested we go. The Wolfman was great. We all ended up in some hotel suite after the show with about 100 other people and had a few drinks, few laughs, and went home.

Run in number two. I was a doing radio station promotion at Great America. For some reason Wolfman was there too. We bumped in to each other but really did not have time to talk….

Saving the best for last. I don’t know how he did this but Bob Sirott got The Wolfman to fill in for him when he went on vacation. My hobby was shooting super 8 mm movies. I filmed The Wolfman from just about every possible angle. Climbing on the console, lying on the floor, you name it. I spent four hours with the Wolfman while he did a show (by the way the movie turned out great if I do say so myself). What was it like? Well The Wolfman was the first radio personality I ever saw with an entourage. I have no idea who these people were, but they were in the studio the entire time.

Wolf and I shared a common bond. As nighttime rockers we hated a lot of the lame music that AM radio played. The program director and I had many an animated discussion on this very topic. The Wolfman had been on the air less than an hour when he decided our playlist was crap. This is not what THE WOLFMAN PLAYS. After a few tunes of his own selection, Wolf was visited in the studio by the program director. At the time I was filming from the control room into the studio through a glass window. Radio people get a big kick out of this scene. EVEN THE WOLFMAN HAD TO PUT UP WITH THIS! At any rate Wolfman did the show and then for my benefit led a conga line out of the studio and into the hallway as the O’Jays sang “Love Train.”

You know how in stories like the Lone Ranger, the masked man leaves a silver bullet to remember him by? I followed Wolfman on the air that night. About an hour into my show I noticed an open pack of Kool cigarettes lying off to the side. Fantastic, I thought, Wolfman left his smokes. What a riot. I picked up the pack and looked inside. I think this is where I am going to stop.

Lets just say that after I got off the air I was totally into my boogaloo situation…HAVE MERCY!!!!!

Rick's Notes: I was John's executive producer for ten years at WJMK (1993-2003), and it was a pleasure working with him. John can still be heard on the radio in Chicago on WLS-AM 890. He lives in Indiana with his wife Laura and their beloved pooches.

This is the WJMK morning show circa 1993. Clockwise from top left: Board operator Lonnie Martin, Executive Producer Rick Kaempfer, Traffic Reporter/Co-Host Vicki Truax, Newsman Richard Cantu.

This is the WJMK morning show circa 2001. From left: Rick Kaempfer, John Landecker, Co-Host Leslie Keiling, Newscaster Richard Cantu, and technical producer Vince Argento.

Friday, January 20, 2006

This Week News & Views (Jan 15-20)

This Week: News & Views

*Congressional Ethics Reform Legislation

WASHINGTON (AP)—Republican members from the House of Representatives introduced an ethics bill to help clean up Congress after the Jack Abramoff scandal this week. In related stories...

=Wile Coyote has also agreed to police the Roadrunner Highway to stop “Whoever drops those Acme bombs” from ripping up the pavement
=My middle son Johnny also promises to crack down once and for all on “whoever keeps punching his little brother Sean every time he comes near Johnny’s video games.”

=And Angelina Jolie has been signed to watch over “hot celebrity hunks” to make sure they don’t cheat on their spouses.

*Immigrant Changes Name to Stop Embarrassing Snickers
CHICAGO—Chinese Immigrant Fuk King Kwok legally changed his name because a woman at the driver’s license facility warned him that his name was “dangerous in English.” His new name is Andy Kwok.
=When do you think anyone will have the guts to tell Dick Butkus what his name means in English?
=There are two politicians here in Chicago who should also be told: Dick Devine and Dick Phelan (pronounced 'failin'). You know guys, there's nothing wrong with using Rick or Richard with those last names.
=Remember, this cuts both ways. That’s why I told baseball player Robert Fick he should never move to Germany. (Ask your German friends).

*French Couple to Face Off in Election
PARIS--French Socialist Secretary Francois Hollande, and his companion (the mother of his four children) Segolene Royal, will more than likely face off in the 2007 Presidential election in France. Both are vying to lead their party.
=I predict negative campaigning the likes of which we have never seen before. It should go something like this...
Him: My opponent will never cook the books. I've eaten her cooking for twenty years. She can't cook anything.
Her: My opponent won't clean up scandals. This is a man who treats the floor like a laundry hamper.
Him: My opponent isn't what she appears to be. It takes her an hour to put on that face.
Her: My opponent isn't full of hot air. He's full of gas.
Him: My opponent does look fat in that dress.
Her: My opponent will have a back problem, because from now on, he's sleeping on the couch.

