Friday, February 19, 2021

More February Birthdays

 This was posted today on the Eckhartz Press blog, The Studio Walls...

Eckhartz Press co-publisher Rick Kaempfer is a former radio producer and host and still writes about the media regularly as the media columnist for Illinois Entertainer. This is his 30th year as a media writer, so we are featuring excerpts from the more than 200 current and former Chicago radio and television stars he has interviewed, including the following people who are celebrating birthdays this month.

Wendy Snyder’s birthday is February 12th. Rick has interviewed Wendy many times over the years, most recently during her stint at WGN Radio. In 2013, she had just been reunited with Bill Leff after 16 years apart.

Wendy Snyder, Rick Kaempfer, Bill Leff

In some ways Bill and Wendy do a typical boy-girl show, but there is one major difference. “In our case I’m usually the one that has the guy point of view and he has the girl point of view,” Wendy says with a laugh. “I’m kidding, but not really. We do like to give each other a hard time. I think Bill enjoys that I have that naughty side. All I can tell you is that I just love being on the air with him. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He’s a great, great interviewer. He’s a nice guy. What else could you ask for?”

Read the entire interview here.

Rick O’Dell’s birthday is February 14th. Rick was a mainstay for many years at WNUA in Chicago, playing smooth jazz. He is now the program director at Me-TV FM (87.7FM). Kaempfer interviewed Rick a few times, but this particular interview happened in 2009, shortly after his departure from WNUA…

Bobby Skafish (L) and Rick O’Dell (R)

 I didn’t get into this business: a) to be an on-air talent; or b) for the adulation of fans or accolades from critics. I got into it because I loved music and I wanted to learn about radio as a business enterprise–what it takes for a radio station to be successful, in other words. So, anytime somebody writes or says something positive about me or my work, I’m pleasantly surprised. Getting strokes from Phil Rosenthal and Ron Magers is something I’ll always remember. But the most meaningful comments are those that come from listeners. They supported me–and WNUA–for a long time. I owe it all to them.

Read the entire interview here.

Ray Stevens’ birthday is on February 24th. He has been on the air in Chicago for several decades, hosting country music and political talk shows at stations like US-99 and WLS-AM. Rick interviewed Ray a few times, but this is the first one, going back to 2010. At the time he was the morning man at US-99 (WUSN). Rick asked about what he considers the secret to Ray’s success. His authenticity...

John Howell (L) and Ray Stevens (R)

I have a pretty blue collar background. I worked for my dad in heating/air conditioning/architectural sheet metal starting in eighth grade. And I worked construction, which is hard work. The first day I worked in radio in an air conditioned studio on a really hot day I thought, hey this isn’t so bad.

I’m not trying to be something I’m not. I think that if you’re honest, and if you’re authentic, it makes a difference. The guy that really taught me that was John Howell.  He said ‘hey, they’re either gonna like ya or they won’t,’ might as well be who you really are. Ever since he told me to be myself on the air, I have been, and I think that’s what works. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I’m from here, and people from Chicago appreciate that.

Read the entire interview here.

Serving Trump

 I really get a kick out of these stories of what people are really like, and the best way to tell that is by how they treat the little people. The Washingtonian has a great piece (click here to read all of it) about how the staff at the Trump Hotel in Washington had to treat the Trumps. It's very detailed, but I think this is my favorite part...

Trump always had the same thing: shrimp cocktail, well-done steak, and fries (plus sometimes apple pie or chocolate cake for dessert). Popovers—make it a double for the President—had to be served within two minutes and the crustaceans “immediately.” The manual instructed the server to open mini glass bottles of Heinz ketchup in front of Trump, taking care to ensure he could hear the seal make the “pop” sound.

Garnishes were a no-no. Melania Trump once sent back a Dover sole because it was dressed with parsley and chives, says former executive chef Bill Williamson, who worked at the restaurant until the start of the pandemic. Trump himself never returned a plate, but if he was disappointed, you can bet the complaint would travel down the ranks. Like the time the President questioned why his dining companion had a bigger steak. The restaurant already special-ordered super-sized shrimp just for him and no one else. Next time, they’d better beef up the beef.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Free Kicks

Free Excerpt from "Records Truly Is My Middle Name": John Travolta

 One of the most memorable moments of John Landecker’s radio career was his interview with John Travolta during the heyday of Travolta’s popularity. On John Travolta’s birthday, it seems like an appropriate day to feature this excerpt from Landecker’s book Records Truly Is My Middle Name.

