Saturday, May 20, 2006

Guest Blogger: Doug James

Doug James has built a successful professional career on a wide range of performing talents. From commercials to voice-overs, radio to stage, corporate acting to conventional film acting. It's likely that you've heard his voice or seen his face (He was on "Prison Break" on Fox this week). He also plays with funk and retro bands "The Llamas" and "Love House", and as you can tell by this guest blog he was gracious enough to provide me, he is very passionate about his love of his music.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

I recently watched the VH1 documentary on the last year in the life of Warren Zevon. I titled this blog after a remark the singer/songwriter made to a David Letterman quire. I've made a promise to myself to do just that. Sounds what.

Presidents day weekend my wife and I took a trip to what I now consider the live music capital of the world. Austin Texas is NOT your typical Texas town. The variety of music that's offered is larger than Nashville & Memphis combined. By my count, there are about 210 live music venues in Austin. Another great music town I've always enjoyed was New Orleans but it always struck me as a bit too seedy. By comparison Austin is classy and it cooks 24/7. We were a little disappointed in the weather, it was raining and 55 and almost everyone apologized for it.

"Hey, we're from Chicago and it was 14 degrees when we left, don't worry about it." I'm looking at property for six months out of the year and thought the area would be great for my health, I'm seeking a warmer dryer climate during the winter months. I love music and culture and I've also grown rather fond of bicycling & hiking. We're still looking for a 6 month winter haven, but the journey of seeking Utopia is becoming a most enjoyable adventure.

Austin is easy to maneuver around. The 6th Street district has no less than 50 clubs and music/head shops to either listen to an eclectic array of music or shop til you drop. There's actually a Hot Sauce Shop called Tears of Joy that sells nothing but the most outrageous selection guessed it. The owner is Joy Burleson and she invites you to check out her website at I spent about $30 and sent my brother a bottle of hot sauce called 'Nuckin' Futs'. Haven't heard back from him yet...hmmm.

Friday night brought a couple of hard choices. I have a wide range of musical influences and there's very little I don't like. I assumed there'd be a ton of C&W and I was right, the thing about Austin is, it holds about 10 tons of live music venues. Ricky Skaggs was sold out at the One World Theatre, there was an event going on that had started on Thursday and lasting over the weekend called the Folk Alliance. It was wrapping up Monday night with Arlo Guthrie & Friends. In all over 70 folk acts from all over the country were in town performing at dozens of different venues for five days.

Understand that there is live music is all over town. The Warehouse District is where Antones is located. Double Trouble (Chris Layton & Tommy Shannon) play there every Tuesday night. By the way, their former leader Stevie Ray Vaughn has a statue on the south side of the river in what's called Auditorium shores. There is no shortage of Stevie Ray wannabe's playing at clubs around Austin.

Friday night at Antones Cyril Neville and Marcia Ball performed. Cyril has left New Orleans for good. He commented that the music scene there has actually been dwindling for quite some time. It was alive during Mardi Gras and the Jazz festival but that was about it. Here he is in Austin on a Friday night in the middle of February, playing to a packed house. A few miles south at Gruene Hall, Leon Russell is playing to another packed house. Are you getting Cyrills drift?

There are venues on the south side of the Colorado river as well in fact, we went to the Continental Inn on Saturday afternoon and caught Red Volkaert(legendary guitarist for Merle Haggard)& The High Flyers free of charge. You would expect an incredibly tight 4 pc. band consisting of bass, drums, pedal steel & Red on guitar. They didn't disappoint. His voice is awesome, a commanding bass/baritone that rings familiar (he sang George Jones better than George) and he's one of the funniest guys on the planet. He looks like a Gnome with fingers as big as spring rolls that fly up and down the frets of his fender guitar. Saturday night Big Head Todd & The Monsters were playing La Zona Rosa which is in the Market District. Asleep At The Wheel was at the Old Coupland Dancehall.