*Dolly Parton’s birthday

NASHVILLE--The country singer and actress, Dolly Parton, celebrated her 60th birthday this week.
=Most of her is just a few years away from Social Security. On the other hand, key parts of her body start kindergarten in the fall.

*Concert Riders of the Rich and Famous
CHICAGO-- The Chicago Sun Times on Thursday printed a list of demands that music stars make on their concert riders. Tell me if you can guess which one is fake.
A. Kansas--One quart of prune juice
B. Aerosmith--No pressed meats
C. Christine Aguilera--Flintstone vitamins
D. Coldplay--eight pairs of black cotton socks size 9-11
E. Ozzy Osbourne--A translator

(Answer: All are real except Ozzy...but he should consider it.)

*Joey "The Clown" Lombardo captured.
ELMWOOD PARK, Illinois--Notorious Chicago Outfit boss Joey "the clown" Lombardo was captured this week after eluding capture for nine months. The 77-year-old Lombardo was found in Elmwood Park, only a few miles from his home. He had $3000 in cash and a suitcase full of clothing.
=How the mighty have fallen. In the old days the suitcase would have been full of money.
=He cracked up the courtroom by emerging from a jam-packed Volkswagen Beetle. He later squirted the judge with seltzer water before being restrained.

*Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday

PHILADELPHIA—This week marked the tri-centennial of Benjamin Franklin’s birth.
=Did you know that rich people hate Benjamin Franklin? It’s true. I asked every rich person I know to donate Benjamin Franklin pictures from their wallets to my Benjamin Franklin Tri-centennial Tribute—and every single one of them turned me down cold. Must be some sort of anti-Quaker thing.

*Chicago Smoking Ban
CHICAGO—Chicago’s tough new anti-smoking ordinance has been in effect for a week now, and people are starting to grumble about the inconvenience.
=The biggest complainers? Dry Cleaners. Without that retch-inducing-‘I’ve been in a bar’-smoke smell, people can wear their shirts more than once.

*Corvette found 37 years after it was stolen
LOS ANGELES (Reuters)—A Corvette sports car stolen when it was brand new in New York 37 years ago has been recovered in California and will be returned to its rightful owner. Alan Poster’s 1968 Corvette was stolen from a Queens garage on January 22, 1969. Since the car was recovered he has been overwhelmed by the response from well wishers.
=I bet I know the first call he received: The insurance company asking for their money back.

*NFL Cancels Playoffs
CHICAGO--After the Chicago Bears were eliminated from the NFC playoffs by the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, the NFL declared that "the playoffs have been cancelled." "I mean c'mon," said Commissioner Paul Taglibue, "who are people going to root for? Denver? Pittsburgh? Seattle? Carolina? We'll just start it up again next year and hope for better results."
=I haven't seen this in the papers yet, but it feels right, doesn't it?

Your Reactions to Rick's Blog

Regarding Tuesday's Suburban Man--"Dash"
"Rick, I can relate. We have a one-year old at home. Is it just me or is it harder to get up off the floor than ever before?"

Regarding Wednesday's Bald Minute--"Bald Bargaining"

"What happens to Stage 3 atheists? They don't have a God to bargain with."

Rick responds: Good point. Atheists skip Stage 3 and move right on to Stage 4 grieving--Bald Depression.

Regarding Thursday's From the Archives: "Fax Radio"
"Last I heard Doug Blair was living in Wheaton and working in the computer business."
"Brian Kelly has been the OM for WMYX and WXSS (and another station in the cluster, I keep forgetting what it is) in Milwaukee for at least 10 years...I used to work for him. Great guy."
"My God! How old were you when you produced Steve & Garry's show?"

Rick responds: 13. I just celebrated my 30th birthday.

Misc. Comments
"I love it. Thanks for sharing"
"Great reading, Rick"
"Where do you find the friggin time to do this? Love it, except for the hat you're wearing on Monday's post."
"I enjoyed the jokes and the essays"
"Thank you so much for including me on your blog e-mail list. I look forward to it every day. Is it OK if I send you a few e-mail addresses to add to your list?"

