Saturday, December 09, 2006

WPGU Photo Album (1981-1985)

Rick and Dave ran for Homecoming King & Queen in 1985. We received the most laughs and the least votes.

Rick in the WPGU studio, interviewing John Hunter of the Hounds.

We gave away that scooter. I'm the one on the left there.

This is a photo of the WPGU management staff, circa 1983. Among the notables, Fox-TV reporter Dane Placko, WDRV afternoon jock Phil Manicki, and several others who are still in broadcasting throughout the country.

My first press pass: Wrigley Field opening day 1984. My first radio convention: NAB 1984. My first business card: Program Director WPGU 1984.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Half Empty: Christmas Letter Greatest Hits (Part 3)

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Tis the season for Christmas form letters from long-lost friends and family members. We've been big fans of these since childhood, and we've actually acquired quite a collection over the past decade or two. (Send us yours by clicking on the "E-mail me" link on the right.)

Most letters are a little boring and maybe a little too inside for mass consumption, but others are Christmas letters for the ages. We're going to feature a few of those between now and Christmas this year.

This one was sent in by one of our more connected readers. It's a letter from North Korea, and it just came in this week.

Christmas 2006

Dearest Family, Friends and Comrades,

Well, it’s hard to believe that another year has gone by.

Kimmy and I have had another great year. Especially Kimmy. Where should I begin? Let’s start with some of his accomplishments during his free time. In January he composed 32 operas. In February he pulled a nuclear armament train out of a ditch with his teeth and as springtime approached in April, he shot 17 holes in one on his first day out on the links. He would have had 18 but his caddy gave him the wrong club. Let’s just say he won’t be using that guy again (nor will anyone else) HA HA HA.

We had a lovely summer gardening. Kimmy especially enjoyed needling the Bushes throughout the year. We remodeled the palace and added another path from the main house to the swimming pool. Sadly, Kimmy slipped and fell on it. He now calls it the “Evil Access”. He is such a card. For the record, I told him not to wear his flip flops after it rains.

Even though we had time to relax, don’t think Kimmy spent the whole year goofing off. His accomplishments at work included ending all poverty, curing every disease known to man and establishing a utopian state for all his people. He likes to call North Korea the best kept secret in the whole world. In fact, he’s thinking of using that in our next advertising campaign to lure tourists. I suggested “More Bang For Your Buck” but you know how Kimmy is...he usually gets his way.

He just walked in the room so I have to go now. It seems that some of our neighbors have been on the phone complaining about the noise. (KILLJOYS!) By the way, if you’re planning on sending Kimmy any holiday gifts this year, please note that he’s now six foot six and has a swimmers build.



Next week...a Christmas letter from 1964.

If you missed any previous Half Empty columns, click here:

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Suburban Man: Opposite World

A short story by Rick and Tommy Kaempfer
(Our first-ever collaboration)

Joey’s father looked him in the eye and repeated the question. “Are you sure you don’t have any homework tonight?”

Joey gulped and nodded. He knew that his father had an extra scent organ that could smell a lie from a thousand feet away. It was uncanny.

“What is your teacher Mrs. Hogan’s nickname again?” his father asked.

“Homework Hogan,” Joey admitted. He summoned up his last burst of dishonesty. “But she said she wanted to give us a break.”

“Are you telling me the truth, Joseph?”

Joey nodded again.

“OK,” his father said. “I guess we’ll just have to live with the consequences.”

Joey began to walk into his bedroom, but stopped outside his door, and faced his father. “What do you mean by consequences?” he asked.

“Opposite world,” his father replied casually, as he walked back down the stairs toward the family room. With his back to Joey, he couldn’t see the confused expression on his 12-year-old’s face. Joey darted to the landing at the top of the stairs, and called after his father.

“What is opposite world?” he asked.

His father calmly explained over his shoulder as he walked away. “That’s where you’ll wake up tomorrow,” he said. “There are only three undeniable truths in the world. 1) Everyone has to pay taxes. 2) The Cubs will never win the World Series. 3) Homework Hogan will assign homework to her gifted math class every single night.”

He stopped and looked up at his boy.

“If what you say is true, and Mrs. Hogan has altered one of the three undeniable truths,” Joey’s father said solemnly, “then the whole world will spin on it’s axis overnight, and by the time we wake up in the morning, everything that used to be true will no longer be true. We’ll be living in Opposite World.”

