Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Loop Files: Jack Landreth


 I'm working on a special project this year about a certain radio station, so I've been going back into my files and pulling out some old interviews with former Loop colleagues and pals. I'll feature one a week here on the blog. This week, it's Jack Landreth. Jack had a long producing career before joining the Loop. He was Don & Roma's producer at WLS and Paul Harvey's producer. Needless to say, those jobs might not have sufficiently prepared him for what happened at the Loop. His job at the Loop was producer of Kevin Matthews Show. It might not have been the perfect fit, as this interview from 2008 shows. Jack produced Kevin's show in 1992-1993. He has gone on to a long radio career in markets outside of Chicago.

Rick: What was your role when you worked with Paul Harvey, and can you give us an insight into how he put his newscast together?

Jack: I would go through every newspaper from every town in the country. Again, this was before internet, so all of the “For What it’s Worth” stories came from the small town print papers. Besides working on those stories, I would help out where I could from mail to phones. In Paul Harvey’s office, no one had titles, no one was better than anyone else. Most of the time, Paul changed the ribbons on the news wire machines, simply because he was the first one in.

He would get in early, 4am or so, and put on his blue smock. It was one of those smocks that doctors wear, complete with an ABC logo patch, and the name “Paul” stitched on the right pocket. All of the wire machines had spit out stories all night, and he would scour each and every fiber of those paper rolls. He would then go into his office with the stack of stories, and start typing his scripts, large type and double spaced. He would then take the daily stories, add his famous live reads (Page two!), stack the stories and include whatever we had for him. Then off to the studio where he did Paul Harvey News for the world to hear. After that newscast, it was off to Rest of the Story land, and whatever else needed to be done. When the morning was over, he would walk down to the garage and drive off in his Buick. Yes, he drove a Buick every day. And yes, it took his assistant June Westgaard years and years to convince him NOT to park on Lower Wacker!

Rick: After Paul Harvey, you made another leap...this time going to work for Kevin Matthews at the Loop. I can't even imagine that transition. Can you give us a few examples pointing out just how different those two experiences were?

Jack: One of the first things I did with Kevin was to write a faux “Rest of the Story” (because Kevin did a great Paul Harvey impression) with the subject being anyone from Kevin Butler of the Bears to Steve Dahl. I thought it was a fun thing to do, but Mr. Harvey was not amused. It was the first time that I didn’t think of how my actions could hurt someone else. I of course apologized to Mr. Harvey and realized that the Loop was a VERY different animal.

Both talents had similar traits. Both Paul and Kevin (photo) were unbelievably talented in what they did. Both had egos the size of Lake Michigan, and both were somewhat strange ducks. My experience with Kevin was however, much more difficult. He was one of those hosts that no matter what you did, it was wrong. Yes I knew a lot of that was the bit, but I wondered if I had made the right choice. After some time, I would come to learn that Matthews, along with Brandmeier, Steve & Garry, and later on, Bonaduce were talents that would help me focus on what mattered the most….entertaining the audience with compelling content. That’s what mattered most. Years later, I talked to Steve, and thanked him for those years. Every now and then I run into Danny, and love to talk those old “Loop” days. I sent Kevin an e-mail when he moved back to Grand Rapids.

Rick: In the mid-90s you made that leap out of the market, away from your home town, and it's obviously worked out for you. I don't think a lot of radio people realize that the transition from executive producer of a big time show to program director is a logical move. You're going from essentially being the program director of a show, to a program director of a station. What have been some of the biggest challenges for you in that transition?

Jack: Honestly, there really weren’t any BIG challenges. The most difficult transition was all of the suit stuff like budgets, quarterlies, and meetings. But the core of the job, creating content, was easy. Whether it was San Diego, Nashville, Arizona, San Antonio or Vegas…there is always a need for great audio content. A producer has to think of the show and direct it to garner ratings and revenue. A PD has to do the same with all of the shows. And if you take the sales equation out of your job description, you won’t have a job. One of the most important things I learned as a PD as opposed to a producer is that this is a business, and must be successful as a business or the fun won’t happen. Another challenge was to never take anything personally in this business. I love people that are into what we do, and whether a competitor or a co-worker, we are all in this small broadcast world together.

Next week: Jack Silver