Up and down 6th Street, everything from hip hop to Pete's Piano Bar (dueling pianists that play/sing everything from show tunes to Bon Jovi), karaoke if you want it, The Dirty Dog, over to the Red River District where the infamous Stubbs is located. We saved ourselves for Sunday morning to frequent Stubbs. Their Gospel Brunch is a hoot.

Have I mentioned everywhere we went we were greeted with a big friendly welcome? It was pretty awesome, even to a jaded music lover like myself. This was a typical weekend. In March, the south by southwest festival is held throughout the area and it draws names like Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Elvis Costello to Sheryl Crow. For hard rockers the Smoking Popes @ Emo's for alternative Death Cab Cutie and Franz Ferdinand will be performing at the Backyard. This list is endless.

A helpful hint, when you arrive in Austin, grab a CHRONICLE Proper Exposure. It's like the Reader in Chicago and will direct you to more than just music. Oh yeah, we visited some Art museums too, but that'll have to wait for another blog & time.

So get out and listen to some music, and enjoy that sandwich!

If you missed other guest bloggers (like author Kim Strickland, radio stars John Landecker & Bob Dearborn, playwright Spike Manton and many others), click here:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

From the Archives: FCC Rules!

The FCC is back in the news recently because of the heavy fines they imposed on television and radio stations (and networks) for indecency. This, of course, is not a new thing. It's been a constant battle for decades. While I was the producer of the Steve and Garry Show on WLUP AM 1000, we were cited by the FCC for indecency.

I won't argue the subjective nature of the term. Instead, I'll just site the three different definitions of what is considered obscene material by the Supreme Court.

1) An average person, applying contemporary community standards would find the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.

2) The material depicts or describes, in a patently offensive manner as measured by community standards, sexual or excretory conduct.

3) The material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Do you understand this? Neither do broadcasters. In 1991 (just after I stepped down as Steve and Garry's producer), it led me to write the following column for Chicago Advertising and Media Magazine. Back then I was a sarcastic 20-something. Now I'm a sarcastic 40-something. The FCC hasn't changed much either.

The F.C.C Rules!
By Rick Kaempfer

I have a confession to make. Outgoing FCC Chairman Al Sikes is a hero of mine. That isn't a statement that will make many friends in the broadcasting industry. Chairman Sikes is one of the most unpopular people ever to hold that position. Yet, I'd like to come to his defense. He has, after all, accomplished two things for which he hasn't gotten enough credit. He has made radio "safe" for children, and he has turned the F.C.C into a viable money making operation.

Sikes made cleaning up radio one of his priorities when he took over. He oversaw changes in the rules that made it a fineable offense to discuss bodily functions of any kind on the radio. He was the visionary that realized radio was responsible for turning America's children into foul-mouthed little devils. It's hard to believe now, but just a few years ago children were saying nasty rhymes like "Beans, Beans, They're good for your heart, the more you eat the more you fart." and "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo, Stick your head in doo doo." Pardon my French, but I print these graphic rhymes to illustrate a point. Thanks to the new rule, obscene childhood rhymes like these, are a thing of the past.

I admire his morality, but few moral men manage to combine this with such an acute business sense. He knew that every city had at least a few wacky morning shows. He also knew that these shows ventured into the area of dirty jokes occasionally. Think of your top ten favorite jokes. Are any of them dirty? Don't get me wrong, that Bob Hope is a funny funny guy, but even he also surrounds himself with buxom babes and makes off-color references. And he is America's cleanest comic. So, when Chairman Sikes expanded the rules to also prohibit any words "depicting a sex act", he was displaying his genius business sense. He was just opening up the coffers and letting the money come in. He just waited for letters from outraged "listeners". Case closed, we have a letter to prove it. Now if you wouldn't mind sending us a few thousand dollars, and just make the check out to "The United States Government". Sikes was starting up his own deficit reduction plan before it was fashionable.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to all of this. Sikes is stepping down, and his replacement has some mighty big shoes to fill. Luckily, I have a few suggestions that will carry on the quest of Chairman Sikes, allowing his successor to protect America's children and reduce the deficit at the same time. The new Chairman will come out smelling like a rose, because he or she will have sniffed out the only real problem areas my hero didn't address.