He blew his son a kiss goodnight and walked into the family room. Joey stood at the top of the stairs and smiled. His dad was like that; always making up elaborate stories to teach him a lesson. This time it wasn’t going to work. Joey knew that he still had plenty of time to do his homework on the bus ride to school in the morning.

By the time his head hit the pillow a few moments later, he was no longer giving his father’s ridiculous story a second thought. He quickly drifted off to sleep.

Unfortunately that deep sleep was interrupted just a few hours later by a honking car. Joey rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and looked at the clock. When he saw what time it was he rubbed his eyes again.


The car honked again. Joey got out of bed and moved the curtains to the side to see who was honking a car in his driveway at ten minutes before midnight. There was no mistaking that mini-van. That was definitely his best friend Brian’s car.

“I wonder what his mom or dad or is doing here at this hour?” he thought to himself. Joey hopped out of bed, and made his way down the stairs. When he reached the kitchen, he couldn’t believe his eyes. His two year old brother Phil was making eggs and bacon, his thirteen year old brother Andrew was adjusting his tie and rifling through his briefcase, and his mother and father were mindlessly toiling away at their Gameboys.

“Didn’t you hear that car honking?” Joey asked.

Nobody looked up. Joey wasn’t sure how his father managed to pull this off, but he appreciated the effort.

“OK,” Joey said, “I get it.”

“Get what?” Baby Phil said as he whisked the eggs in the bowl.

Something was very wrong here. Phil could barely speak, let alone fix scrambled eggs.

“Um…” Joey said.

“Can you be a dear and fetch me the milk,” Baby Phil said. “I need a little more for the eggs.”

Now Joey was completely confused. The car in the driveway honked again, but nobody seemed to hear it but Joey.

“Are you telling me that nobody hears that car?” Joey asked.

“OK already,” his father huffed impatiently. “We’re ready, we’re ready.” He put his Gameboy in his backpack and nudged his wife to do the same. They put on their backpacks, their shoes, and headed out the front door.

Joey wasn’t sure why he did it, but he followed them to the driveway. That’s when he saw who was driving the minivan. Brian’s head poked out the driver’s side window and called out to his best friend.

“C’mon Joey,” he said, “Let’s get a move on. We’ll be late for school.”

“But it’s midnight,” Joey said.

“Of course it is,” Brian explained. “When else would we go to school?”

Joey smiled. This was without question the most elaborate scenario his father had ever created to teach him a lesson, but he decided not to give his dad the satisfaction. There was no way Joey’s or Brian’s parents would allow this to go any further. When it came time to actually drive the car, the joke would be over. It had to be. Brian didn’t know how to drive.

Joey opened the sliding door to the back of the mini-van and was shocked at what was waiting for him there. His parents and Brian’s parents were all strapped in to their booster seats in the back.

“No kids in back,” Joey’s father said.

“If that’s the way you want it,” Joey said with a smile, “then that’s fine by me.”

He shut the sliding door and hopped into the front passenger seat next to Brian. “How did they get you to go along with this?” he asked his best friend.

“What do you mean?” Brian asked innocently.

“Fine,” Joey said. He challenged his friend to prove how far he was willing to take this. “Let’s go then. We better get to school.”

“Not until you buckle up,” Brian said.

Joey nodded appreciatively. This was quite a performance. He had to remember to compliment everyone accordingly in a few seconds when they all admitted it was a big joke. He was still chuckling to himself when something truly strange happened. Brian, who could barely reach the gas pedal, put the car into reverse and headed out onto Elm Street.

“What are you doing?” Joey asked, suddenly alarmed. “You’ll get us killed.”

“That’s why I asked you to buckle up,” Brian said.

He reached down with his foot to hit the gas, then looked up to see where he was going, then leaned down to hit the gas again. The trip that normally took ten minutes took nearly a half an hour, but Brian somehow managed to get them to school. Joey kept waiting for his parents or Brian’s parents to say something to stop the madness, but they didn’t say a word. All four of them didn’t even seem to notice what was happening. They were quietly playing their Gameboys in the backseat.

Joey was still recovering from car sickness when he walked into the school. That’s when he knew he had actually entered Opposite World. There was no way his father could have orchestrated this: night was day and day was night, the parents were dressed like kids and the kids were dressed like grown ups, and the principal’s office door now had his name on it.

“I’m the principal?” Joey muttered to himself as he rubbed the nameplate with his fingertips. He tentatively opened the office door, and closed it again almost as quickly. Had he seen that correctly? He opened it again.

His office was a basketball court.

