Smile Politely

Record Swap: the history of a local legend (part 2)

Record Swap’s story goes much deeper than just the story of Bob Diener. The legendary Record Swap that existed on Green Street belongs to everyone who has ever lost an afternoon flipping through records. Everyone who has ever wasted way too much money on an import CD because it had two extra tracks. Everyone who ever took a chance on an album because of a couple of sentences sprawled on a Post-it Note.

Ward Gollings, booking agent, the Highdive and Cowboy Monkey

I was a clerk at Record Swap from approximately 1988-1998. Even prior to that, I was an avid fan of scouring the used bins there for cool new stuff three to four times a week. I still have a healthy vinyl collection of 1000+ LPs… and I’d estimate easily 50% of it was purchased there. Swap was also THE place to go to get hip to new music, mainly punk and indie. If you wanted to know about shows, you’d scan the dozens of flyers on the walls leading up the staircase. If you wanted to find fellow musicians, you’d post a “drummer” wanted flyer on those same walls. Record Swap was a cultural hub, a mecca even, as I would see kids on weekends making trips from small towns in surrounding counties. There was no internet. There was no Pitchfork. There was no MySpace. What you had was all right there… in a quirky little second story building on Green Street with no windows. There’d probably be no DJ PBR (my infrequent stage name) if it wasn’t for Record Swap having filled my crates years and years ago. Hell, my life history would likely be drastically different if I hadn’t worked there, as it led to my eventual job as booking agent for the original Blind Pig, then later a job booking Highdive (and then even later Cowboy Monkey).

Jim Kelly, Parasol Records

I worked at Record Swap for several years late 80s and early 90s (the heyday?) and spent the preceding five years driving over from wherever I happened to live to buy records. Record Swap, Appletree Records in Springfield, Fourth Street Records in Charleston (which was on Sixth Street, go figure) and The Turntable in Schaumburg? Addison? and all the folks that worked at those stores were the places and, more importantly, people that drove my musical tastes at such an early, impressionable age. New wave, baby!

But it was Charlie Edward AKA The Quaker’s little round stickers on which he printed a little note about almost every record, at least every album he featured on the big wall that sealed my fate as a music junkie. If I saw more than three stickers filled with his small script I just grabbed it. Sometimes there were six or eight or more. He was never wrong; it was all so good.

My years working at Swap were great. I worked with lots of people who I still talk to and see every day/every week, like Bob Steltman, Ward Gollings, Nick Rudd and Swap owner Bob Diener. I remember us blasting a Cro-Mags album on repeat for seven solid hours on one of our infamous Heavy Metal Saturdays. I remember those two cats getting high on catnip and fighting each other while customers tried to shop. I remember finding bags of dope on the stairs. I remember me and tough/tiny Brenda (together we weighed about 110 pounds) catching a football player-sized shoplifter halfway down that long flight of stairs with some Lydia Lunch X-rated videos and wrestling him back up the stairs and into the office. Took ten minutes to get him 30 feet up the two flights and into Bob Diener’s tiny office. We’re all bruised and bloody and shaking and he’s still fighting and he keeps saying, “You’re gonna break my glasses! You’re gonna break my glasses!” so I reached over and plucked his glasses off his nose threw them on the floor and crushed them under my foot. Brenda, who had suffered a pretty nifty headwound, started clapping. Dude was blind without them.

Fun stuff. Great times. And music that became part of the fabric of my being, all because of The Quaker’s stickers.

Matt Talbott, Hum

My best Record Swap memory: I bought my first issue of TapeOp (back when it was two folded and stapled pieces of paper), my first Union Carbide Productions CD, and a box set of the first 3 Blue Oyster Cult records — all on the same visit. Pretty cool starter kit.

Chris Green, film producer, television host, musician, promoter

The two things I remember best about Swap were:

1. Quaker & Rick Didgit’s recommendations/reviews that were written on the little round stickers and stuck on the album itself. You know if it was a really good one because they would need three or four stickers to say everything they wanted to. They seldom led you astray.

2. The awesome performances they would have of all the bands that would be playing Trito’s across the street later that night. I will never forget seeing American Music Club for the first time ever during a 4 p.m. in-store at Record Swap. Great shit.


