Houston Chronicle Ken Hoffman column
Jun 28, 2012 (Houston Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
You know that game, name the Mount Rushmore of so-and-so? You pick a category and think of the four greatest people whose faces should be carved in stone.
Well, if there's ever a Mount Rushmore of Houston radio legends, John Lander should be the first one chiseled.
Voting for the Class of 2012 inductees into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame ends Saturday. I can't believe Lander isn't already in the hall -- at the head of the class. The winners will be announced next month, and if Lander isn't on the list, it's time to close the hall.
Lander came to Houston in 1982 and introduced the wild (for its time) "93Q Morning Zoo" show on KKBQ-FM (92.9). It was something that had never been heard in Houston, an ensemble cast of funny characters doing comedy and pulling pranks between Top 40 hits. The Zoo was an instant smash, and overnight -- literally one day later -- Lander was the No. 1 radio personality in the market.
When I moved to Houston several years later, I would lie in bed and listen to the "Q-ZOO." By this time, the cast included a character named "Mr. Leonard" (brilliantly performed by John Rio), Jackie Robbins with the news, Cleat Dumpster with sports, Elliot Segal the intern, Dave Shay the voice of reason and Lou Walton the "Panther of Love." Joe Pogge, now a big-shot marketing executive in Houston, was the promotions director.
I couldn't believe how dumb and funny the show was.
A few years later, I was shooting baskets and got into a pickup game. I wound up guarding Lander. He asked, "Are you the guy who writes trivia questions in the newspaper?"
He added, "Would you write trivia questions for me? We do lots of trivia on the show."
When I hesitated, he said, "I'll pay you."
And that's when I said, "How many trivia questions do you want a day? I'm your guy!"
The thing that surprised me about Lander was that he was so normal. You would never know he was this enormously talented, outrageously well-paid, actual celebrity. No one in radio today is halfway as popular as Lander was back in the Q-ZOO days.
A month later, he invited me to the station in Greenway Plaza. "You need to watch us do the show, so you have a better feel for it," he said.
I had never been in a radio station before.
That's Mr. Leonard?
Rio was nothing like how I imagined Mr. Leonard. That's the mind play of radio for you. Mr. Magoo was a short, bald, near-sighted, cane-twirling older fellow. The person behind Mr. Leonard was none of those things.
It was startling to watch Rio contort his hefty body and produce that high-pitched, conniving voice.
Within a few months, I was writing comedy skits for Lander and Mr. Leonard. It was fun working with other people, writing in other voices. I would write a sketch and direct Lander and Mr. Leonard in the recording studio. I would close my eyes, so I heard it like a radio listener. Sometimes it took a few hours. Nobody left until everybody was satisfied it was the best we could do.
When I write my newspaper column, I'm alone, and the only sound is the bubbling in my aquarium, which I wish I never bought, but now I'm stuck with it. Contrary to what some people think, I'm not wearing a bathrobe when I write my column. I'm uptight and shy. I'm dressed.
I don't even own a bathrobe. So stop thinking that.
Segal is a huge radio star in Washington, D.C., now. He's "Elliot in the Morning" on WWDC-FM.
Back at the Q-ZOO, he was a teenage intern/producer/coffee-getter. He was also a student at Houston Baptist University. One day, Lander made a prank phone call to Elliot's mother. Posing as HBU's dean of students, Lander told her that Elliot was caught flying an 8-foot condom from the campus flagpole, and the school was taking disciplinary action. Typical morning show high jinks.
The real dean of students got wind of the prank call, life imitated art, and the school suspended Elliot indefinitely. He never went back. He definitely had contracted the radio bug.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend in Washington who said Elliot told a story about the time the show went to Italy, and he and I got in a little trouble. And Elliot blamed me. Thanks. How's this?
At the Q-ZOO, Elliot had a mouth on him and bragged a lot, especially when it came to his "social life." We knew none of it was true. So one day, Lander got a stripper to dress up like a school nurse and visit the show. Lander told Elliot to take her into Studio 2 and have her record a public service announcement about making sure kindergarten students had all their required shots before school started.
As soon as the door closed, the school nurse started complaining how hot it was and began taking off her clothes. First the hat, then the Red Cross pin ...
We may have had a hidden microphone in the studio.
Two minutes later, Elliot came running out of that room like a bull rider out of chute three, scared and embarrassed. That was the end of the bragging about his "social life."
Mr. Leonard once drew 25,000 people to the Astrodome to announce he was running for president. That's how popular he was.
We had New Kids on the Block (when New Kids on the Block meant something) perform live at the station. Lander was the first noncountry deejay to play a quirky line-dance song called "Achy Breaky Heart," by Billy Ray Cyrus.
When Cyrus visited the show, he called all of us "Sir," even Elliot, which was hilarious.
One morning, out of nowhere, no time to even pack, the station sent Lander and me to Germany to cover the Berlin Wall coming down. While Lander did the show from his hotel room, I went to the Wall and ran back each hour, to tell him what I just saw. I will never forget that day.
A long list of rival Top 40 jocks couldn't put a dent in the Q-ZOO and left Houston. One was Glenn Beck. Yes, that Glenn Beck. He was the morning man on KRBE-FM (104.1). I remember when Lander was hosting an event and had to introduce the other celebrities onstage. I was whispering in Lander's ear who they were. When Beck came up, I said, "Glenn Beck from KRBE."
Except Lander said, "Glenn Beck from Beck's Prime hamburgers."
You think Beck gets emotional on TV now? That was nothing compared to the fit he threw that day.
The Q-Morning Zoo ended on Feb. 14, 1991. Nice touch, boss. After the show, we were told to wait in the snack room. One by one, the cast was called into the general manager's office and fired.
Around 2 p.m., the GM came by to get a soda. I said, "Uh, what about me?" Stupid me, I was actually waiting to get canned.
He said, "You're staying. I want you to work with the new guy."
I stayed about a month. I didn't like working with the new guy and quit. The New Q-ZOO was a flop, and within months, KKBQ was a country-music station. With a new general manager.
Lander got a job with KFMB-FM in San Diego, and I went back to work with him -- on the phone from Houston. Then he went to work in New York City on Z100-FM, and I worked via phone again. Then Philadelphia, then Boston.
Lander is out of radio now. He had incredible runs at the biggest stations in the biggest markets.
But I was always struck by one thing. No matter what cities he worked in after Houston, whenever he talked about our time in Houston, he always used the word "home."
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