Rick responds: If you know anyone who might want to be added to the e-mail list (there are several hundred of us now), I'm happy to add them. Just send me the e-mails and I'll take care of it. Also, if you want to e-mail a certain post to anyone, simply click on the envelope icon at the end of each post.

Coming tomorrow--Guest Blogger John Records Landecker. Check back over the weekend if you have a moment.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

From the Archives: Fax Radio

The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune June 20, 1989. It’s fun to take a trip back in time only seventeen years, and see how far our technology has progressed in that time. The fax machines we used then came with rolls of curly glossy paper.

by Katherine Seigenthaler

Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, disc-jockey hosts of a popular afternoon radio show on WLUP-AM (AM 1000) in Chicago now have a fax machine in their studio to accept comments and other items from listeners.

In the past, the only way to get through to them was by managing to break through WLUP's jammed phone lines. But technology, like time, marches on, and radio audiences can now use fax machines to communicate with these two fellows and other radio personalities.

The fax machine in their studio operates almost continually all day. Every few minutes, something new comes through. While some of it is usable on the air, much of it is unsavory, and best used for a private laugh in the studio, with only a brief (and cleaned up) mention on the air.

For instance: Someone sends a fax which has altered the spelling of Rob Lowe's name with unwholesome results. The very next item to arrive is a lewd cartoon featuring a pig and a chicken.

Rick Kaempfer, producer of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier's afternoon radio show said, "We get a lot of things that people are afraid to say themselves, but they fax it hoping that Steve or Garry will talk about it on their show. Frankly, much of it is so lewd there is no way we can clean it up well enough to use over the air. It is funny though."

Kaempfer claims Dahl and Meier were the first to incorporate a fax machine into their on-air schtick, and they have been giving the fax number to listeners for at least a year.

But according to Brian Kelly, program director at station WLS (FM 94.7), his station was the first to have an *in-studio* fax machine. WLS, like competitor WLUP, welcomes the frivilous, and the more-so the better. Both stations invite people to 'Fax your face' to the station, so the deejay's can describe you to the listeners. People are to make a copy of their face on the office copy machine, then fax the copy to the station.

Kelly noted that "...faces are not the only body parts they fax to us. They actually put the naked part of the body on the copy machine, and then fax the results to us. We've gotten enough body parts to make a complete person, although we have a big overstock of certain parts. I guess they think it will shock us."

WLS' midday deejay, Doug Blair, is by far the most fax-infested at that station because the vast majority of fax-ers work 9 AM to 5 PM, in offices where fax machines are available and the employees obviously are not kept busy enough and have idle time to create mischief. Indeed, the dawning of radio's fax era has updated, but hardly altered, the time-honored practice of goofing off at the office when your supervisor is not watching.

In a less state-of-the-art era, the average employee pretended frantically to be calling a client when, in truth, he was hoping to be the lucky 'caller number ten' in the radio station's cash giveaway contest.

Today, that same employee stands at the office fax machine, ostensibly sending a copy of that important report off to the client. After looking around furtively to make sure the supervisor is elsewhere, he in fact sends an obscene joke to Dahl and Meier, hoping they will read it over the radio, or else a copy of that picture he made on the copy machine the night before, after everyone had left the office but he '..stayed late to finish that urgent report...'

Rick's notes: This article came out about two weeks before my father passed away. I remember showing it to him during our very last conversation; a lunch at Wags restaurant. I left Steve and Garry's show about a year and a half later (early 1991). Steve forgave me for that about a year and a half ago (November 2004).

Steve and Garry broke up in 1993. Steve continues to host a highly rated afternoon show on WCKG-FM 105.9. Garry went on to co-host "Roe & Garry" on WLS-AM 890. He left that show early last year in a contract dispute, and at this writing isn't working on the air. I'll be shocked if he doesn't resurface somewhere soon. I no longer keep in touch with either of them regularly, but I have fond memories of my days producing their show. It was never boring.

As for everyone else mentioned in this article, I have no idea what happened to them. Anyone know what happened to Doug Blair? I met him several times (he is also a former WPGUer) over the years, but lost track of him. When I was in college he gave me this excellent advice about my future career in radio: "Don't do it." I'm also not sure what happened to Brian Kelly, or the writer of the piece, Katherine Seigenthaler, for that matter. If you know, please drop me a line.