He shut the door again and walked briskly down the main hallway of the school. The bell rang and the grown ups scurried into the classrooms and sat behind the small desks. Joey poked his head in Mrs. Hogan’s room. His friend Brian was teaching the class of grown ups….about Barbies.

“This can’t be happening,” Joey said to himself. He ran away from Brian’s class and checked out the rest of the school. He looked into all of the classrooms, and each of them was being taught by a kid. Lydia was teaching Pokemon in Mr. Orton’s classroom. Butch, the class bully, was teaching sewing to a classroom full of construction workers.

With each passing moment, Joey became more and more disoriented. When he entered the cafeteria and saw the sights there, he staggered in disbelief. The kids were preparing gigantic trays of candy, doughnuts, cookies, and other assorted junk food to serve the grown ups for lunch. One of the kids loudly cleared his throat to let the other “workers” know that they weren’t alone. The room was suddenly totally silent.

“What is going on here?” Joey asked.

“Um, Principal Joey, it’s like this,” his friend Alex began to explain.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a girl sneak something into her pocket.

“What did you just hide?” Joey asked.

“I don’t know what you mean,” the girl replied.

Joey thought he saw what she just hid, and he had to know if he was right or not. If he had witnessed what he thought he just witnessed, this was a world he couldn’t take for one second longer.

“Turn your pocket inside out,” he ordered the girl.

When she turned it inside out, and it only confirmed that she was sneaking a snack of Brussel Sprouts in a room full of candy and sweets, Joey ran out of the cafeteria at top speed, and let out a blood curdling scream in the hallway.


As soon as he heard the scream, and realized it didn’t echo in the empty hallway, Joey knew what had happened. A moment later his suspicions were confirmed. According to the digital clock beside his bed, it was 7:00 in the morning.

His father entered Joey’s room with a concerned expression on his face. He was wearing a suit, obviously ready to leave for work.

“Are you OK, son?” he asked.

Joey’s mind was slowly getting rid of the sleep cobwebs when Baby Phil came running into the room and hopped up onto Joey’s bed, landing on Joey’s stomach with a thud.

“Joey sad?” he asked.

Joey smiled at his little brother despite the pain in his midsection.

“What’s the crybaby crying about now?” his big brother Andrew said from the doorway. He was still wearing his pajamas.

“I think he had a bad dream,” his father said.

“I’m OK,” Joey said.

“He has to get up anyway,” his father said, and leaned in to give Joey a kiss on the forehead.

“I thought he didn’t get up until 7:15,” Andrew said.

“I have to do my homework,” Joey said, giving his father a wink. “Right, Dad?”

Joey’s father smiled. “I guess the world didn’t turn on it’s axis after all,” he said.

“Not unless the Cubs won the World Series,” Joey said.

When both Joey and his father laughed, Andrew turned to leave the room.

“If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never understand those two,” he muttered to himself.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, December 03, 2006

John Landecker Notebook

The John Landecker Show: Rick Kaempfer, John Landecker, Leslie Keiling, Richard Cantu, and Vince Argento

I was the executive producer of the John Landecker show's entire reign at WJMK (1993-2003). I've previously written about the show many times, but I've never singled out some of my favorite memories. This was incredibly difficult to do, but I think I have cut it down to five.

5. Live broadcasts from listener's homes

It's hard to even imagine this now, but for an entire year we did the show from a different listener's home every Wednesday. I don't think it's a coincidence that this was also our best year in the ratings. It started off slow, with John getting to meet the listeners and rifle through their personal belongings on the air, but it soon became larger than life. We met the neighborhood celebrities everywhere we went, and the local politicians suddenly started showing up every week. High school marching bands came to play for us. Soon listeners were competing to win a brand new Ford Thunderbird. My favorite moment, however, happened when John discovered it was girl-scout cookie selling season. He asked to borrow the brownie outfit of one brownie mom, and started selling cookies door to door. (Photo on left: Promotions asst. Joleen, John, Engineer Mark, Promotions asst. Edith, and me.) This brownie outfit became a running bit that culminated in a live broadcast from Union Station. Carl Giamerese of the Buckinghams came with his guitar and performed a Buckinghams song that John and I had rewritten specifically for the occasion. It was released on our third CD, Baby Boomers. Click here to hear Carl's live performance at Union Station. ("Girl Scouts") Sadly, the live broadcasts from listener homes ended abruptly with the downsizing of the station engineering department. With only one engineer remaining on staff, it was decided that broadcasting from listener's homes was no longer feasible.