Travolta and Landecker at Woodfield Mall


Saturday Night Fever hadn’t even come out yet, but thanks to Welcome Back Kotter, John Travolta was already on the verge of becoming a break out star. He had just released a record, and that’s what he came to WLS to promote. I was the lucky one to get the interview, and it went very well. We got along great.

During that interview we agreed to meet the following day and do an appearance together at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg Illinois. John’s limo picked me up at my apartment, and I accompanied him to a few different stops along the way. The first stop was WGN Radio so he could be interviewed by Roy Leonard. After that we went to a hotel party room somewhere and met with a Travolta fan club of some kind. Then we drove out to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg (suburban Chicago).

As usual, I brought a tape recorder and recorded everything as it was happening, beginning in the back seat of a security vehicle. It was reality radio, if you will, before they called it that.

Now, Woodfield was expecting maybe two or three thousand kids to be there, which would have been great, but when we arrived, there were 30,000 girls in the middle of Woodfield Mall screaming at the top of their lungs! (I have never been to a Beatles concert, but I imagine it sounded just like this.) This huge crowd was screaming in an enclosed area, and the sound was echoing and reverberating and shaking the walls. It was positively deafening. I’ve never heard anything like it before or since.

I had tape rolling throughout the whole thing, and it’s an amazing tape — you really get a feel for the mayhem. At one point you can hear a cop say, “My gun, my gun, my gun” because the force of the crowd literally forced his gun up and out of his holster. We finally got to where we were supposed to be, in the middle of this hysterical throng, and I got on the mic.

I told everyone they’d be on WLS between 8 and 9 that night, and then I said: “Give it up for Vinnie Barbarino!” Total Bedlam. Shrill unbelievable screaming. I can’t do it justice. I’m surprised the windows didn’t shatter. Travolta got up there, and did his Vinnie Barbarino routine, the catch phrases from the show.




The crowd went insane for every word he said. Completely berserk.

In the mayhem on the way out, Travolta and I got separated. I got knocked down and dragged out of there by two state cops. He got dragged out of there in a different direction. We were supposed to go to dinner that night, but that obviously never happened.

I played the tape on my show that night, and many other times over the years. I sent a copy of it to Travolta, and I believe it’s stored along with some pictures and a few other things I sent in the archives of the Scientology headquarters in California. He sent me a nice note thanking me.

But that was far from the last time I saw or spoke with him. He later came back to promote Saturday Night Fever and the movie he was filming at the time, Grease. (If you listen to the raw tape of that interview, you can hear my daughter Tracy walking into the studio as we were taping it, asking for me.)

A year or so after that, I was at home one night, and the phone rang. My wife answered it and handed it to me.

“John, it’s John Travolta.”

He was calling just to see how I was doing. This was during his heyday, the absolute peak of his celebrity. That’s the kind of guy he was.


Minutia Men Celebrity Interview--Fee Waybill

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Rush Limbaugh has died

 I'm with the Rabbi...

The Sweetest Words


Bill Holub spent eighteen years laboring in the news department of WLUP Radio in Chicago. He wrote news for the likes of Buzz Kilman, Laura Witek, and Maggie Brock, and he hosted his own public affairs show on the station: "Chicago Street Talk." During his years at WLUP, he also introduced a young intern from his department to the producer of the Steve and Garry show. The couple was married a few years later. (Yes, I'm referring to Bridget and me) 

 Bill Holub is a huge baseball fan, and that's the reason I asked him to contribute to the blog. That was fifteen years ago, and people loved this piece so much, I've run it every year since. It's become a tradition, and this year we need it more than ever. 

Every year at this time, when the pitchers and catchers started reporting to spring training (that's today for Cub fans), Bill would walk the hallways of WLUP saying...

By Bill Holub

“Pitchers and catchers report”.

These are indeed the sweetest words in the English language. Friends have been hearing me recite this every year at this time. I once had an old poker playing friend who used to say the sweetest words have always been “I’ll play these”. This is the same friend who couldn’t win even when dealt a pat hand. That however is a story for another time and place, where an explanation of the relationship between the quantity of beer consumed, what the cards in your hand really look like and the amount of money you bet can be fully explored. It’s really something scientists should be looking at.

In the meantime, I apologize to all those who came here looking for a sentimental dialogue on romance. I’m sorry to say it but the sweetest words in the English language are not “I love you”. Now that I think of it, this may instead be a sentimental dialogue on romance and baseball.

It’s funny how the two always converge around Valentine’s Day. Spring fever is referred to as that time of year when things start to bloom as the weather changes and love is in the air. It is no coincidence that this is the same time the baseball season opens and brings hope to all of us diehard baseball romantics.