By the way, fax machines are still a staple of the radio producer's booth, and the contributions from listeners did eventually manage to progress beyond naughty jokes. Of course, e-mails are now more commonly used to communicate with your favorite radio show, and obviously, they still take phone calls. In a future post, I hope to excerpt a portion of my book "The Radio Producer's Handbook" about what it's like to screen telephone calls for a radio show.

Remember: All comments are welcome and encouraged (and all of them are read by me). Simply click on "comments" below this post or the "e-mail me" link on the right. I periodically post the best/funniest comments in a seperate post. Unlike other blogs they won't appear in the comments section--because I find that more people read the comments when they are part of a post.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Bald Minute: Bald Bargaining


In her book “On Death & Dying,” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the five stages of grieving; Denial & Isolation, Anger & Rage, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The bald or balding male goes through the same stages while grieving for his hair loss, but no-one recognizes or acknowledges that pain. Until now.

In our upcoming book, “The Bald Handbook,” co-author Dave Stern (bald) and I (balding) leave no bald stone unturned as we look at each stage closely and help the balding male cope with his painful reality. Until the book comes out, this blog will present nuggets and pearls of wisdom from the book in short weekly segments, we call…”The Bald Minute.” (This feature is available for radio syndication. Click on the e-mail link on the right to inquire.)


R: Welcome to another episode of “The Bald Minute.” Today’s Bald Minute subject?

D: Bald Bargaining

R: Eventually, a bald man suffering through the third stage of grieving for his hair loss--

D: Bargaining--

R: …will find himself saying the following phrase.

D: Dear God, if you only give me my hair back, I promise that I’ll--

R: But how can you be sure that you’re asking God for your hair back in the correct religion?

D: Luckily, there are some tell tale signs that you might have chosen the wrong religion for your sales pitch.

R: For instance, many of our bald brothers convert to different religions during Stage One Denial--

D: Mesmerized by the conveniently shaped headgear.

R: If you’ve heard the following phrase--
Patrick Finnegan, please pass the matza so we can get this seder rolling

D: You may have been blinded by the yarmulke.

R: If you’ve heard the following phrase--
Cooter, put down that squirrel gun. It’s time to bow to Mecca.

D: You may have been blinded by the turban. Remember, bargaining bald man, God isn’t going to listen to anyone who chose a religion based on the coverage of the headgear.

R: For more information about bald bargaining or balding, check out our upcoming book, “The Bald Handbook.” Reporting for the Bald Minute, I’m Rick Kaempfer.

D: And I’m Dave Stern.

Remember: All comments are welcome and encouraged (and all of them are read by me). Simply click on "comments" below this post or the "e-mail me" link on the right. I periodically post the best/funniest comments in a seperate post. Unlike other blogs they won't appear in the comments section--because I find that more people read the comments when they are part of a post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Suburban Man: Dash


The definition of “older” father has changed dramatically over the last few decades. At least that’s what I told myself when we had our youngest son. I was 39 at the time, and was more or less handling the challenge of two boys pretty successfully. I figured—what the heck. What’s one more? We have all the clothes already. We know what we’re doing. I’m still pretty healthy. By all means, bring it on.


Up until his first birthday I was still pretty sure I could handle it. I had seen wild children in the mall and at neighborhood and family gatherings. But those children obviously weren’t supervised well enough by their parents. My boys are pretty well behaved, and I believed it was due to my wife’s caring, nurturing, and disciplined home.

Whoops again.

Our youngest son, who we’ve nicknamed “Dash” after the character in the movie “The Incredibles” never learned how to walk. His first step was taken at full speed. The scientists from General Motors have actually moved into our home to study how anything can go from 0-60 mph in one second. I’m awaiting their diagnostic report.

It would be one thing if I was younger. There was a time when I could have chased down this child without pulling a hamstring or groin, or throwing out my back lunging for one of his nifty fake-out moves. Granted, it was at least twenty years ago, but at least I know it was possible at one time. My two older boys (10 & 7) can’t catch him. My wife (younger than me) can’t catch him. The neighborhood dogs can’t catch him.

The following is a true story. My aunt was having a backyard barbeque. Dash went into the house for a moment. What could go wrong? The house was full of something like twenty family members. Plus, there were enough toys inside to occupy a normal child for an entire afternoon. I didn’t think anything of it.