Since Sikes has gotten that pesky First Amendment out of the way, the first order of business should be an outright ban of the words "Less Talk" and "Non-stop music". These may be the most dangerous words of all. Studies have shown that children exposed to disc jockeys saying "Less Talk" every 3 1/2 minutes, lose the ability to reason. These same studies suggest that hearing the phrase "non-stop music" while the music is being stopped, permanently damages a child's capacity for logic. For America's sake, please ban these words. Who knows, this may also be a money making opportunity until the disc jockeys get used to avoiding these phrases.

The second suggestion is long overdue. It is time to ban "Two-first name disc jockeys". Every station has at least one of these. What kind of a message are we sending America's ethnic children? Program directors have an inbred fear of ethnic names. They hire a Bob Sosnowski, and soon the radio public will hear a "Bob Michaels". It's standard. They say; "Just use your middle name and put an "s" at the end of it." On the surface, the logic is sound. You will never forget your new name because your mother used to call you that when she was mad; "Robert Michael, you're in big trouble, young man!" Yet, what kind of a message is radio sending little Spiro Stopanopolis? He is being told he is "different", and will never be allowed to say "less talk" on the radio. This rule is vital and destined to be a big money maker for the F.C.C. Sock it to 'em. Lets get a few bucks back into the treasury of the "Good 'Ol U.S. of A."

I feel very strongly about my free advice. I'm even thinking about changing my name as a protest if these new rules are not enacted. My middle name is James, so from now on, call me "Rick James". Wait a minute. That one is already taken. Wow, I wonder if his real name is "Kaempfer"? Come to think of it, he does look like he could be German.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Half Empty: Our Music Was So Much Better

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.

Our Music Was So Much Better

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

You know you’re getting old when you say this phrase: “Our music was so much better than music today.”

It’s a rite of passage, as inevitable as ear hair and hot flashes.

We knew our parents were hopelessly out of touch with the youth of America when they mocked the music of our generation--rock and roll.

Have you listened to rap music lately? Consider us to be just as hopelessly out of touch with the youth of America as our parents were. We guess that we can understand the attraction of the thumping beat, and we’re down with those street lyrics, but whassup wit’ the subizzurban kizzids rapping ‘bout ganstas, pimps and hos?

You can mock three-chord rock and roll, but at least it was authentically our music. The lyrics spoke to our generation. They dealt with issues that affected us. No gangstas, no pimps, no hos.

Our lyrics delved so much deeper than that, into our wants and needs. What did we want to do? Queen summed it nicely in 1978’s “Bicycle Race.”

“I want to ride my bicycle. I want ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.”

That’s lyrical depth right there. The kids today have people like 50 Cent (singular), but they’ll never experience the kind of lyrical beauty provided by people like The Beatles. They didn’t just preach to us, they asked important questions. Remember this gem from 1968’s “The White Album”?

“Why don’t we do it in the road? Why don’t we do it in the road? Why don’t we do it in the road? Why don’t we do it in the road? No one will be watching us. Why don’t we do it in the road?”

Why indeed? Makes you think doesn’t it? We weren’t pretending like we knew what it was like to put a cap in some pimp, but we did know how to beg our women for a little love. It was part of who we were, and what we dreamed. We wanted to ride bikes. We wanted our women to consider places other than the back seat of the car. But most importantly, we wanted to have fun.

This was something we could still do as recently as 1986. The words of Wang Chung said this more beautifully than we ever could.

“Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight. Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight.”

Amen, fellas. Those were the days. When music was music. When lyrics actually meant something. When people could Wang Chung their little hearts out.

The kids of today will never be able to experience that kind of depth. They’ll never know the thrill of really committing to something (like boogie oogie oogie-ing, until they can boogie no more.) They’ll never learn about the gritty underbelly of Asian-American race relations (like the funky Chinaman from funky Chinatown that was chopping them up and chopping them down.) They’ll never know about diseases they may contract (like Cat Scratch Fever).