4. Our annual Christmas broadcast for charity
For several years we did a live Christmas broadcast from Oak Lawn to raise money, toys, and food for the holidays. We raffled off the hottest toys of that particular season, invited celebrities to join us there (Darlene Love came one year, Channel 2 sportscaster Tim Weigel came another), filled the largest ballroom in the largest hotel with listeners, and generally took over Oak Lawn. It got bigger and bigger every year, and we felt great being able to collect toys and money for children, and food for the local food pantries. We'd like to think we helped spread some Christmas cheer. The photo above is from our first Christmas broadcast. That baby John is wearing in a snuggly is my oldest son, Tommy Kaempfer. (Tommy later became a part of the show. Click here to hear the 2-year-old Tommy's contribution to our fourth CD--"Live Long & Perspire": "Little Tommy Kaempfer Sings".) After a few years of these Christmas shows, station management requested that we discontinue the broadcasts because they felt it took away from Dick Biondi's annual toy drive. (Dick did a 24-hour-radiothon in early December every year.) We never did another Christmas show for WJMK, but I still have warm and fuzzy memories of the four shows we did.

3. Lambs Farm
When John and I first came aboard at WJMK we wondered why they never staged free concerts for their listeners. That was a staple of most Oldies stations in America, and most of the acts we played on the air still regularly performed on the summer concert circuit. After our first year on the air, the station decided to take a risk. At our first show at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, we hired the Flying Elvis' from the movie "Honeymoon in Vegas" to perform. The sight of these parachuting Elvis impersonators landing near the stage to perform was a crowd pleaser, and the crowd of more than 30,000 that showed up for the show encouraged Lambs Farm and the radio station to continue the tradition. (The picture was taken at one of the Lambs Farm concerts.) At subsequent shows we got performers like Tommy James, Chubby Checker, and just about every other Oldies act you can name. Hundreds of thousands of listeners showed up--making this annual concert every year a huge fundraiser for Lambs Farm (they got 100% of all concessions). It was also a huge deal for our show, because the opening band every year was Landecker & The Legends. We got a rousing ovation when we first performed a song that has since made me a hero to my three sons. (The station banned us from playing it on the air because it was too naughty, but allowed us to play it live.) John and I wrote the words for this classic: King of *arts

2. Touring with Landecker & The Legends
Landecker & the Legends performed together for seven summers, and we probably played at every summer festival in the Chicago area. One summer we did over twenty gigs (basically two shows every single weekend).
It eventually became a little too much for all of us (remember, we still were doing a morning show every day), but the memories I have of those shows and the great people we met will never leave me. Plus, the band was so much fun to hang out with--Tim, Mark, Steve J., Steve V, Jay, Pete, Dan, Jeff, our associate producer Tom, and the horn players were a riot. One summer we even brought along an accordian player (who was a school principal in Naperville, I believe.) The downside to having an accordian player was that I had to dress up in my German lederhosen, and lead the crowd in the Chicken Dance. I'll never forget the sight of 50,000 people flapping their arms at Lambs Farm that year. The upside to having an accordian player was that it allowed us to play the song we wrote in honor of the Disney movie Pocahantas: The Polkahantas Polka

1. Live Broadcasts from tropical resorts
I've already written about the incredible trip we had to the Dominican Republic (Renewing my vows), but I had just as much fun at our final live tropical broadcast in January of 2003. Bridget had just given birth to Sean, and she couldn't travel yet--so I took my seven year old son Tommy with me instead. Just the two of us--for a whole week in Huatulco, Mexico. Every morning at 4:30 in the morning he got up with me and came down to the broadcast site, and every morning I set up his laptop next to mine so that he could play his video games. He also told a joke on the show every morning. After the shows were over, we would explore the beaches looking for iguanas, and play in the ocean. It's a week that neither Tommy nor I will ever forget.

Where are they now?
In August of 2003 WJMK decided not to renew our contract, and we all went our seperate ways. John is back on the air again every afternoon at 94.7FM (Real Oldies) in Chicago. Leslie Keiling is the traffic reporter every afternoon on WGN Radio (720AM). Richard Cantu is a network news anchor for ABC Radio in New York. Vince Argento is the production director of the Jonathon Brandmeier Show on the Loop (97.9FM) in Chicago, and I'm now fulfilling a life-long dream by becoming a novelist. It's worked out for all of us, but we all remember those days at WJMK fondly.