Suddenly a strange woman walked into the backyard with a 2-year-old in her arms. He looked remarkably similar to my son Dash. My aunt didn’t even know the lady…because she lived all the way down the street. Apparently Dash had run into the house, past a houseful of unsuspecting relatives, out the front door, and down the street without anyone noticing. We were lucky that this woman saw what direction he came from, because she grabbed him (probably with some sort of a cheetah-capturing device) and rang doorbells until she found the right house. Total elapsed time? 5 minutes.

One more true story before I go to rehab for my rotator cuff injury. On top of setting child speed records, Dash can unsnap his own car seatbelt. How did I discover this you ask? Well, it happened on a side street one day not too far from our home. I was driving when I heard someone jostling the spare change compartment. That’s odd, I thought. Dash is the only other person in the car with me and he’s firmly seat-belted more than three feet away from the spare change compartment. When I turned around, he was there. He had a big grin on his face and a dime in his hand.

I did the best I could to avoid cardiac arrest, pulled the car over to the curb, and got out so that I could crawl into the backseat. In the time it took me to do that, he jumped into the front seat, and inserted the dime into my CD player. Total damage: $600. Total elapsed time? One second.

So now that I’ve been an older father for 3 years, what are my conclusions? Has it been just like I thought it would be—no big deal? Um…well I was right about one thing—we didn’t have to buy any new clothing.

As for the other assumptions? The data is inconclusive. This child isn’t a representative sample. A professional athlete would have a hard time keeping up with him. It’s not just because I’m old…and out of shape…and slow…and really really tired.

At least that’s what I tell myself as the trainers treat my pulled hamstring.

Remember: All comments are welcome and encouraged (and all of them are read by me). Simply click on "comments" below this post or the "e-mail me" link on the right. I periodically post the best/funniest comments in a seperate post. Unlike other blogs they won't appear in the comments section--because I find that more people read the comments when they are part of a post.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Jokes for a Monday Morning


1. Two small boys, not yet old enough to be in school, were overheard talking at the zoo one day. "My name is Billy. What's yours?" asked the first boy. "Tommy," replied the second. "My Daddy's an accountant. What does your Daddy do for a living?" asked Billy. Tommy replied, "My Daddy's a lawyer." "Honest?" asked Billy. "No, just the regular kind", replied Tommy.
(A contribution from "C")

2.A businessman enters a tavern, sits down at the bar, and orders a double martini on the rocks. After he finishes the drink, he peeks inside his shirt pocket, then orders the bartender to prepare another double martini. After he finishes that it, he again peeks inside his shirt pocket and orders the bartender to bring another double martini. The bartender says, "Look, buddy, I'll bring ya' martinis all night long - but you gotta tell me why you look inside your shirt pocket before you order a refill." The customer replies, "I'm peeking at a photo of my wife. When she starts to look good, I know it's time to go home."
(A contribution from "P")

3. One of Microsoft Network's finest support techs was drafted into the Army and sent to boot camp. At the rifle range, he was given some instructions, handed a rifle, and a couple rounds of ammo. He loaded the rifle and fired several shots at the target which was fifty yards away. The report came from the target area that all of his attempts had completely missed the target. The tech looked at his rifle, and then at the target. He looked at the rifle again, and then once more at the target. He placed his finger over the end of the rifle barrel and squeezed the trigger with his other hand. The end of his finger was blown off -- whereupon he yelled toward the target area... "It's leaving here just fine; the trouble must be at your end!"
(A contribution from "B")

Remember: All jokes are welcome and encouraged (and all of them are read by me). Click on "comments" link below and send 'em in.

This week on Rick's Blog 1-16/1-22

This week on Rick Blog:

Monday Jan 16: Jokes for a Monday Morning

Tuesday Jan 17: Suburban Man/The challenges of being an "older" father with "very young" kids. I call this week's column: "Dash"

Wednesday Jan 18: The Bald Minute/Stage 3 of grieving for your hair loss is Bald Bargaining. Dave & I will make sure you are asking God for your hair back in the right religion.

Thursday Jan 19: From the Archives/A Tribune article about the exciting new technology being employed by the Steve & Garry show (when I was the producer). Yikes. This is going waaay back.

Friday Jan 20: This Week/News & Views about the top stories of the week. Complete with punch lines and your comments.