And that’s just sad.

So what can we say or do to rectify the situation? We may not have the answer, but the wordsmith Sting from the 1980s supergroup “The Police” certainly does:

“De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da, is all I want to say to you.”

And he doesn’t just say that for himself. He says that for our entire generation.

We have started accumulating our "Half Empty" columns here:

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Suburban Man: Woodpecker Warrior

By Rick Kaempfer

It sounded just like a jackhammer.

I lived in Chicago for many years, and the sound of a jackhammer in the morning wasn’t even that unusual to me. But this jackhammer was slightly different. This one was hammering directly into my upstairs bathroom more than fifteen feet away from my bed. And it was 6:00 in the morning.

When I opened the window to see what it was, the hammering stopped. I looked around the neighborhood to see if anyone was doing home improvements at this ridiculous hour, and was greeted with total blissful suburban silence.

“That’s weird.”

Maybe I was imagining things. I went back to bed. I had just fallen back asleep when the hammering started again.

”What the hell is that?” Bridget asked.

This time I didn’t just look out the window. This time I went down the stairs and onto my deck to see what was going on outside the bathroom window. Sitting in the gutter just above my dormer eave was a cute bird with a jackhammer beak. He didn’t fly away at first. We just stared at each other.

“It’s 6 in the morning,” I said to him.

He wasn’t swayed by my logic. It wasn’t until I screamed like a rodeo cowboy that he flew away from the eave, landing about fifteen feet away in a nearby bush. That wasn’t good enough for me. I charged at him, and this time he flew away onto someone else’s property.

“And stay out,” I said to myself.

I was feeling pretty good about successfully protecting my home until the next morning at 6:00. The jackhammer was back. I know the early bird gets the worm, but maybe someone should tell these birds that the early bird also gets a broomstick up his keester.

Now that I knew exactly where he was, I opened the window, and swung up toward the gutter with my broomstick, hoping to scare him away. He flew away immediately.

"That's right, Woody," I taunted.

Woodpeckers are sort of cute, but let’s face it-- the term “birdbrain” wasn’t invented out of whole cloth. He was no match for me. I was giving him the Teddy Roosevelt treatment—-walking softly and carrying a big stick.

Of course, the next morning he was back again at 6:00.

Each successive morning I got madder and madder. I’m a pacifist at heart, and I do respect nature, but this was causing me to have murderous thoughts. I started dreaming about grabbing him by the neck and snapping that hammering beak right off his head.

I was gritting my teeth as I choked him in my sleep...
“It’s...(choke)...6.... (choke) the...(choke)...*&(^....(choke)....morning....(choke)...
you...(choke)...smelly....(choke)... pecker!” (SNAP!)

When the jackhammer woke me up again the next morning, I sprinted across the hall, grabbed my broom, opened the window—-and this time I was swinging to maim or injure. Sensing my rage, the coward flew away. I actually screamed at him as he flew away...using a word that I shouldn’t have.

“(Insert Expletive Here)!” I screamed.

I wanted blood. I really did. I wanted him dead. It turns out that it’s a good thing I didn’t kill him, though. When I looked up woodpeckers on the internet later that morning, I discovered that it was a crime to kill them. It’s against the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

I had to go to Plan B. According to several websites, woodpeckers can be scared off by loud noises. This wasn’t really an option as far as I was concerned. Using loud noises to get rid of loud noises seemed to be defeating the whole purpose.

Another website said woodpeckers are repelled by bad smells, and they sold a stinky spray. I was about to order it when something distracted me at home (which isn’t difficult to do with three kids running around). I forgot all about it until I was going to bed that night.

I made a mental note to do it first thing in the morning. Only a strange thing happened that next morning. For the first time in more than a week, the woodpecker didn’t come back.

And he hasn’t come back since.

A friend of mine (who knows a little bit about these buggers) told me that this is the time of year woodpeckers mate. His morning house-jack-hammering was probably a spring mating call. He probably stopped coming around because he found a female woodpecker.