My love affair with baseball was re-ignited in 1987-88. There was only one place to catch baseball highlights from all over the major leagues back then. Once a week you could tune in to “This Week In Baseball” with good ol’ Mel Allen. During those two seasons I was hooked into witnessing two West Coast baseball Gods embodied in the forms of a young Mark Mcgwire and Jose Canseco. This is before anyone had ever heard of andro, anabolics and the other chemical cocktails that have since cast a pall over these two. Back then, I was treated week in and week out to mammoth sized home runs flying out of every ballpark in the country. The fact that these home runs were being hit by players wearing what my brother and I had always considered the coolest looking baseball uniforms in the world (the Oakland A’s green and gold) had me embracing the game I grew up on all over again.

By 1989 I was so hooked on this game I even started collecting baseball cards again, although as much as an investor as a fanboy. I also started another nasty habit that impacts my life to this day. That is when I started a fantasy baseball league with a bunch of guys at work. 1989 also happened to be a division winning season for my beloved Cubs, so I was in baseball heaven and haven’t looked back since.


I think we can honestly say that baseball is no longer the national pastime in this country. It has been supplanted by football. I can accept that. Although I would insist the true national pastime is gambling, which is the driving force that makes football the number one spectator sport in America. I suppose I could go off on a George Carlin type of rant here on the differences between football and baseball, but that’s not why I’m writing this piece.

I just want to point out there is one major difference between the two and that is commitment. I’m talking about the commitment between baseball fans and football fans. Football is a four month season requiring your undivided attention one day a week, or two if you’re both a college and pro fan. Baseball is a six month season requiring your undivided attention throughout with your favorite team(s) playing as many as five or more games a week.

Baseball is a commitment. I believe it carries as much of a commitment as love. They both require dedication and attention. They can both go awry despite the best laid plans. An early swan dive in the standings in May that ends a team’s season before it even had a chance can be just as painful as not having your phone calls returned after the second or third date. Meanwhile an October champagne shower celebrating a pennant or World Series championship is as sweet and memorable as a ‘yes’ to a question posed on one knee.


Once that warm baseball is back feeling starts sinking in every year, I like to get fully immersed by throwing myself into my favorite baseball movies before the games actually begin. This is my form of spring training.

You’ve got your “Bull Durham”, “Field Of Dreams”, “Major League” (only the first one, please), but there is one movie that hits me in the right spot. “City Slickers” is not a real baseball movie per se, but there’s one scene that remains among my all-time favorites. It’s where the three friends (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby) are on the cattle drive and passing the time by discussing their favorite baseball memories. Billy Crystal remembers the first time his father took him to Yankee Stadium as a kid and how he had never seen grass that green before. Mickey Mantle even hit a home run that day. Daniel Stern recalls how growing up he and his father never saw eye to eye, but they could always talk about baseball with each other. “We always had baseball” he says.

As for me, one of my earliest baseball memories was getting to take the day off of school with my brother because my Dad got opening day tickets to Wrigley Field. I still remember wearing our warmest winter coats and knit hats, waiting to sit down while the Andy Frain usher brushed the snow off our seats. They don’t make Aprils in Chicago like that any more.


There is a sound that accompanies the words “pitchers and catchers report”. It is the sound of a ball popping into a mitt. The sound of a simple game of catch. It is more than the crack of a bat sound. The sound of a mitt popping brings the memories and feelings of a lifetime of baseball flooding your senses all at once. It happens every time, whether it’s major leaguers or just a game of catch with your dad or your kid. The week pitchers and catchers report there are no cracking bats, only popping mitts. The sweetest sound in the world. “Pitchers and catchers report”. The sweetest words in the English language.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Human Icicle

 Seems appropriate that he is celebrating a birthday today (from his EveryCubEver profile)...

~Carl Lundgren 1880–1934 (Cubs 1902-1909)
Lundgren pitched for three Cubs pennant winners (1906, 1907, & 1908). Even though he was a great pitcher, he never pitched in the World Series during those pennant winning seasons because there were even better pitchers on the team (like Mordecai Brown, Orval Overall, and big Ed Reulbach). Lundgren was especially effective early in the season in cold weather, which led to his nickname “The Human Icicle.” He won 17 games for the ’06 pennant winners and 18 games for the ’07 champs (with an unbelievable ERA of only 1.17 for the season), but slumped in ’08 and managed to only win 6 games. After the next season his career was over.

Lundgren’s teammates didn’t just think of him of as their fifth or (sometimes) sixth starter. He was a shrewd baseball man; just as valuable on the bench as he was on the field. Lundgren later went on to succeed Branch Rickey as the baseball coach at the University of Michigan, before ending his career in his dream job, as the coach of his alma mater, the University of Illinois.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Father Knows Nothing Flashback: Valentine's Day

 I wrote this piece about 15 years ago, but I think it still resonates on Valentine's Day...