Saturday Jan 21: Guest Blogger--Radio Legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Records Landecker will help us celebrate Wolfman Jack's birthday by telling us all about his experiences hanging out with one of the biggest radio stars of all-time.

Sunday Jan 22: A magazine article I wrote about one of my favorite topics...Beer.

Remember: All comments are welcome and encouraged (and all of them are read by me). Click on "comments" below, or the e-mail me link on the right. I periodically post the best/funniest comments in a seperate post. Unlike other blogs they won't appear in the comments section--because I find that more people read the comments when they are part of a post.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

LAKE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Men and their Chairs

The Sunday version of my blog is reserved for published articles I've written for various different magazines.

I've written quite a few that will be coming out in the next few months. After they hit the newstands, I'll post them here. The two that have already hit the newstands ("Snow Dome King," & "Best Microbrew"), will be posted here the next two weeks.

Also, coming in the next month or two:
"Morning Radio Wars" (a study of the Chicago morning radio marketplace)
"Unhandy Man" (a suburban man-esque admission of my handiness)
"Returning Home: Heidelberg" (the story of my return to my high-school hometown of Heidelberg Germany)
"Men Who Pamper Themselves" (trying to understand the concept, with interviews of men who like to go to spas)
"Breaking up with Technology" (my reaction to that Nokia commercial of the woman and her cell-phone)

But this weekend, I wanted to do something else.

Yesterday marks the 35th anniversary of the first episode of "All in the Family." That was a groundbreaking television show, and one that meant a lot to my family. Two years ago I wrote an article for Lake Magazine inspired by that show. I thought it would be appropriate to re-post it today.

Have a great weekend, and Go Bears.

Men and their Chairs

By Rick Kaempfer

From the Early Summer 2004 issue

20th Century Man and his Chair

“Edith, the chair.”
Those three immortal words uttered time and time again by Archie Bunker during the run of the television series “All in the Family” said more about the relationship between men and their chairs than an entire documentary could have said. How universal was the concept of a man and his chair? After the show went off the air, the Smithsonian Institute asked for and received permission to permanently display it in Washington.

Oh, Edith’s chair is there too, but anyone who watched the show knows that Edith wasn’t emotionally attached to her chair. To use perhaps the world’s first basketball-chair analogy since Bobby Knight left Indiana, Edith’s chair is to Archie’s chair like Scottie Pippen is to Michael Jordan. Her chair has a certain amount of greatness, but it’s really more noted for it’s proximity to Archie’s chair. It is honored to be on the same stage as greatness. Make no mistake about it; Archie’s chair is the centerpiece of that house, that family dynamic, and that television series. America related to it because nearly every home in America had its own version of Archie’s chair. And it was always, and this is not an exaggeration, it was always the chair of the man of the house. Others in the home may have dared to sit in it, but they knew in their hearts that their behinds were only renting the space.

My home was certainly like that growing up. We gave my father his chair for his 50th birthday. It wasn’t that special of a chair, just a standard beige cloth covered Lazy Boy. However, the moment we gave it to him, it was understood that this wasn’t a chair to share. He placed it in the best spot in the family room, with the best view of the television, and placed an end table next to it. His behind and his drink had permanent residences until the day he died.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. My dad did let other people sit on his chair…as long as he wasn’t in the room. My brother and I used to fight over the chair at dinner time. We would race through dinner, shoving the food into our mouths as quickly as humanly possible, because we knew about the prize that awaited the “winner.” Dad always took his sweet old time eating, and there was a golden thirty to forty five minute window of chair occupancy available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The winner would get kicked out of the chair the second Dad entered the room, but those glorious moments in the big chair, in the “Dad” chair, were so symbolically precious. It wasn’t as comfortable as the couch and your time there was limited, but when you sat in the chair you were the man. The man of the house.

To this day when my mother is flipping through the channels and she comes across a rerun of “All in the Family” she is compelled to stop. It isn’t the appeal of Archie, Edith, Gloria or Meathead. It’s the chair. Seeing the way the family behaves around Archie’s chair reminds her of how things used to be in her house. It brings her back to the fondest time in her life, when everyone still lived in the house, when her boys fought over the chair, her daughter made fun of the boys for fighting over the chair, and Dad ruled the house from his beige cloth covered throne.

