Photo courtesy of Paul Natkin
Photo courtesy of Paul Natkin

Loop 40: Jonathon Brandmeier – WLUP Airstaff Memories

Jonathon Brandmeier is undeniably one of the Loop’s most celebrated personalities, Former Looper, writer, publisher and Illinois Entertainer media critic Rick Kaempfer originally wrote about Johnny B. for “Chicago Airwaves” in 1993 Yeah, baby!

(Reprinted from the source with permission)

 

COVER STORY: APRIL ’93–CHICAGO AIRWAVES MAGAZINE
Jonathon Brandmeier: Celebrating Ten Years of Mayhem

I had a childhood friend named Nick. Nick was the ringleader. He got all of us to do things that we never would have done in a million years. It was a genetic talent. Occasionally we would tire of Nick always being in charge, and one of us would try to take control. It was never the same. We would always return the reigns to Nick. No one was more comfortable being the center of attention. Even our mothers loved him. He was a dangerous mix of charisma, charm, and absolute fearlessness. Without him, our childhood would have been boring.

Multiply Nick by a hundred, and you get Johnny B.

It’s hard to remember Chicago radio without Johnny. Ten years ago he came to Chicago amid much fanfare, and was anything but an overnight sensation. Most of us have vague memories of him storming through those TV spots as Mr. T. We didn’t know what to make of him at first. Despite comparisons to Steve Dahl, his show was really much different. Steve was more of the classroom smart-aleck. Johnny B was the ringleader. The ringleader can be annoying to anyone outside of his gang, but once you get in the gang, you’ll walk over hot coals for him. It didn’t take long before Johnny’s genetic talents brought just about everyone into his gang. Without him, the last ten years would have been boring. It’s been quite a ride.

In radio, success is measured by cold hard statistics. Johnny has been a success by those standards. His ratings in the morning were astronomical, particularly in the most desirable 25-54 year old demographics. His ratings in the afternoon, while not quite at the same level, are still very respectable. Listening to his morning show had become a habit, and not everyone has gotten adjusted to switching him on in the afternoon (on a different station, no less, AM 1000).

Of course, his “troops” aren’t just casual listeners. They’re fanatical. Johnny has ridden the wave from success to success. His band, the Leisure Suits, has set attendance records at places like Poplar Creek Music Theatre, Alpine Valley, and the UIC Pavillion. So, you couldn’t get tickets to the sold out show? Fine, buy Chicago’s top selling video from ’89. You could have picked it up at 7-11. Don’t have a VCR? Fine, buy one of his tapes or CDs. He released one in 1984 that was Chicago’s top selling album. The one he released during Christmastime in 1986 outsold Springsteen’s live boxed set in Chicago. Just don’t feel like leaving the house? Fine, tune in his NBC television show. OK, so that wasn’t exactly Emmy material. He still leads the league in successful side gigs.

Yet, the main thing is still the radio show. Johnny is funny, Buzz Kilman (his newsman/bluesman/sidekick) is great, and just about every celebrity on the planet calls in; but the real stars of the show are the listeners. They call in and tell him what’s going on in town. They send him letters with bit ideas. They send him songs or “wacky weenies” promoting the show. Johnny simply takes it and runs with it. Before they know it, they’re wearing underwear on their head in a busy intersection, or they’re blowing up their speakers at his request. It’s just good clean fun.

Just ask Kevin Krause of Palatine. A few weeks ago the entire show took place at his house. When it was all said and done, the neighborhood had done the show for Johnny. Kevin, a budding meteorologist, did the weather (Johnny blew in a call to Tom Skilling and had him critique the performance—he asked Kevin to apply for an internship). Kevin’s friends were the live house band. Johnny sang along with them a few times, but they provided the music. The Mayor of Palatine, Rita Mullins, stopped by. Before she left, Johnny had her singing “I am Woman.” No matter what was happening, if the doorbell rang, Johnny would stop the proceedings and get the door. The show had the feel of a family gathering. Johnny had charmed Palatine, and made each and every one of them a star for the day.

It’s to his credit that he is just as comfortable at somebody’s house as he is doing an extravaganza. On April 1 he celebrated his tenth anniversary in Chicago. On April 2nd, the Chicago Theatre was filled to the rafters with his fans for Johnny’s Blowout Bash. Johnny knows how to throw a party. The celebrities were there in force to put on a show, but Johnny made sure that some of the people who made him what he is today were there too. Some of his favorite “Wacky Weenie” contributors got to perform their songs live. His fans were so devoted that some of the weeny ovations were as loud as the ovations received by the Bodeans during their live set on the show.

So now that the ten year celebration has taken place, what’s next for Johnny B? One of the main reasons he switched over to afternoons in the first place, was so that he could syndicate his show to other markets. The competition in the afternoon isn’t nearly as fierce, and very few cities have a show of Brandmeier’s caliber in that timeslot. When he first announced the change he told us; “I’d like to be on the air and rolling by April 1, 1993. I’m doing the show anyway, so what’s the difference? All we’ve got to do is turn it on somewhere. It’s not like my show is going to change. They’re going to take the show as it comes or they don’t take the show at all. I think that’s what Stern’s done very well…take it or don’t take it.”

I guess they’ll find out that “We’re all crazy in Chicago.”

We’re actually not that crazy. We just have a fun ringleader. Thanks for the ride, Johnny.