When the John Records Landecker Show ended in 2003, radio producer Rick Kaempfer left the industry and started writing books, beginning with 2004’s The Radio Producer’s Handbook (co-written with John Swanson).
In 2007 he followed up with $everance – a scathing satirical novel about the sad state of corporate radio. Kaempfer says things have only gotten worse over the years.
“It’s still way too corporate, and it’s still in the hands of way too few,” he claims. “Those two facts are killing innovation. There is no long-term vision or planning. I read all the trades and the industry titans constantly pat themselves on the back with facts and figures showing there are still millions of people listening to radio. Nothing to see here, move along. They must know that radio isn’t as big a part of people’s lives anymore. If they are doing something to change that, I haven’t seen it.”
Kaempfer, who also produced for Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, kept his eye on the business by conducting over 200 long-form interviews with local luminaries for his five-year-old Chicago Radio Spotlight blog. Kaempfer says he “particularly got a kick out of talking to the guys who have been around the longest – people like Roy Leonard, Dan Sorkin, Ron Britain, Dick Orkin, Clark Weber, Orion Samuelson, Ron Riley, Sherman Kaplan,” although he never got around to interviewing Dick Biondi.
In November he ended the blog in order focus on Eckhartz Press, the book publishing company he launched last year with his old friend and fellow author, David Stern. Their first book was The Living Wills, a novel co-written with Brendan Sullivan. In March they’ll release Records Truly Is My Middle Name, which Kaempfer co-wrote with his old on-air cohort Landecker.
“He’s a radio legend and one of the all-time greats, maybe the best pure disc jockey of all time – that’s what [Jonathon] Brandmeier and Spike O’Dell, among others, told me,” he explains. “But it’s also because I worked with John for ten years as his executive producer at WJMK, and I knew he had some incredible stories to tell, too. He can’t type, unfortunately, which meant that I had to go out to his house and record the stories, but it was totally worth it.
“There were quite a few stories I’d never heard, because he didn’t like to talk about his drinking days when I worked with him. There’s one story in the book that begins this way: ‘I woke up on a flight, in first class, overlooking the Grand Canyon. I had no idea how I had gotten there or where I was heading, but I knew I had to be on the radio in Chicago and that was in the other direction.'”
Kaempfer caught the writing bug after wining an essay contest sponsored by Diet Coke in 1999. The prize included a New York weekend hanging out with best-selling authors such as Elmore Leonard, Lisa Scottoline, Nora Roberts, and the scribes behind the Chicken Soup For The Soul series. “All of them encouraged me to write more. So I did,” Kaempfer says. “When the Landecker show ended in 2003, I decided to do it full-time.” He also writes a weekly parenting column called “Father Knows Nothing” for the Northwest Indiana Times and a daily blog, and serves as the editor-in-chief of the Cubs history website, Just One Bad Century.
Unlike radio, where risk-averse corporations dominate the airwaves, Kaempfer says there’s a niche in publishing for a small press like Eckhartz. “While the big publishers are struggling, there are all sorts of opportunities for little publishers like me. Authors that were published just ten years ago have no outlets anymore. I’ve published three novels so far and all of them were written by previously published authors. My next two books would have been eagerly lapped up by the big boys a few years ago, but they just aren’t taking any chances at all these days. They only deal in huge volume. If it’s not a guaranteed bestseller, see ya later. Meanwhile, the cost of entry into the business is no longer prohibitive in the age of digital publishing. And guess what? People still read.”
ODDS ‘N’ SODS: One of NBCUniversal’s first moves after announcing that NBC Chicago Nonstop would morph into Cozi TV was dumping the WLS-AM (890) “Roe & Roeper” simulcast. But you will be able to catch “The Bionic Woman” . . . Speaking of simulcasts: Mancow Muller’s nationally syndicated Talk Radio Network show is finally airing on Fox-owned WPWR-Channel 50 weekday mornings from 6 to 8 . . . One of the most stinging quotes of the year came from TV and radio host Tavis Smiley, after the public radio program he co-hosts with author and Princeton professor Cornel West was jettisoned by Chicago Public Media for concerns about its fairness and balance and declining listenership: “One could argue that it is easier for an African American to be president of the United States than it is to host a primetime radio program on Chicago Public Radio.” Ouch! Hear them now locally on WCPT-AM (820) and WVON-AM (1690) . . . We’d love to know who’s behind the “Stop Listening to Q87.7” sticker we recently saw pasted to a North Side bike rack. Perhaps the pair behind last year’s equally ineffective “Save the Loop” campaign? Ya think?
— Cara Jepsen