View a current picture of Dick Biondi with me on train trip recently.

 

Dick Biondi


Interview by Bill Schenold
 

Dick Biondi was my idol in Chicago radio. Like many of you, I grew up listening to him. Dick is the most personable man on this planet. He is an extrodinary human being who cares about his listeners -- as a father would of his children..

 

I understand you are a very good golfer. Do you have any other hobbies?

I've never had any hobbies -- except radio. I play golf -- but I'm just a duffer. I'm not that great at golf; but it's the one place you can get out and play and not fight anybody but yourself. I get so wrapped up in it that I forget all my other problems. I like to get out there early in the morning and just hit the ball.

I like to write. Writing is something I like to do -- to put my feelings down on paper and then put 'em away for a while. I have one goal in life -- to be the oldest, active, working rock-n-roll disk jockey in the United States. I wana be playing records, or carts, or whatever it is -- and entertain on the radio for another thirty or forty years. I wana live to be one-hundred fifty -- and then I wana get shot by a jealous husband.

 

How did you get interested in radio?

During World War II I was lucky enough to be hanging around a radio station in Auburn New York: WNDO. A disc jockey by the name of Bob Morgan allowed me to read a commercial on his program when I was eight years-old. The spot was for a women's store called "Brotan's." That -- was my very first time in radio. From there I went on to WINR in Binghamton. At WINR I was lucky enough to work with a very wonderful guy named of Bob Cullings. Bob taught me sports and how to speak on the radio. At the same time, a guy by the name of Rod Serling was there working writing commercials. I used to run to "Michealangelo's" for coffee and hamburgers for Bob and Rod Serling and people like that. Those people gave me a dime or a nickel tip so I could buy cigarettes.

Back then we didn't have 45 r.p.m. records -- we played 78's. There was a guy by the name of Ted Jackson who worked at WINR. Ted had a request program called "You Name It." It was Ted's show that helped me become interested in music. I was Ted's "go-fer" -- I'd run and get the records out of the station music library for him. I would pull the recordings out of the bin and throw them at the engineer; we literally threw them -- and luckily never broke them. Some of the commercials were on acetate records, which were also fragile

 

You then went to Ohio?

After WNDO I went to Youngstown Ohio. Youngstown was very special to me because that's where I was "baptized" into music. I helped put the tiles down on the station floor in Youngstown -- I got there before the station even went on the air. I started doing record hops at the "Idora Ballroom" and the "Elm's Ballroom." We used to bring in artist's to our record hops; I was the first one to bring them into that town. We had people like Paul Anka, Fabian, Franky Avalon and others. Franky and Fabian came in from Philadelphia; it was their first time out of that city. I recall Fabian coming to my house with Bob Maracucci. The two were sitting in the living room -- and Fabian had to go to the bathroom bad -- and yet he was so shy -- that it was almost till he couldn't hold it any longer. He asked Maracucci: "Can I go to the bathroom?" That's how under his (Maracucci's) control he was.

One day Bobby Darin came to Youngstown. Bobby was very warm wonderful guy -- we became close friends. He came to see me in Youngstown many times. We had a big record hop where I brought Jerry Lee Lewis up from Memphis. There were four thousand kids in the ballroom. A fellow from New York had called me and said he had a young singer he'd like to bring by. He asked whether I could put the guy on my hop that week. I said "O.K., but I got Jerry Lee Lewis on the hop so I'd better ask him if it's O.K." The fellow said: "Well the guy can't sing -- just let him lip-sync his record and get him out of the way." I said: "O.K."... then I told Jerry Lee about it. Jerry Lee said: "go ahead, put him on"

I introduced the kid at the hop and he came on stage and lip-synced his record -- it was the most God-awful thing I'd ever seen -- nobody could hear the record -- you couldn't hear him. The girls in the audience went crazy. It took fourteen people to get him off stage. When he got backstage he had no shirt and his pants were almost ripped off.

Afterward, Jerry Lee Lewis came on stage "very" upset. He performed his first "set" -- and then we did another set. After he finished between the two sets he came up to me and said: "I'm going on FIRST ... ain't no son-of-a-bitch gonna upstage me!"

Jerry Lee got out there during the second set and did fourteen songs -- non-stop. When he walked off he was dripping. Lewis drove the crowd wild -- but they were still awaiting the lip-sync artist who came on after him: Michael Landen (later Bonanza). He had just recorded a thing called: "Give Me A Little Kiss." Youngstown was a wild time.

 

How did you get hired at WKBW

I got hired in Buffalo New York by a man named Dick Lawrence. Dick was a genius; he was the guy who walked around with two shoulder holsters. Each of the holsters held a transistor radio -- one to our station -- and one to WBMY. We had a fantastic station. WKBW covered the entire eastern seaboard. I replaced a guy by the name of George Lorenz. For my money, George was one of the greatest disk jockeys. I know a lot of people will get upset with me, but if George had the right connections, and the personal attributes that Allen Freed had -- I think he was greater than Freed.

George did so many wonderful things; he always helped the young disc jockey's. He was never too big to give a guy a plug. Lorenz "pioneered" in radio. Just about any record man from the old day's will tell you that George Lorenz was great. They called him "The Hound Dog."

