Saturday, January 23, 2021

RIP Larry King

Everybody in broadcasting has a Larry King story. Here's mine...

In the fall of 1993, America was debating the merits of NAFTA. One of the champions of NAFTA was former Vice President Al Gore, and the biggest opponent was Ross Perot. Larry King scored the coup of having the two men on his show to debate the issue on national television.

I scored the coup of getting Larry King to appear on the John Landecker show the day before the debate. He happened to be in Chicago promoting a book, and I booked him to appear in our studio--which I thought was a pretty big deal at the time.

When Larry arrived, I got a call from the front desk of the radio station. I immediately ran out to get him--and when he saw me, he handed me his overcoat and said "cream, no sugar." (Or something like that. I can't remember the exact coffee order--I just remember it was made without even saying hello.)

I brought him right into the studio, and took my usual place--sitting next to John. The interview was off to a pretty good start when I saw the face of our general manager through the glass in the newsroom. He looked incredibly ticked off, which truth be told, was his usual demeanor. He wiggled his finger toward me.

I thought I shouldn't get up and leave in the middle of the conversation because I was sitting between John and Larry, so I signaled with one finger that I would be there in a minute. I was going to wait until the commercial break.

Twenty seconds later, he came into the studio itself--which he had never done while the microphones were on, and gave me the same finger wiggle. This time both Larry and John saw him do it, and they were struggling to stay on topic. I had no choice but to get up, and when I got near him, he grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me into the hallway.

"What the f*** are you doing?" he screamed after the door closed behind us.

"What do you mean?" I asked, truly having no idea what he was talking about.

"Larry King?" he spat.

"Yeah, tomorrow night he's got..."

"I don't give a f*** if he's got Jesus F***** Christ on his show tomorrow night. It's after 8:30. We should be playing music right now."

I couldn't believe my ears. I looked at him, shook my head sadly, and walked back into the studio. I knew this dispute wasn't over, but I also knew John needed me in the studio, and this was too big of a deal to be wasting my time in the hallway explaining why. I figured it could be handled after the show. I didn't know our general manager well enough at the time to realize that wasn't going to be an option. (Keep in mind we had only been at the station for a few months when this occurred.) 

Sure enough, Harvey wasn't going to just let this drop. This time he waited until the commercial break to come into the studio, but he walked in again. He was obviously pissed off.

"Rick, can I talk to you in the hallway again," he said through gritted teeth. He was trying his best to sound like he wasn't mad, but he was notoriously bad at doing so.

"Harvey," I said. "Have you met Larry King? You guys have something in common. You're both from Brooklyn."

"What part of Brooklyn?" Larry asked.

That started the conversation between these two guys--who were about the same age and from the same neighborhood, and within moments there were smiles all around--Harvey and Larry were laughing and reminiscing. When the commercial break was ending, John practically had to shoo Harvey out of the studio. 

"You still need to talk to me in the hallway?" I asked.

Harvey waved me off. "Nah," he said. "We'll talk about it another time."

We never did.

That next night on CNN, Larry King got one of the biggest audiences of all time (a cable television record at the time), and made the front page of every newspaper in the country. Because we had a preview of that historic night on our little local Chicago radio station the day before, excerpts of our interview were quoted in both Chicago newspapers.

But we probably should have been playing "Build me up Buttercup" for the one thousandth time. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Another Hall of Famer is Gone

 Another one of my childhood heroes is gone... Met him once when I was an adult, and he was a terrific gentleman. Best interview I ever heard of him was conducted by my old pal Bill Holub on the Loop AM/FM.

The Hank Aaron cards I have in my collection are among my most treasured possessions...

Mets GM

 You've probably heard the story about the Mets GM who was fired for sending explicit text messages, including one of his erect penis (nobody wants to see that, fella) 

But did you know he worked for the Cubs when he did it. (Sigh) In 2016. (Sigh)

We really did sell our souls for the World Series, didn't we?

Hey, that's my wife!

 From the Chicago Tribune...

Bridget Kaempfer, of Mount Prospect, committee chair with Boy Scout Troop 235 of Mount Prospect, dropped off a large donation in a minivan. The food was collected by the Boy Scouts.
“Every family had an area in our neighborhoods, 200 flyers, and we passed the flyers out,” Kaempfer said.
She said the Saturday before the food drive, members of the troop went around and picked up the donations from peoples’ homes.
“It was so good to see the community come together and help,” said Kaempfer.