Cute, isn't it? Woodpecker love.

I guess I wish them the best.

As long as they honeymoon in Hawaii.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


These are the Kaempfer's.

Happy Mother's Day from the three standing up (Rick, Cindy & Peter) to the one sitting down. That's our mom, Hildegard.

“Why don’t you ever write about your mom?”

I’ve probably gotten that question a dozen times since I started this blog five months ago. The answer is a little complicated, but let me see if I can explain. First and foremost, Mom wouldn’t appreciate it. She doesn’t like the spotlight. I’ve known this for twenty three years.

In fact, I can remember the exact moment I found out. It was April 1, 1983—somewhere between 6 and 10 a.m. I was on the air on WPGU in Champaign-Urbana, doing the morning show with a girl named Karen. We thought it would be hilarious if I called my mom. I was twenty years old at the time. The call went like this...

Rick: Hi Mom.
Mom: Richard!
Rick: How are things at home?
Mom: Ach, fine.
Rick: Mom, I’m afraid I’ve got some news for you.
Mom: What is it?
Rick: I got married.
Mom: What????
Rick: And she’s on the line. Say hi Karen.
Karen: Hi, Mrs. Kaempfer.
Mom: Hi.
Rick: And we’re expecting.
(Long Silence)
Rick: You still there?
Mom: Mmm. Hmmm.
Rick: Are you OK?
(Even longer silence)
Rick: Mom?
Mom: Mmm. Hmmm.
(Even longer silence)
Mom: You better talk to your father.
Rick: Mom, before you give him the phone, there’s one more thing I need to tell you.
Mom: Oh no.
Rick: April Fools.
Mom: What?
Rick: April Fools. I’m not really getting married. Karen’s not my wife...she’s not even my girlfriend...and we’re not expecting. We’re on the air right now.

She really said that.

After that, for some reason, she didn’t want to come on the air with me anymore. She never came on the Steve and Garry show during the nearly five years I produced the show, despite repeated requests from Steve. And she was adamant about it. He pushed especially hard on the day the Berlin Wall came down, but Mom wouldn’t talk to him. My sister eventually did, but she refused his request to get a piece of the wall for him. My mom’s mom (Oma) eventually did talk to him too, but she told him off and hung up on him when he told a Nazi joke.

What can I say? The women in my family are tough. I’ve learned not to mess with them.

I hosted my own show on the Loop in the early ‘90s, and Mom wouldn’t come on. I produced the John Landecker show for ten years, where my German heritage was a regular bit--and Mom wouldn’t come on the show.

When I say she doesn’t like the spotlight, I know what I’m talking about.

Still wondering why I haven’t written about her on the blog?

Mom and I aren’t huggy/kissy/”I love you” close. That’s not the German way. But we are about as close as Germans can be.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for her. When I look at my mom I see a woman who has overcome an enormous amount of adversity—moving to a new country as a teenager, not speaking the language, being forced to work in an abusive old folks home, widowed in her forties, alone for nearly twenty years—and I marvel at her strength.

To be honest with you, I don’t think I could have accomplished a thing in life without my mom. She may not understand me, but she has always been there to back me up, to pick me up off the floor, to push me toward my next destination. When I needed help, there was nobody in the world more reliable. She gave me the one quality that has done more for me than any other—inner strength.

Without Mom, I never would have had the toughness to make it in the cutthroat radio business. Without Mom, I never would have been able to write my book, or my novel, or my blog. Without Mom, I never would have been able to stay at home to raise my kids. I ask for her help and advice literally every day.

She is always there for me. Always helping me in whatever way she can. Always rock-solid. More dependable than any other person on the planet. She’s got my back.

To me, that’s real love.

Mom and I don’t need to say the words...even on Mother’s Day. When I see her today, I’ll give her the present she told me to give her, I’ll wish her Happy Mother’s Day, and I’ll show her that I love her in the same way I always do.

I’ve got her back too.

And she knows it.