I was in Buffalo for two years, then I got fired. One night I got mad at my boss who had just come home from his honeymoon. His wife was having a pajama party. It was sort of weird -- a woman coming home from her honeymoon the first night and she's having a pajama party. She had kicked him out, and he came over (to the radio station). The guy was a bug. When he left I told somebody: "My boss is going to the movies, and if you see him going down Main Street, he's got a gray Chevy Impala convertible ... throw stones at him. Somebody must have heard it -- and threw a stone right through the windshield. The next day I was fired.

 

When you got hired at WLS, how did you get to Chicago -- drive?

Sam Holman had been driving from his wife's house in Elmira New York one time and was listening to me on WKBW. He later heard I was out of work. A couple of record people told him I was looking for a job. Sam called me -- and I was hired by WLS.

I drove into Chicago all by myself in a red 1960 Voxall -- a little four-cylinder car. Sam put me up in a hotel down on La Salle Street. The next morning I went out to twelve-thirty West Washington -- the old Prairie Farmer Building. I was amazed by the place, I'd never seen any kind of facility like that. The place had more studio's than you could shake a stick at; they even had a cafeteria and a music library. It was a fantastic first experience.

Sam Holman -- for my money -- was the greatest program director I ever worked for. Sam loved the people he worked with and fought for us. He would come up and chew your ass out -- while you were on the air -- if you did something wrong. But then when you got through at midnight -- which I did -- he'd be standing in the hall and say: "Come on, we're gonna go have a beer."

Sam wanted you to know he was the boss, but also still one of the guys. He didn't want you to forget that. However, at the same time he wanted you to know you were gonna get your butt chewed if you messed up. And you didn't have to think it was "all over" -- that you were gonna get fired -- just because he was mad about something.

Sam allowed his air personalities to input their own idea's. A lot of program directors today fail to listen to their staff. Sam wasn't like that. Sam believed if you could get seven stars (personalities) on a station -- get 'em. The bigger they became, the better WLS looked. WLS was a great place to work. The station blanketed thirty-eight states -- the entire eastern part of the hemisphere. It was exciting to be broadcasting on WLS. I don't think anybody in radio today can experience what us seven original WLS disc jockey's experienced when we first started. It was the most exciting thing of my life.

 

Do you remember your first night at WLS?

Yes. I was half shaking -- scared to death. I didn't know much about drugs back then, but if it was today, somebody would have said I'd have been shootin' up with everything in the world. It was just that kind of an emotional high. It was really the accomplishment of everything I wanted up to that point. Unfortunately, there's no air check (audio recording) of my first night. I don't remember how I sounded. I do know that the next morning the station general manager, accompanied by the station's sales manager, walked into Sam Holman and asked: "What the hell have we got on the air between nine and midnight?" They were ready to fire me that morning. Sam replied: "Just relax -- let's see what happens."

 

The WLS disk jockey's did a lot of record hops in the early sixties. What were the hops like?

We went to record hops all over the place in Chicago. That's where I learned ------ well -- I mean "stole" something from Elvis. I always thought it was great the way Elvis wore those gold suit coats and black slacks. I always wore black slacks on stage at hops. At the time I met Elvis in Cleveland he was wearing a kelly green jacket and black slacks. I ALWAYS wear black slacks at appearances. I used to wear different color jackets. In Youngstown I even used to dye my beard "school" colors.

One time we went to Saint Mary's Church in Waukegan with Bruce Chanel. We had to stop his performance because we were upstairs over the church and the floor was starting to shake and sag. We had to let half of the kids out -- telling them to wait out in the street. Bruce did his show for the remaining crowd -- then we let the others in for a second show.

We did record hops in South Bend Indiana -- Warsaw Wisconsin -- the south side -- all over. At Mendel High School in Chicago we used to play basketball -- and have fun.

Over the years I've had the pleasure of introducing the Beatles, Rolling Stones -- all the major artists. Its a kick standing on stage in the spotlight and saying: "HERE'S CHUCK BERRY!!" What a thrill.

One time I did a show with Chuck, Bo Didley and John Lee Hooker. Before I walked out on stage we knew John Lee Hooker wasn't going to show up. The promoter, (sweating out the audience reaction to the news) called me over next to Chuck. The three of us were standing together. The promoter asked how we intended to handle the situation. Chuck Berry put his arm around me and said: "Now look here boy -- don't go out on stage and say John Lee Hooker ain't here -- before I get out there. You wait until I get out. After I get through singin 'Johnny B. Goode' -- you walk out -- whisper in my ear -- not saying nothin' -- and get off stage. I'll handle it from there."

Berry got the crowd fervor pitched -- they were so happy; he had 'em on their feet. I walked out and whispered "la-de-da-de-da" in his ear -- he looked at me for a second -- I walked off stage, and he announced to the crowd: "Ladies and gentlemen, the M.C. just told me that John Lee Hooker is ill and not going to be here tonight. Now, if there's anybody that wants their money -- you can get up right now and go get it.

They ain't nobody moved out of their seat.

I'd learned a very good lesson that night. Not one person ever said anything about John Lee Hooker not being there.

