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WLS: My Rock DJ Dream is Still Living
Attention My Followers in Chicago: Do you Remember WLS?
My Giant Carried the Name of
WLS (890 kHz, "89 WLS") a commercial AM radio station licensed to Chicago, Illinois. Owned by Cumulus Media, WLS has its studios in the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood, and its non-directional broadcast tower is located on the southern edge of Tinley Park, Illinois.
Folks, friends, the remainder of the research was a bunch of megahertz and killahertz jazz that nobody would read, so why write it? That was my decision. Blame me if you are angry with this piece about a big chuck of my teenage life. Truthfully speaking, I would safely wager that my own view of WLS 89 AM, Chicago, would not vary that much from the hammered-out views by the hordes of teens who like me, cherished each word that the WLS radio "gods" John Records Landecker (his legal name) and the late Larry Lujack said on the air at this 50,000 watt radio circus that not only ruled the Arbitron Ratings Scales year after year, but this AM station owned Chicago along with its teenage residents.
My instantly falling in love with WLS is not directly my fault. Little did my dad know when he purchased my first transistor radio that came with a simulated brown leather cover and had "that" look about it. That look of someone who was walking, talking, and not just being "in" the happening scene of that day, but "making" the scene for all to see and tell their friends what they witnessed.
Up until someone in my class merely mentioned WLS 89, Chiicago, during one of our whisper sessions that were against our History teacher, Mrs. Sarah Ramsey, (her real name), and her inner-classroom rules, I had sworn by and given my allegiance to WVOK-The Mighty 690, with studios on the Bessemer Super Highway just east of Birmingham, Ala.
This teenage-centered Top 40 AM Rock station pushed 50,000 watts and for the most part, the station's owners, DJ Dan Brennan and (a) Mrs. Iralee Benz, let her DJ's (almost) cross that invisible line that separates acceptable and vulgar many times. For her age, a senior-aged lady, she was years ahead of her peers in the radio business. She used her progressive thinking in the way she hired on air staff and made sure that each staffer followed her formula for success to the letter.
WVOK did the impossible for the size, work, and design of the idea: Promote a concert series at the famous Boutwell Auditorum, Birmingham, Ala., and name it, "The WVOK Shower of Stars." Pay the top Rock acts, Paul Revere and The Raiders; Every Mother's Son; Lemon Pipers and such to do the concert and of course sell tickets like hot biscuits made from Blue Seal flour one of Joe Rumore's big sponsors. Oh, Rumore was a big draw in the early 60's.
Success cam quickly to WVOK for their "Shower of Stars" concept so much so that the station was bombarded with requests from teenagers and their parents (who were trying desperately to be cool) to live a fall concert and name it accordingly, "The WVOK Fall Shower of Stars." This idea was gold immediately. Many of my friends with parents who had money would buy tickets to every concert and come back with tales to raise our long hair of being able to see a live rock band perform on stage as you watch them with rows of other teens. Me? I never got the chance to attend one of these rites of passage for teens in our day. No matter how I presented my plea, "No. Can't afford it," was my dad, the breadwinner's answer to everything that I would ask for.
DJ's, Johnny Davis, Johnny Hayes, Dan Brennan, and Hal Hodgnes, ruled and rocked the airways from Bessemer through Birmingham all the way to rural northwest Alabama where my friends and I lived and breathed rock music because all teenagers did that and we were not about to make waves and living life in a quiet, docile manner.
And when I first tuned my radio into WLS, one uneventful Friday night while chilling in my room with walls adorned with Beatles and Cream posters, I knew that this station was going to be my station regardless if I were the only one of my circle of friends listened to WLS or not. I was sold on how the DJ's talked, acted, and never apologized.
Truth be known, John Records Landecker can be blamed for my long-lasting love affair with radio and the on air lifestyle that it breeds. Yes, Landecker with his smooth delivery. Yes, Larry Lujack, sometimes using an echo chamber effect in his show, just to be different, made me realize more than once, a DJ job is what I want more than anything.
Not a rocket scientist. Not a teacher, preacher, or love therapist, but being a DJ on a popular AM station. Later when AM was deemed a dinosaur, and FM took the day, I longed to be a DJ on some popular FM station. I would arm myself with what Landecker and Lujack did to make a shift the best shift ever to be heard over American airways. Tools like three day old black coffee, sunglasses, a baseball cap or floppy hat and bad breath. All of this is how I pictured my style of DJ work.
I still have that dream of being a DJ even at my young age of 63, but the dream itself is as old as I am and slower to remind me that my life is not over--so go for it, the dream says. Fact: did you folks know that dreams have the ability to talk?
But I know that as the years go by, I will go older along with my DJ dream, but it will never die. Maybe my grandson, now 13, and pretty cool for his age, will catch my fire and devote himself to not having a regular job where you punch a time lock and get glared at by a boss with a crew cut and be the best DJ on some popular FM station somewhere in the United States. New Mexico, Albuquerque, Butte, Montana, I don't care. Just as long as he not only dreams the DJ dream, but follows this dream until it comes to fruition in his life.
What do I Want
to accomplish with the publishing of this hub? Simple. Money (from HubPages pay-out) to be upfront, for this to be my best offering and thirdly, for you to enter the door to my teen years that until now, no one on HubPages has toured. I am not charging for the tour, by the way.
Actually I want a fourth thing: to be free of the clean, organized, and disciplined writing style that attaches itself to amateur writers like a huge Mexican Tarantula and never turns loose. I am that dead serious about "fighting through" the burden caused by my metaphorical spider and be willing to suffer any critics' smorgasboard of corrections and mundane questions about WLS AM 89, Chicago and how could this one entity be all that important to me?
