The "Class Action" Story
by Jonathan Wolfert
President
JAM Creative Productions

Class Action box label The first custom jingle package JAM ever produced for WLS Chicago was recorded in 1978. We called it "Class Action". As usual, we prepared a demo tape of the finished material to send to other stations who might be interested in using the package. "Class Action" became one of our most unique, popular and well remembered demo presentations. For this reason we have re-released on some of our demo CDs. But I still receive questons from JAM fans asking for details about the production and content of the demo. So here's the full behind-the-scenes story.

WLS selected JAM to create its new package after listening to audition cuts and presentations from several different production companies. During the years 1972 to 1978 the station had used jingles from a variety of sources. In addition, there were WLS demo tapes in circulation from companies whose jingles had never actually aired on the station. JAM was proud to be the new sound of Musicradio WLS, and we wanted everyone to know that our jingles really were on the air at The Big 89. In order to insure credibility, we decided that the demo presentation should be hosted by one of the WLS jocks. John Gehron, then program director of the station, helped us convince evening personality John Records Landecker to record something for us in the WLS production room. But what?

I decided to fly to Chicago so that I could be there for the recording. As is usually the case, there wasn't much time to plan the demo before the session. So I brought a yellow legal pad with me on the plane. Sometime during that 2 hour flight I scribbled out the lines which became the script we used. Since Landecker was great at interacting with listeners on the phone during his "boogie check" segments, I figured we could have him do something similar on the demo.

When I arrived at the station with my handwritten pages I explained the concept to John, and told him that we'd add all the other voices later. But to give him something to react to, I sat in the studio with him and read the other people's lines. I gave him free license to ad lib around the script and make it sound like his show. Luckily, he did.

Handwritten script

In the example above, you see the handwritten introduction (yes, that really is the original script from 1978... we save everything). Landecker added his famous line about "the big 50,000 watt blowtorch" and the legendary "I've got the job you want" as an ad lib.

Handwritten script

In a later section, you can see John added some notes of his own to the rather sketchy script.

At the end of the recording session I asked John if he had anything he'd like to add to the tape for posterity. He paused, then said "where's my check?" This, of course, became the end of the presentation, and is a line that has lived in infamy ever since.

Back in Dallas we edited Landecker's good takes together, and brought in voice-over talent (and former DJ) Brice Armstrong to play the part of the "straight man" announcer. We played him Landecker's lines and let him react to each one. Brice is a creative and funny guy, and he too ad libbed around the handwritten script.

Then the hard part really began. Mark Holland and I spent several weeks gathering needed voice tracks and sound effects, and assembling them on the JAM multi-track recorder (which at the time was a 16-track). We tried to get the timing of the conversations to sound natural, which is tricky when no two people were ever in the same room at the same time! With today's digital audio workstations it might have gone much quicker, but we're talking about the old "grease pencil, razor blades and splicing tape" days here.

Our production style back then was probably an odd mix of Monty Python's Flying Circus and the Firesign Theater. For example, when the first caller requests a Bee Gees song to be played, you can hear through the phone that she's already listening to a Bee Gees record. Landecker gives her a hard time and says "no", but later when he turns on the radio we hear that same phone call played back on the air with a totally different outcome. Too deep? Probably, but we had fun making it.

The rest of the simulated "boogie check" segment featured cameo appearances by a variety of industry friends...

  • Brice Armstrong impersonated Richard Nixon asking if the package was really on the air, and if his call was being taped.

  • John Gehron, who was then P.D. of WLS, asked why we called it "Class Action".

  • Jan Jeffries, who was then P.D. of WSGN Birmingham, asked for a demonstration with 4 call letters. Years later, Jan got to program WLS-FM during its WYTZ (Z-95) incarnation.

  • Ken Levine, who worked on the air as Beaver Cleaver, then became one of Hollywood's top writer/producers on shows like M*A*S*H and Cheers, asked for a demonstration with K call letters. Years later, Ken's dad was named GM of WLS, and Ken got to do one overnight show on the Big 89.

  • Peter Mokover, who worked in programming and production at several major stations and now operates Spectrum Research, asked how to get more information.

When Landecker introduced "our friendly local announcer" to play all the cuts, it's because initially I didn't know who we'd use to do the numbers. On the finished demo it's WABC's Dan Ingram who supposedly walks into the room. In fact, Dan had recorded those numbers for us as part of a different demo, and we decided to also use them in Class Action at the last minute. The conversations that appear to take place between Landecker and Ingram were completely fabricated from out-takes!

JAM went on to produce many more custom packages for WLS, and our work is still heard on the station today. In the years since 1978, the Class Action jingles have been used by over 130 different radio stations all over the world. But for radio people and jingle collectors, the Class Action demo seems to have become a quintessential souvenir of the era. And we appreciate it.

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