(Photo by Katie Angell Luke)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Minutia Men Celebrity Interview--Carmen Serano

Wolfman Jack

 If he were still alive, today would be Wolfman Jack’s birthday. If you don’t remember the Wolfman, he was one of the most famous disc jockeys in radio history. In the 70s he starred in the film American Graffiti and hosted a weekly television show. He also filled in on WLS-Radio in Chicago. John Landecker mentioned that little episode in his Eckhartz Press book, Records Truly Is My Middle Name. We present this free excerpt for you today in honor of Wolfman Jack’s birthday…



In the ’70s, one of my hobbies was making movies. I shot lots of home movies on Super 8mm film and taped soundtracks to play with them. They were good enough to show at parties for my friends from the radio station. We called these screenings “The Clique Film Festivals.” Everyone who saw those films loved them, but that was probably because they were often the stars of the movies. I filmed quite a few of them at WLS.

My favorite home movie starred Wolfman Jack. Yes, the real Wolfman Jack.

Bob Sirott was on vacation, and Wolfman Jack was brought in to fill in for him. I probably drove him crazy running around and filming while he was on the air, although Wolfman and I also shared a common bond. As nighttime rockers we hated a lot of the lame music that AM radio played. The Wolfman had been on the air less than an hour when he decided that our playlist was crap.

“This is not what the Wolfman plays!”

Of course, after a few tunes of his own selection, the Wolfman was visited in the studio by our program director. I was filming from the control room through a glass window and captured that moment on film. Radio people always get a big kick out of watching that particular part… even the Wolfman had to put up with program directors. The Wolfman also gave me a great way to end the movie. He led a conga line out of the studio and into the hallway as the O’Jays sang “Love Train.”

(Epilogue: I was on the air after Wolfman that night, and noticed that he left an open pack of Kool cigarettes on the console. When I peeked inside the pack, it was filled with these funny looking cigarettes with twisted ends on them — certainly not Kools. I tried them later. I remember getting very hungry. And sort of horny too.)

100th episode

This picture makes me a little verklempt

RIP Marty Greenberg

 I never met him, but he was featured in our book "Records Truly Is My Middle Name". John Landecker is quoted in Robert Feder's column below...

Marty Greenberg is being remembered by Chicago radio colleagues as an outstanding broadcast executive and a generous mentor. As vice president and general manager of WLS 890-AM from 1973 to 1979, he led a revitalization of the Top 40 powerhouse and restored its dominance in the format over WCFL. Greenberg, who was 79, died of pancreatic cancer Tuesday at his home in McKinney, Texas. John Records Landecker called him “one of the finest GMs I ever worked with.” Among his early hires at WLS was a fledgling program director named John Gehron, who later would rise to general manager himself. “Marty was brought in to change the culture and I was lucky to be part of the team he put together,” Gehron recalled. Following his success at WLS Greenberg was promoted to president of ABC FM Stations and also held top jobs with Belo Broadcasting, Duffy Broadcasting, Genesis Broadcasting and Emmis Broadcasting.

Albert Brooks Sums Up Yesterday's Feelings Perfectly

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


The end of this poem during the inauguration knocked me out. Absolutely beautiful.

Trump Might Be Dropped By SAG-AFTRA

 Can I call him former President Trump yet? (Technically no, I'm writing this before noon)

President Trump has been impeached twice. He has been banned from all social media. He is a pariah with no friends, looming financial collapse, and potential criminal exposure. All of those things are bad.

But getting kicked out of SAG-AFTRA? That's gonna sting. Variety has the details.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Lost Another Hall of Famer

A Frigid Walk

 My youngest son Sean is 18 years old now. A senior in high school. He's still a good kid, but he's also a typical 18-year-old in most ways--rebellious, belicose, and absolutely sure he's right about everything. 

That's why when I run across these old columns in my time line, I stop and read them with a big smile on my face. I wrote it on this day in 2009 as my weekly Father Knows Nothing column. It didn't make it into the Father Knows Nothing book, but it's a very fond memory for this aging pop.

Sean and I bundle up against the elements, and walk to school together every morning. We are easy to spot, especially on cold winter days when we are literally the only ones on the sidewalk. He’s the short one. I’m the one wearing a giant Russian Army hat (a gift from my friend Kim–who got it in Russia).