Jeff Brandt, Owner, Exile on Main Street

Record Swap was my first favorite record store hands down. I still vividly remember being 13 years old and buying “Ramones Mania” on LP there. I don’t think I listened to anything else for at least two weeks. It seemed like every week when I went there (and I did go every week for years), they were playing something I’d never heard before that was interesting for one reason or another. Where else in town could I have learned about Kraftwerk, G.G. Allin, “Chef Ra Escapes Babylon” and still also find every last Cure import CD that I couldn’t live without. It sounds funny, but the stairway leading up to the old store on Green Street always left such an impression with all the flyers and graffiti all over the walls. As you went up and the music got louder and louder, it almost seemed like a portal leading directly into the heart of cool. For me, it pretty much was.

Harman Jordan, Shipwreck

Mid-90s Record Swap on Green Street remains the pinnacle of the record store experience for me. Some dude up there used to be really helpful in pointing me in the right direction. I particularly remember Townes Van Zandt, Impulse Jazz records, DJ Shadow, Palace Brothers, their 7″ selection, and the tattooed stairway that led up to the store.

Mark Wyman, Take Care

I remember going into Record Swap and buying and trading CDs. In the late 90s records hadn’t really made their comeback yet, at least to my knowledge. The super knowledgeable staff at Record Swap, and their pet cats, made that little upstairs store a hidden gem in my eyes. Although I was out of town when they moved to downtown Urbana, the new store in downtown Champaign is the choice if you want rare vinyl in good shape. If the don’t have it, theyll sure as hell bust their ass to get it for you. Thanks Swap.


Jeff Helgesen, local jazz musician

I really enjoyed visiting Record Swap on a regular basis when it was
on Green Street and I was still collecting vinyl. I managed to expand
my collection significantly when WPGU divested itself of its jazz
vinyl and sold it to Record Swap…!

Steve Plock, Santah, WPGU 107.1

Coming from a small town in northern Illinois, Record Swap was the first real record store I had ever been to. In a world of digital downloads and mp3 players, it was a sight for sore eyes and reminded me that people do still care about the quality of their music. To have a store like Record Swap thrive in a moderately sized community is the sign of a healthy music scene and that is comforting to me.

Joe Odencrantz, Newport Beach, California

When I was a graduate student at the U of I from ’85–’88, the only place I could seek some refuge was at Record Swap. The music I was interested in was featured on John Peel’s Festive 50 in the UK and the only place around I could find some of it was — well, you know where. It was not being played at Mables (Otis and the Elevators plus The Last Gentlemen were though).

Paul G. Wirth, owner, The Iron Post

From them buying my albums as a broke student in the eighties to getting to know Bob as a fellow businessman in the nineties, Record Swap has been a valuable part of the C-U music scene for decades.


Ben Wilson – Back of Dave, Koyaan Isqaatsi, Mei Ling, The Firebird Band, DMS, Bargos Steeler, and ’83 Pop

I bought a ton of vinyl from that place — a lot of jazz. Even if what I was looking for wasn’t there, seems like things I were willing to try seemed to always work out. I dug his collection; nothing else like that was in Champaign as far as vinyl was concerned.

I also remember that he would carry multiple copies of local or indie bands that not a lot of people would really care about (like my band, Back of Dave) and I always appreciated that. Though people weren’t buying them, I liked that my records were in his store…just gathering dust and whatnot.

My final recollection of how cool that place was: I think it was close to twenty records of mine had been stolen and resold to his place. I found them in one group in the stack of new arrivals. After reasoning with him he understood my deal and let me buy them back for the cost he paid for. Pretty damn fair, good chap.

Sad to say, but the aura of listening to vinyl is so under-appreciated these days. It’s scary to me to think that we all listen to music reproduced by 1’s and 0’s. And to think there is a generation that even skipped cassettes. Buying from your computer just doesn’t seem right — I’d rather steal it that way, and I do. It’s so easy to do, it’s not that it’s cheaper, it’s that the value and volume of what is available is so cheapened.

To the record collectors: please stop buying vinyl just to have as collector’s items. People like me cannot find because we actually want to listen to them. Kindly fuck off.

There is music, and there is music that requires listening to on vinyl. Nothing can compare to the richness of the needle working in and out of the etched grooves, the occasional snap or pop reminding you that it is real, actually being involved with the music by, gasp, changing the record or even worse, standing up to flip to side B. As this wonderful process slowly becomes obsolete, involvement in listening slowly ebbs with it. I’ll continue to enjoy what I think is a genuine nostalgia though the stores have changed with the attention deficit of the times.

