(By Art Vuolo) When your middle name really is Records, you know you were destined to be on the radio. Back in the ’90s, radio talent coach Dan O’Day proclaimed that “more young guys were influenced to become radio DJs by John Records Landecker than anyone else in the business.”
John Landecker’s home town is Ann Arbor, Michigan, and it was in 1966 when I first met him at a small station, WOIA 102.9 FM, on a dirt road across from a dairy farm located just outside the famed college town. He said, “Local talk show host Ted Heusel hired me at a staggering $1.15 per hour.” He joined Tom O’Brien, who did a Saturday morning show called The Music Shop. John did the news from an adjacent studio with cardboard egg cartons on the walls for “proper acoustics.” Even at the age of 16, Landecker had “the pipes.” That was “Only the Beginning,” a song later made famous by the rock group Chicago.
John Records Landecker is best known for his many years at Chicago’s legendary 50,000-watt monster WLS AM 890, where his nighttime show blasted out the hits over nearly 40 states, and made him a radio god to millions of young people across the country. It was at WLS that he created one of the first interactive phone features on Top 40 radio, known as “Boogie-Check.”
His middle name was his mother’s last name — Marjorie Records — from Indiana. Ironically, today John lives in Michigan City, Indiana. John said, “I’ve told the story about my name so many times that in 2015 I authored a book entitled Records Truly is My Middle Name. So, don’t put quotation marks on Records.”
Prior to landing in the Windy City, John paid his dues working at a handful of Michigan stations like WTRX/Flint, WERX/Grand Rapids (where his daughter Tracy was born), and later, while a student at Michigan State, he became the “John Records Landecker Radio Leviathon“ on Lansing’s 1320/WILS. As a promo, WILS put Landecker’s draft card — with Records as his middle name — on the back of a music survey. He was just one semester from graduating from MSU when a tempting job offer came from Philadelphia’s iconic WIBG Radio 99. Surprise!
When he got to WIBG he was given the name Scott Walker. After a few months, the station was sold to Buckley who fired the PD, Paul Drew. As he left, Drew asked him: “What do you want to do?” John said, ”I want to go back on the air as John Records Landecker.” Drew said, ”You’ll never be a success using that name.” Sometimes the PD is wrong. While at WIBG, Landecker’s second daughter, Amy, was born. Today, John’s eldest daughter Tracy is the lead singer of an LA punk band called The Walker Brigade, and Amy is an actress in LA with an ever-growing list of credits to her name. It was while John was at WIBG that his on-air work caught the attention of WLS, and that’s when his star really began to shine.
After an incredible run at The Big 89 from 1972 through 1981, he was lured away to do mornings in Toronto at CFTR 680 AM, for more money and a new challenge. Then it was back to Chicago, with stops at The Loop, WCKG, and again at WLS. In 1989, The Big 89 flipped to talk, so Landecker went to Cleveland for mornings on Power 108. After that it was a third return to Chicago and a 10-year run doing mornings on WJMK 104.3 FM, while teamed with Catherine Johns — two johns…no waiting! When his contract was not renewed, John did some talk radio at WGN with PD Mary June Rose, and at WLS with PD Kipper McGee, followed by afternoons on The True Oldies Channel and nights on 94.7 WLS-FM. In 2007 and 2008, McGee orchestrated a Music Radio 89 throwback called the WLS Rewind on Memorial Day, and John recalls, “I was there for both of them. Truly a fun time. What an amazing event!”
Not enjoying what radio had become, John quit in 2015. He said, “that’s quit, not retired.
Who knows what next?” When asked about what’s keeping him busy these days, he said, “I’m having a great time with Mike Dempsey, once a week, on 95.9 WEFM (once Chicago call-letters) in Michigan City, Indiana.”
John Records Landecker truly was an inspiration for many youngsters who hoped to pursue the life of an on-air talent. When he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2017, most people were shocked that he wasn’t already in. Few were more deserving.
Art Vuolo, Jr., widely known in the industry as “Radio’s Best Friend,” has written radio columns for various newspapers, circulated over 100 million Radio Guides nationally, and maintains the largest archive of radio personalities on video in America.