I’ve seen the looks in the mini-vans driving by: “Who is that crazy dork in the Russian hat that makes his kid walk to school in sub-zero weather?”

It’s me. But it’s not my idea. It’s Sean’s. He sees it as a badge of courage.

“Dad,” he’ll say, “Look. Nobody else is walking again today.”

Nothing makes him happier. He sees us as the toughest dudes on the block. I love the walk to school too, but not for the same reason Sean does. I love it because it seems like he saves up his questions and thoughts for this special Dad & Sean time. This is a sampling…

*”Who came up with the word for ‘grass’?”

*”Why don’t you ever tell me to shush? My teacher says it all the time.”

*”I wish there was a button you could push that would make you learn how to read like (snap) that. Like a remote control or something.”

*”Did you know that basketball shoes make you a teeny bit faster? They don’t help you jump though.”

*”I had a dream last night that Tommy, Johnny & me were inside a video game. You weren’t in the dream, Dad. But maybe I just woke up too soon. You might have been in the next level.”

These conversations are my favorite. He is starting to question the world around him, but is still completely unafraid of sounding silly or strange, and (unlike his brothers) he still likes his father. And after a spirited debate across the frozen tundra about the best outfielder on the Cubs, or the legal ramifications of neglecting to put salt down on an icy sidewalk, he’ll always ask me the same thing at the corner before we reach school.

“Dad, can I wear your hat for a few seconds?”

I hand it to him, he puts it on over his coat hood, and sighs like someone dipping into a hot tub. “Aaah.”

“OK, that’s enough,” I respond after a few seconds. “The bell’s going to ring. Time to get into school.”

He waves to me as he crosses the street, and I wave back, trying desperately to savor every moment of our tough-guy time together.

One Last Randy Rainbow Song

Monday, January 18, 2021

5 Years Ago Today

 He has been hinting at this possibility now for many years, but Rich King finally made the announcement this weekend. He has decided to retire from broadcasting. This news came via his facebook page. He wrote…

it is finally official. i am calling it quits on June 15th. the end of a 48 year career that wildly exceeded every dream I had when it began on that warm summer day in 1968. It is fitting it will end where it began, at WGNTV where I started out as an intern. Sandwiched in between was a 24 year run at CBS radio and TV. I plan to enjoy each day in the final five months hoping the Bulls and Blackhawks will send me out with a nice playoff run. I told my boss ,Jen Lyons , that it will be hard to give it up but at the same time I am finally at peace with my decision. The timing is right. I still feel I am in top form and could go on for a year or two, but it is better to go out on your feet instead of being carted out the door feet first on a stretcher. Had I not met April I would have retired six years ago. She gave me new life and restored my taste for living and working. We have exciting plans now. More time for travel, more time to enjoy with old and new friends. More time to enjoy each other.

Media columnist Robert Feder wrote about it in his column yesterday.

King, 68, a native of Chicago’s South Side and graduate of De La Salle High School and the University of Illinois at Chicago, first joined WGN as an intern in 1968 and was hired as a writer and producer in 1969. He spent more than two decades at CBS-owned WBBM AM 780 and WBBM-Channel 2 before returning to WGN as sports anchor and reporter in 1991.

“For nearly 25 years, he’s been a rock in our sports department,” said WGN news director Jennifer Lyons. “Everyone knows Chicagoans are serious about their sports and they trusted Rich to bring them a front row seat to all the big moments. . . . Beyond a talented journalist and sports anchor/reporter, Rich is one of the kindest men in the business. Hard working is an understatement. Whether it was chasing the Cup at 1 in the morning or surviving sub-zero temps in Green Bay, he always took on every assignment without a complaint.”

In 2014 King was inducted in the Silver Circle of the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

His good friends at Eckhartz Press wish him the very best. Rich’s wonderful books about his life and his storied career (“Back in the Game” and “My Maggie“) have been an inspiration for his many many fans. Maybe we can convince him to write another one after his broadcasting days are officially done.

What the World Needs Now

I post this every year on MLK day. It's perfect for the occasion...

RIP Phil Spector

The great record producer Phil Spector died in prison over the weekend. It's hard to come up with someone who tarnished an impressive life more than he did. The lead sentence in his obit is that he died a convicted murderer...which he did. But in his younger days he produced some of the classics of the rock and roll era with his wall of sound. To me, this one will always be his best.

Minutia Men