 

What about the infamous dirty joke?

I've told this story so many times -- I think I'll make a tape of it. There was no dirty joke. Everybody thought I told a dirty joke that got me fired from WLS.What happened was that I came in to tape my Sunday show -- on a Friday night. All the disk jockey's had to tape a Sunday show so we'd be on the air seven days a week.

I had been complaining for "months" about the commercial load at WLS on my show. I had twenty-two minutes of commercials; five minutes of ABC news; and from the ten to eleven o'clock hour I had five minutes of Dick Clark's American Dairy Association. Figure the math: thirty-two minutes with commercials and stuff. I kept complaining and complaining. The management said: "Yeah, we're going to do something -- we're gonna cut back."

One morning I walked in lobby -- and the station sales manager was standing there. As I walked in he looked at me and called me a dirty name, saying: "You're taking money out of my pocket." I just kept cool and walked into the studio. A few moments later he walked into the control room of the studio and began staring me down. I knew what he was doing -- he knew what he was doing. Finally I just popped the intercom and said: "Either you're gonna leave, or I'm gonna to leave."

The guy said something -- and I got up and said ------- I forget what I said, but he came in and we met half way. I had a letter opener in my hand -- and was about to use it.

The next thing I knew I had two engineers holding me down. Gene Taylor came in and told me to go home. He wanted to cool me down; he said later that he wasn't trying to fire me -- but that's what I took it as -- so I just said "O.K." and I left. I don't know how the joke stuff started. I've heard maybe fifteen or sixteen different jokes that people swear they heard me say on the air -- I wouldn't have had time to tell that many different jokes to get fired.

 

Why do they call you "THE WILD ITRALIAN?"

I once threw an ashtray at Gene Taylor. I also ripped a phone off the wall and threw it at Mike Joseph in Buffalo -- missing him by a hair. If you ever read this Mike -- "I'm sorry I missed -- I could have improved your looks." I say that affectionately -- Mike is a genius in radio programming.

 

You introduced the Beatles in California.

What a pleasure -- getting to introduce the Beatles twice; once at the Hollywood Bowl and once at Dodger Stadium while I worked at KRLA in Los Angeles. When I think about it -- being eight years-old -- reading a commercial on a station in Auburn New York and years later standing on stage in front of the Beatles (and the world) -- wow! When I walked out on the platform I was nervous and shaking -- thinking: "Do I really belong up here?" It was a high that no drug or romance could give me. What a great line-up we had at KRLA in the 60's: Bob Hudson, Kasey Kasem, Charlie O'Donell, Bob Eubanks, Dave Hull, Johnny Hayes and myself.

I have accomplished every goal that I set out to accomplish in radio. I wanted to become the number one jock in the country; and I did that. I wanted to try my hand at program directing; I did, and didn't like it. I wanted to work all major markets; and I have: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. I wanted to be on the network; and I was (Mutual).

I think the thing that most people don't realize, when they get into the radio business is -- that -- if they get kicked in the butt, once or twice, they are likely to say: "Well, I guess I'd better start selling shoes." That's the worst thing in the world -- to give up. There are ten thousand radio stations in this country. Somebody out there needs you -- unless you're a rotten disk jockey, or just can't talk. You can find a place that will give you a chance. I don't care if you're twenty years-old, thirty or forty or fifty or sixty -- there's always the chance that somebody is gonna say: "I like what that guy or gal is offering."

 

What was WCFL like when you got there?

Ken Draper could have been one of the best program directors in the history of radio. He was a very, very quiet man -- and different from Sam Holman. Draper loved to sit and think about what he was doing -- he loved to produce. The one thing I liked about Ken Draper was he never referred to us as "disc jockeys" -- we were "talent." That word is such a beautiful phrase. I get so tired of seeing memo's from program directors that read: "Attn: JOCKS." Just that little stroking of the word "TALENT" made me feel good. Every opportunity out in public Draper referred to us as "The WCFL Talent."

Draper was a great talent himself. Whenever there were problems he would walk you into his office after your show -- or well before it -- sit you down quietly -- (there was no yelling), and it wouldn't be this "Goddamnit Biondi!" -- it was: "Hey, we've got a minor problem here ..." There was no phone throwing, slamming doors, etc.

WCFL was a great station -- I loved it. I think we could have beaten WLS very, very easily. We had a few problems with high-level management; they wouldn't allow Draper to go "one-hundred per cent." Had Draper been given free reign -- I think we could have beaten WLS.

 

What about your future?

I think Chicago is probably the most loyal radio audience in the country. I think all Chicago radio people should remember that if we get to work where we love it, then you're happy. If I get fired from where I'm working at now -- and can't get a job in Chicago -- there's always some other city out there that will give me a chance. It may not be as easy or receptive as it was here in Chicago, but -- I've been fired twenty-three times now -- and I still think that radio is the most wonderful thing in the world; it's my whole life. Radio comes before women; it comes before food; and it comes before sleep. And I hope it comes before death for a long, long time.

 

(also see: Ralph Squires and Dale Shimp - Dick Biondi's board engineers in 1960)

 

copyright1985 Dick Biondi
 

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