I’ll hold on to my collection and stay in the stone age, thank you very much.

Andy Parker – show booker, the Punk Collective (in the 1990s)

When they still carried new records, it was a great place to go. I’d go here at least once a week, to kill time between classes, to look through the records and zines, and often, if I saw someone I knew there, it was a great invitation to skip class to bullshit for an hour about music among the record racks. It was always a good place to see what new punks/freaks/indie rockers had arrived in town with the flotsam of the arriving freshman class (and I later became friends with many of them). They would also take a lot of used stuff, which was useful when I realized Lagwagon’s “Hoss” was less valuable than eating that day. They also had a really cool cat (cats?) that would always lay on the records while you were trying to flip through them. Before the Internet, cellphones, pagers, etc. were ubiquitous, this was the place to find out about upcoming shows, house parties, new releases etc. from the myriad of flyers in the stairwell. I flyered every show I and the Punk Collective put on at this place; they even allowed us to sell hand printed tickets here for some of our bigger shows. But the store was like a venerable old man. You could see it going downhill in its later years on Green St. They started carrying less and less new releases, and eventually they only had a their shitty, moldy backstock which never sold and was now jacked up in price. There was a second to last gasp in downtown Urbana (in 1998?) — I would still go here weekly, without much hope of finding anything worthwhile when I stumbled upon a treasure trove of LPs bought en mass from WLAY (Purdue). They were very underpriced (which was unusual in those later days!), and I count some of these records as the most prized in my possession to this day. I recently went to their location on University Ave. and, despite looking through the entire stock, found nothing of value. A sad end to once proud store.


Doug Hoepker, Smile Politely scribe and longtime supporter of local music stores

When I was in college, making the trek from Peoria (and later Macomb) to see shows at the Pig or Mabel’s always demanded a certain amount of planning, because it was necessary to make it into town early enough to visit Swap (then in the 600 block of Green St.) before the concert. If time permitted we would hit up the other shops, too; but Swap was always first on the list. It had a vibe that agreed with me. Something about the walk up the flight of interior stairs that led to the second-story entrance and the windowless, fluorescent-lit store gave Swap, to my young imagination, the feel of a grungy, big-city record store. Nick Rudd did a lot of the ordering back then and I trusted his judgment about new indie releases. I didn’t know Nick personally, but the conversations I had with him while shopping often sparked my interest in new bands. Back then, Swap always had a robust vinyl section and a solid selection of used records, the two things that set a great record store apart from its peers. No trip to C-U was complete without dropping a couple twenties at Swap. The store’s decline over the past decade has truly saddened me.


Zack Grant, Writer, Smile Politely

Record Swap was the first place I began purchasing LPs. I attempted to trade some vinyl and got a few records out of it. One of the things they took from me was a mint condition laser disc of Fantasia, still in the wraper. Yup, laser disc, that format which briefly reigned supreme between VHS and DVD. I also scored a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s second eponymous album for a dollar, after perusing for an hour. Thank you, Record Swap.

John Steinbacher, co-Music Editor, Smile Politely

About five minutes after my mother drove away, I walked out of my brand new Garner 2South dorm room and headed straight to Record Swap. Those first couple weeks of college, I probably went there every day. And for the next four years I made the trip at least weekly. Walking up those steps, I felt like I was stumbling onto a great secret. As someone who has never had a record player, I never really felt cool enough to be there and never spent too much time talking to any of the employees. But I went anyway.

I knew the name already due to my high school posse’s regular forty-five minute pilgrimages to the Record Swap in Homewood. It was during one of those trips that I had what I would consider the classic record store moment as I was selling back Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. I don’t remember why, but it was probably in one of my “this album’s too simple and poppy phases.” The punk kid behind the counter berated me for selling it back, finding thirty different ways to call me a moron. After buying the CD back from me, he put it right in the stereo and cranked it. To this day I still think that guy was an asshole, and I still wish I had never sold that album. Because he was right.

Whether or not I’ll ever go to the Record Swap with any regularity again, I’m still really happy it’s still in business. It’s nice that the place is still ticking after all these years. It’s kind of crazy to think about, but Record Swap and I are the same age. I was born in August 1977, just about the same time the Diener brothers opened their first location.

Related Articles