I’ve been told that everybody in America knows the ground rules of Valentine’s Day. Even though it’s supposedly a holiday for lovers, the responsibility for a gift is strictly a one-way proposition. The man is expected to get the woman a gift, and the woman is expected to receive that gift.

I never bought that concept and I thought my wife didn’t either. She and I agreed not to get each other anything for Valentine’s Day shortly after we were married, and I fully intended on keeping my end of the bargain. Every February 14th I headed home from the office without giving it a second thought. On my way out the door, however, a female colleague would inevitably chastise me.

A typical exchange would go something like this:

“What did you get your wife for Valentine’s Day?”

“She said she didn’t want a gift,” I would say.

“Trust me,” the woman would reply, “She’s only saying that because she doesn’t want to sound greedy.”


“Listen to me,” she would say, “If you don’t bring home a Valentine’s gift, you’re a dead man. It’s like you’re saying that you don’t appreciate all she does for you.”

Even though I was pretty sure I understood my wife better than someone who didn’t know her at all, I started doubting myself. Who understands a woman better than another woman, right? Just to hedge my bets I would end up stopping at the store to pick something up for my wife.

And every year she got mad at me when I handed her the gift.

“I thought we agreed not to buy each other anything?” she would say.

“Did you really mean that?” I would ask.

“Of course I did. I said it, didn’t I?”

The next day when I told the woman in my office about my wife’s reaction, she explained that my wife was obligated to be mad at me to save face.

“That makes no sense,” I would say.

“Did she give you the traditional gift?” she asked coyly.

“She didn’t get me anything.”

“Not even the (wink) traditional gift?”

“There’s a traditional gift for a man?” I asked.

She winked again.

Oooooh. I get it. I’m slow, but I’m not that slow.

“Those are the ground rules?” I asked.

She nodded. “Everybody knows that.”

I never told my wife about these conversations because I didn’t want to believe that she was really a totally different person beneath the surface, pretending to communicate with me using the traditional method (the English language), while actually integrating a devious subtext I was too dense to recognize. If that was true, my whole world would have been built on a series of false assumptions.

I chose to bury my head comfortably in the sand. It was for the best, really.

But this year, I decided to test the theory. After all, things have changed completely in our house. I’m the one at home now, and she’s the one driving home from the office on February 14th. I figured with this new arrangement I would finally get to the bottom of this mystery.

I did my part. I made a big point of reminding my wife not to get me anything. I was adamant.

“I mean it. Don’t me get me anything or I’ll be mad.”

“OK,” she said.

I tried to read her eyes. Was she worried? Was she thinking that I was now employing the traditional devious subtext? I couldn’t tell, but then again, maybe I had been wrong about everything for twenty years. My instincts were not to be trusted.

So what did she do?

She didn’t get me anything. I can’t decide if this vindicates me, or if she just doesn’t appreciate all I do for her.

Post script: This year, after a full year of being in the same house all day and all night every single day, we celebrated Valentine's Day yesterday by not mentioning it.

What it feels like in Chicago right now

Amended Constitution

 Truth...sad, but true.

Jonathan Rauch
Replying to
1. "No president shall be removed from office for treason, bribery, or any other crime or misdemeanor provided a partisan minority of the Senate will protect him (which is always). Impeachment is thus a nullity and presidents can expect impunity." 2/9
2. "Congressional oversight shall be optional. No congressional subpoena or investigative demand shall be binding on a president who chooses to ignore it." 3/9
3. "Congressional appropriations shall be suggestions. The president may choose whether or not to conform with congressional spending laws, and Congress shall have no recourse should a president declare that his own priorities supersede Congress's express will." 4/9
4. "The president shall have authority to make appointments as he sees fit, without the advice and consent of the Senate, provided he deems his appointees to be acting, temporary, or otherwise exempt from the ordinary confirmation process." 5/9
5. "The president shall have unconstrained authority to dangle and issue pardons for the purpose of obstructing justice, tampering with witnesses, and forestalling investigations. There is nothing anyone can do about this (see Amendment 1 above)." 6/9
Let's count our blessings. Had Trump won a second term, he'd have put through a 6th amendment: "The president may ignore or violate court orders." 7/9
Still, the existing Trump amendments give the president WAY more discretion and impunity than the Founders intended. After Trump, we're more dependent than ever on the president's character to prevent a quasi-monarchy. 8/9
And more than ever, there's a howling void at the center of the called Congress. 9/9