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No. 1 Chicago Deejay Throws Stars, Listeners for a Loop

December 06, 1987|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

CHICAGO — Bruce Willis. Get outta that bed!

Elton John. Stop snoring, babe! . . . Huey Lewis. Hey, shake a leg!

What do all these pop darlings have in common? They've all been victimized by a Celebrity Wake Up Call courtesy of Jonathon (Johnny B) Brandmeier, the enfant terrible of local rock station WLUP-FM--The Loop.

Since joining WLUP in 1983, Brandmeier--who's on from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays--has become something of a celeb himself with his wild stunts and risque antics. When a listener lost a bet with Brandmeier over the outcome of the recent Bears-Packers game, the jock made him pay up--the hapless Packer fan had to stand for 30 minutes at a crowded suburban intersection at 7 a.m., clad only in his underwear. When he was arrested for disorderly conduct, Brandmeier got his listeners to bail him out--dropping off $1 apiece at the local precinct house.

Is that a loyal audience or what? As a rival radio programmer conceded: "This is Brandmeier's town. He's the king."

Billboard magazine recently named Brandmeier the nation's No. 1 radio personality. And talk about a local hero. A recent Birch radio survey found the deejay topping his morning competition in virtually every category imaginable. Among the key 18-34 male audience, his show had a spectacular 20.4 rating, more than twice the numbers of any other morning jock.

His Celeb Wake Up Call routine is a typical audience grabber. "We've used all sorts of variations on it," Brandmeier explained, pacing around his 37th-floor office in the John Hancock Building, perhaps the only office in town with a pink condom dispenser on the wall. "When Michael J. Fox was here doing a movie, I said--over the air--that if he didn't call me by 8 a.m., I'd tell everyone where the set was so they could stop by and say hello in person.

"I call it Celebrity Extortion. And guess what--at 9 a.m. sharp, who walks in the door of the station but Fox, saying: 'Will you shut up. Everyone's coming up to me on the street--all these gnomes--telling me to call you!' But he turned out to be a really great guy."

Not every celeb has been such a good sport, especially after being jolted awake at 7 a.m.

Elton John: "He called me a 'stupid twit' and hung up."

Robert De Niro: "Boom. Hung up."

Steve Martin: "He hung up and later threatened to sue me for invasion of privacy."

Jonathan Winters: "He was weird . He never fessed up to being Winters. He insisted he was a guy named Bob Dell who was in town for a plumber's convention."

Ray Charles: "I know this might sound cruel, but he couldn't find the phone. We were on the air and we could hear him fumbling for it and knocking it on the floor."

Bruce Willis: "Off the air, he grunted in this horrible, raspy voice: 'Are you out of your (obscenity) mind?' But as soon as we went on the air, his voice cleared up and he was very pleasant."

Kenny Rogers: "He turned on me. First he was (ticked) off, growling, 'I hope you're happy after waking me up!' But then he realized all his fans were out there and he did 30 minutes--I couldn't get rid of him."

Dolly Parton: "She was great. Without telling her who it was, I played the tape of Rogers answering the phone. She laughed and said, 'That's Kenny, but boy does he sound like a grouch!' "

The Wake-Up Call, which has been widely mimicked around the country, is a huge crowd pleaser, no doubt because its element of surprise allows fans to catch a glimpse of stars with their guard down, unprotected by their publicity machinery. "The real person comes out," Brandmeier said. "You see them, not their act."

(For the record, Brandmeier said the best sports were Parton, Sean Connery, Carol Burnett, Ron Wood and Tommy Lasorda, who launched into a 20-megaton monologue about the glory of Dodger Blue, even attempting to recruit local ballplayers in the audience.)

Brandmeier says he hopes to stay in Chicago, though he's already set his 1988 sights on a local TV program (he did a guest spot earlier this year on "The Late Show"). "You just can't find a better audience than the people in Chicago," he said. "They get excited, they do crazy things. The people here are great. They trust me--we've got a great relationship."

So whatever happened to the guy who got arrested after losing the football bet? Brandmeier said that after his listeners bailed him out, the guy came down to the station and went on the air, enjoying his new-found notoriety.

"Then I reminded him--'Hey, you still owe me 15 minutes.' So he had to go down to the corner of Division and Rush and do the underwear bit. The best part was that a construction crew called me up and said, 'We've got a 30-foot crane. Want us to put him up there?'

"So I got him to the phone and told him he could have five minutes off the bet if he'd do it. As soon as he got up in the crane, I told the construction crew, 'Hey, you guys work hard. Take a coffee break.' So we left him up there for a while, with him swearing like crazy."

Brandmeier beamed. "Like I said. Everyone here trusts me."

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