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Media: November 2022 • Chicago Radio Archives

| October 31, 2022


John Records Landecker 1970s


You may not be familiar with Don Beno’s radio career, although he had a long one with extended stays in the Chicago area at stations like WJOL (Joliet), WCFL (Morris, IL), The Bus (Kankakee), and WLS-FM. But if you are on Facebook and are interested in classic radio, you’ve probably seen Don’s work. He is a curator and administrator for a very popular Facebook page: Chicago Radio Archives and Memories. His page posts great old airchecks (on-air DJ tapes), photos, music surveys, and more from radio’s golden era of the 60s/70s/80s/90s.

Anyone who has spent time on that page immediately recognizes the size and scope of Don’s collection. It’s way beyond anything you can imagine.

“I have two thousand airchecks on tape,” he admits, “another 500 on CD, hours and hours of videotape, and four zip drives of old interviews.”

How did he acquire such an extensive collection? “I rolled audiotape whenever I could,” he says. “Even when I was radio. There was a place in Des Plaines that sold hundred-packs of cassettes. I was always taping. A lot of people who do this concentrate on the big guys, but I concentrated on anyone I could tape, and it didn’t matter where or who it was. It could be a little station in Geneva, an FM from Valpo; as long as the signal was good, I would tape it, mark down who the jock was, and what was on the tape. Anytime there was something on the television news about radio, I would roll tape on that too. Bob Sirott did a lot of segments on Chicago radio. He also did a great piece on West 57th about contest pigs. I have all of that stuff.”

That mention of “people who do this” might have caught your eye. Is that really a thing? Absolutely. Art Vuolo is known as Radio’s Best Friend. He lives outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has been traveling around the country videotaping radio personalities doing their shows for decades. His collection also includes the extensive radio archives of another former “aircheck collector,” Tim Benko (who passed away in 1999).

“We used to sell these airchecks in Radio & Records,” Don explains. “It obviously wasn’t a big money maker. I made enough money to cover the ad, the postage, and my cassettes, but I didn’t make much more than that. On the other hand, this collection did eventually lead to the Facebook page.”

Don’s page isn’t even the only one about Chicago radio on Facebook. He was inspired to do his page by seeing others. “I discovered the WCFL page first,” Don says. “And that’s where I started contributing stuff. Then a WLS page popped up. And Marty Zivin started the Chicago Radio Page. Leslie Harris and Scott Childers carried it on after Marty passed.”

And there was stuff that was even geekier.,“There are a lot of radio pages that show pictures of control rooms, and I suppose that has an interest to some. But most people in radio don’t get into long discussions about the exact type of equipment they used or who made their control board. Or a transmitter site. The engineering types love that, but again that’s not really my interest.”

So what is it about Chicago Radio Memories and Archives that is different from the others? “I wanted a meaningful dialogue. I listen to all of these old airchecks now with a different ear, and I’m fascinated about how and why things were done. Why didn’t Steve & Garry go to mornings at WLS? Why did Larry Lujack go to afternoons on WCFL? Formats have come and gone. Why? Everyone has a different fascination with radio, and I really wanted to cover all of that. To some people, radio just meant music. But even music stations evolved. You could do a whole thing just on the Loop and how much that changed over the years. It’s fun to talk to the people who were there, who might know why those changes were made. On my page, it’s like I’m doing my own little talk show on Facebook.”

And Beno contends that current radio people should check it out as well. “A lot of good things done in the past aren’t duplicated today, and they just might be worth looking over, especially for program directors. The time may be right for these ideas again.”

Beno even programs the page like a radio programmer might “I post only a few things a day, whether it’s an old WLS or WCFL survey, and an aircheck of someone, or an interview. I try to keep it current with the correct time of year. I don’t overdo one station or personality. I space things out. I try to keep it interesting all the time, whether it’s a Bob Collins DJ demo or something else. It could be from radio stations that are long gone or stations that are still thriving. That’s the fun of it. I post things from as far north as Kenosha. As far south as Kankakee. Out west by Dekalb. East into Northwest Indiana. And, of course, those famous stations in Chicago metro.”

Talking to Don is like talking to a bundle of enthusiasm. As long as that lasts, the Chicago Radio Archives and Memories Facebook page will too. “I still have the desire,” Don says. “I still think it’s fun.”

-Rick Kaempfer





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