Radio Hall of Fame broadcaster receives surprise diploma during special presentation
John Records Landecker can look back on a storied career as a radio broadcaster, entertaining millions of listeners around the U.S. and Canada for more than 50 years.
In honor of his career, Landecker was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2017, but that wasn't the only "class" he joined last year — he also became a member of the Laker Class of 2017. He just didn't know it until this month.
Landecker visited the Allendale Campus February 8 to discuss his life, career and autobiography, Records Truly Is My Middle Name. What he didn't know was that following his talk, he would be presented with a diploma by Fred Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
In a moment that brought Landecker to tears, he said while wearing a smile: "I walked in here a college dropout, and I'm walking out a graduate."
Landecker attended Grand Valley from 1965-1967, but because Grand Valley did not have a broadcasting program or radio station at that time, he transferred to Michigan State University. During his final semester at MSU, he received a job offer at a station in Philadelphia, which he accepted, thus never completing his degree. Landecker stated in his autobiography that not finishing college was one of his biggest regrets in life.
Records Truly Is My Middle Name, which is available in Mary Idema Pew Library, was published in 2013, but Landecker updated the book in 2017 after his Hall of Fame nomination. During the summer of 2017, Landecker visited Grand Valley to interview nine students about the future of radio, and those interviews were all included in an additional new chapter of the updated version of the book.
"I loved working with Grand Valley students," said Landecker. "I felt they had a passion for broadcasting and would be a great source for material in my book. Some broadcast professionals feel the future of radio is dim, so I wanted to find students who did not feel that way and I wanted to find out why. There are not a lot of colleges in this country that offer courses on the level of GVSU."
Len O'Kelly, assistant professor of multimedia journalism and a former colleague of Landecker's, examined his transcripts to discover Landecker was only a handful of credits shy of earning a bachelor's degree based on the credits he accrued from Grand Valley, MSU and Columbia College in Chicago.
"I've heard the story often — 'I was one class away and never finished.' Usually, that's not the case, but this was one where it was," said O'Kelly. "John had gone his whole life thinking that he had missed out on completing his degree. I knew I had to find a way to invite John back home to Grand Valley to finish it."
O'Kelly made Grand Valley administrators aware of Landecker's interviews with Grand Valley students, which qualified as independent research credits for the fall 2017 semester. Those credits fulfilled his degree requirements.
"I told Len that I didn't want an honorary diploma; I didn't want to do it online," recalled Landecker. "If I needed to, I would attend class, but that was it until today."
Landecker said that O'Kelly kept the secret diploma well-hidden until pieces of his transcripts appeared in the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied the duo's Q&A session during the February 8 event.
"I asked him about the transcripts before the session began and, with a total straight face, he said that it would take more time and he would let me know," said Landecker. "When my transcripts suddenly appeared on the screen, I could not figure out where he was going, but Len is the reason this happened."
Landecker was born and raised in Ann Arbor, which is where his radio career began. While a Grand Valley student, Landecker worked at the Top 40 radio station WERX in Wyoming, and would go on to work at various stations in Michigan, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto over the course of his career.
He was named Billboard Magazine's "Radio Personality of the Year" in the 1970s while working at WLS in Chicago, and in the 1990s, his morning show at WJMK, also based in Chicago, was named the best morning show in the city.
Landecker said he plans to walk across the commencement stage in April.
"There really are no words that I can use to express the gratitude that I have for Len and the university," said Landecker. "My father was a college professor and I was the only one in my family who didn't graduate from college. This goes beyond being inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and I've never felt anything close to what I felt today."