21st Century Man and his Chair
Archie Bunker and my father are no longer with us, but the legacy of man and his chair continues to this day. WJMK-Chicago radio personality and Berrien Springs resident Fred Winston knew exactly what I was talking about when I called him up to talk “chairs.” His chair is seventeen years old and may need to be repaired soon. “A little duct tape may be required,” he concedes, “but my chair is a womb like island in a sea of societal cacophony.” His deep baritone voice could have been narrating a National Geographic special as he said those words to me. It was as if he were describing a baby kangaroo poking his head out of his mother’s pouch.

Unlike 20th Century Man’s chair, 21st Century Man’s chair may end up in the basement or a private office, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the emotional attachment a man feels for his own chair. Winston treasures his because it’s been with him through thick and thin. “I recovered there, I napped there, and I held my puppy there. I’ll never get rid of it. My wife actually refers to it as my Archie Bunker chair and makes noises about getting rid of it. That’s when the foot comes down,” Fred told me. When I told him that Archie Bunker would be proud of his manly stand, Fred said, “I hope that my chair ends up in the Smithsonian too when I’m not around anymore.”

Unlike Archie Bunker, Fred allows other people to sit in his chair because he likes to spread his joy. Other men do not necessarily share Fred’s largesse. Chicago Tribune photographer and Miller resident Geoffrey Black has a more traditional view of his favorite chair. When I asked him if he allows anyone else to sit in his chair he didn’t hesitate with an answer: “Never. If they do they receive a scornful eye.”

Black’s oversized leather chair normally resides in his den. “Coming home late in the evening, I like to sit in my chair and read. That chair welcomes me home like an old friend. It’s comfy, the cushion is just right, the firmness is just right, but most importantly….that chair knows me.” If you see Black, don’t ask him about the chair. His house is under construction and the beloved chair has been put into storage. I asked him if he missed it, and the emotion was palpable. “More than I care to admit,” he replied.

21st Century Man and his 21st Century Chair

With the onset of 21st century technology, the chair can be more than just the centerpiece of a man’s home. Marketing Communications Consultant and Dune Acres resident Phil Dunne’s chair is the centerpiece of his daily home and work life. He actually conducts business from his corduroy cloth covered club chair. Jane Dunne spotted the chair while driving by the window of a LaSalle Street (in Chicago) furniture store. “The next day we were driving back to Indiana and she asked me to pull over,” Phil told me. “Out came the owner with ‘The Chair,’ covered in plastic, which he was barely able to fit it in the back of our Jeep. Now it has a side table for refreshments, a moveable stand for my laptop which plugs into the home network, and a holder for my wireless phone.”

While this high-tech accoutrement is mainly used for business, it does reside in the library of his Dune Acres home. “Our library is really the equivalent of a family room since it holds the TV,” he explained. Because of its presence in that room, the chair also has a more traditional Archie Bunker-esque role, especially during the weekends. “The chair is light enough so I can turn it into the room to join our company who are always made to watch and participate in the ‘McGlaughin Group’ on Saturday nights.”

While the arguments may now be about President Bush instead of President Nixon, very little has really changed since Archie Bunker’s chair was touching a chord in America’s homes in the early 70s. Like Fred Winston, Phil Dunne doesn’t forbid others from sitting in his chair, “but I have noticed that when we have people over for drinks no even thinks of sitting in it,” Dunne admits. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

21st Century Boy and His Chair

As for my father’s chair, it lives on fifteen years after his death. I took advantage of my proximity to my mother’s home (my brother lives in Detroit now) to claim the chair in the years after my dad passed away. It’s a little tattered, battered, and worn, but it’s now the symbolic centerpiece of my home; despite my wife’s insistence that the chair remain in the basement. Like my own father, I allow my sons to sit in the chair when I’m not in the room, but when I walk into the room, they scurry away. They know that it’s Dad chair. And now I’m Dad.

Unfortunately, they don’t stay away. Within a few minutes, they start climbing aboard. My six year old Johnny is usually the first one to climb on. His older brother Tommy, age 8, is always only a few minutes behind. When the youngest boy Sean sees his big brothers treating Dad and his chair like a jungle gym, he inevitably joins in.

Somewhere Archie Bunker is shaking his head at me. But unlike Archie, my chair isn’t under glass in a museum. It’s somewhere under three squirming boys and a crushed father, all fighting over the remote.

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