Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Media: April 2018

| April 1, 2018

I was 23 years old the day I walked into the Loop offices for the first time. After getting rejections from the other rock stations in Chicago (and there were quite a few at the time), I had thrown a Hail Mary pass to the biggest of them all, The Loop. I wrote a letter to the promotion director of the station, Sandy Stahl. I was absolutely shocked when she called me in for an interview.

I vividly remember sitting nervously in the Loop lobby on the 37th floor of the Hancock staring at the giant portraits of the biggest stars in Chicago radio–Jonathon Brandmeier, Steve & Garry, Bob Stroud, Bobby Skafish, and Patty Haze. These people were my heroes. I listened to them every day, and I was about to walk in the same hallway they did.

The door behind the receptionist opened up, and a blonde lady with short hair poked her head out. “I’m Sandy. Come on in.” I was surprised how small the station was. There were a few small studios with “ON AIR” lights, a room full of tape cartridges that also housed an AP wire machine and a desk, a record library/office, and maybe two or three other offices. Sandy led me to the end of the hall to her office and asked me to take a seat. My head was spinning.

I have zero memory of what I said. I only remember her warm, comforting smile made me feel at ease. I have very good radar about people, and I could tell immediately that I was dealing with a very special person. After I gave her my spiel, she broke the news to me. “We are in talks to buy an AM station, and there might be a spot there for you. It may be a year or more before we go on air, but here’s what I suggest you do. You should start coming out to our events and get to know everyone. That way, when we start hiring, you will be top of mind.”

She brought me around and introduced me to everyone. I met program director Greg Solk, production director Matt Bisbee, GM Jimmy deCastro’s friendly assistant Geri Wells. She even took me into the air studio, and I met Bob Stroud. I was in heaven. I think I flew to my car after I left.

After that, Sandy would call me every few weeks and tip me off to Loop events. I went to an event at the Hard Rock Café and met the new overnight guy they just brought in from St. Louis. His name was Kevin Matthews. Sandy also introduced me to Gehrig Peterson, Steve & Garry’s manager at the time. He was looking for help running Steve and Garry’s fan club and wondered if I wanted a job.

Are you kidding me? I went to all of Steve & Garry’s appearances (and Kevin Matthews’ appearances too–Gehrig was also his manager). Within a year, Steve & Garry’s producer Roman Sawczak decided he wanted to leave the show, and they gave the job to me. For the next few years, I worked for Steve and Garry and learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons. I learned everything through trial and error, mostly error. Every mistake became on-air fodder for Steve and Garry’s sharp barbs. Talk about motivation not to screw up!

It was an incredibly wild ride. I met the biggest stars in the world. Rock stars, comedy legends movie stars, politicians, and athletes were on the show every day. I also met a cute redhead in the news department named Bridget who later became my wife. One day shortly after I was named producer, Greg Solk called me into his office. “Rick,” he said, “Would you like to try doing a shift on the FM?” Are you kidding me? I was on from 4-9am on a Sunday morning. The first time I cracked the microphone and said “The Loop” on the air, I almost fainted.

When I decided it was time to leave Steve & Garry’s show, I couldn’t bear to leave the only station I cared about, and the management was kind enough to let me stay for a few more years. The GM at the time Larry Wert gave me a weekend show on AM 1000 with Stan Lawrence called Ebony & Ivory. Sandy Stahl introduced me to the editor of Chicago Advertising and Media, who gave me a regular column writing about the media, and a foot in the door for a second career as a writer/author. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

My last show on the Loop was right before Steve & Garry’s last show together, although nobody knew it was their last show at the time. I still have the tape of Garry’s character Cliff talking to me about Garry’s upcoming wedding, and wishing me luck in my future ventures. The year was 1993.

All of those memories were flooding through my mind when I heard the news a few weeks ago that the Loop was signing off. I walked down memory lane for a good week or two with my former friends and colleagues on social media and the phone. I could tell that everyone was getting as emotional as I was.

Throughout all the reminiscing, I kept thinking about one thing. The radio station that I listened to as a youngster, and gave me a career and a wife and a life, is gone forever. I have no idea how to convey my thanks sufficiently.

-Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Media, Monthly

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  1. Mike Davis says:

    Great story, Rick! Thanks for sharing a little bit of what it took to get started at the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

  2. Andrew Cross says:

    Thank you Rick! As a long time radio fan, it’s great to hear the insider side. Listening to the Loop was what kept me in driving jobs for many years. I think that the Brandmeier/Matthews/Steve and Garry lineup was unequaled for comedy value, and I doubt such an entertaining group will ever again be assembled.