In order for you to completely understand this hub, you would have had to walk a few days in my teenage shoes in 1967 when I first started loving WLS. At first I was scared of being possessed by Satan if I put my ear too close to those great speakers in my brand new transistor radio. I forgot who got that garbage started. Probably an older, set-in-their-ways person who wanted to rid the world of radio stations like WLS and teenagers like myself while in the process.
Oh, I saw the lumbering dump truck backing up to my house many times. Of course this is only a metaphor for the adults in my life who suddenly thought I was out to overthrow the country while holding my radio to my right ear and singing along with groups with far out names like The Lemon Pipers, The Ides of March, and Crow. Yes, sir-eeee. I, Kenneth Avery, born and bred in the rural northwest section of Alabama. I make no apology for this, and I know that you are in shock that in 1967, kids like myself even knew what a radio was. I can now laugh at such outlandish thoughts.
Superjock Larry Lujack died from cancer on December 18, 2013.
My Teen Routine
each afternoon when I got home from school was get the homework finished, do what chores my parents expected out of me, eat dinner with them, answer what probing questions my dad had for his son, now in junior high begging to let his hair be as long as his friends and then retire to my room with my radio and spend the night listening to John Records Landecker and the prototype "shock jock," Larry Lujack.
Like I said earlier, these guys were radio "gods" and yet somehow they didn't know it. It was certainly not due to their stupidity, for they both were extremely intelligent and highly-creative. In a straight forward manner, Landecker and Lujack, are to be credited for making WLS 89 AM, the most listened to 50,000 watt Clear Channel station in Chicago and northern Illinois. Antics on the air. That was just one of the planks that Landecker and Lujack nailed into this radio station's foundation that continued until 1987 when "real" rock and roll, the bread and butter format of this blessed institution was changed when some talk radio goober and his staff waltzed into the WLS studios, fired the entire staff and made it a talk radio station. A shrine, a rock and roll temple adored my teenagers and those in their early twenties being changed to a talk radio station.
Shocked is not the word for the remainder of WLS' young followers. Now this happened long after I had married and went through the "Marriage Machine" and came out civil thinking and speaking like any young married man would. That machine, I grew to hate, needed to be scrapped and hauled off to the nearest landfill, but that is another story for another time.
I was not then or now, a radio format guru, but I did know that the Top 40 Rock Format used by WLS worked. And worked, making the station owners truckoads of money plus the fame and popularity that came along on the truck. I had to ask why? It's a matter of common sense. When something works, leave it be. My second and last question will always bring me to grief. Why didn't I just sit down and express my anger and disgust on several sheets of paper and send my letter of rage to the new WLS owners?
was my guiding force, "Mentor of The Airways" and just plain, doggone fun to listen to, I became severely addicted to the lifestyles of the "radio gods," Landecker and Lujack. From the sound of their voices, they were died in the wool, card carrying rebels. They did what they wanted, when they wanted, and how they wanted. I admit to idolizing them. It was by the grace of the all knowing God that I did not leave home at age 14, hitch hike to Chicago and beg Landecker and Lujack to please mold and shape me into an extension of themselves. My logic: even at this tender age I knew that someday their "Rock and Roll Music Reign" would sadly cease sending their hordes of fans into a severe emotional spiral and some never to recover to lead mediocre, regimented lives.
I could have been one of the numerous casualties in that thought process. But understand. I was not entirely dumb. I knew, well, somehow knew, that Landecker and Lujack had that radio voice. Not too low and not too high. Just right as Goldilocks sampling the Three Bears porridge. Uggghhhh.
Landecker and Lujack were also gifted with that rapid fire wit. Sure, some of their on air antics that offended some and pleased many, were written and sometimes not followed, but it worked. And worked well. These two guys, not to take anything away from their DJ colleagues at WLS, but Landecker and Lujack, hate to be corny, were pioneers, the radio DJ prototypes of their radio style, wit, and voice that like a tsunami, gushed toward Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston and even way down south to those drive time stations in and around Birmingham, Alabama and as far as Atlanta, Georgia.
Now I have to ask you. Can you name another vocation similar to a radio DJ, having so much influence on such a wider, broader scale than John Records Landecker and Larry Lujack? This, my friends, was a trick question. All of you who were WLS disciplines instantly answered Wolfman Jack. And with that answer, my judgement is Jack was after Landecker and Lujack had established themselves and their own sound and style and were sent packing by the talk radio goobers and their goober pals.
It is clearly unfair of me to put Wolfman Jack in the strenuous position of being compared to Landecker and Lujack, but if you will find Wolfman on YouTube and listen carefully, you will surely hear a lot of the sound affects, on the air prank phone calls and quick wit made the norm by the "Daring Duo" who made WLS what it was and now solidified in my memories as the, (not a) Real Rock and Roll Temple that rose from obscurity into fabled status to remain unfaded forever.
"My sincere, belated thanks to you, John Records Landecker and the surviving family members of your and my beloved, Larry Lujack."
Good night, Chicago, Illinois. (but without the original WLS, how can it possibly a "good" night)?
WLS Radio disk jockeys in 1972
from left, Bill Bailey Chuck Knapp Charlie Van Dyke Fred Winston, and John Record Landecker.
John Records Landecker's "Boogie Check"
Larry Lujack's "Animal Stories"
The two Videos Above
are for you if you were among the millions who lived by and loved the staff of WLS AM-69, Chicago. I thought that you had read enough of my wording, so out of my love for you, my cherished followers, I wanted to give your eyes a rest and let your ears do some work.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery