Dick Biondi Introduced Me To The Music

In American Graffiti Wolfman Jack played himself, a Southern California DJ and guru to a bunch of kids just graduating from high school in 1962. Growing up in South Bend Indiana, we had our own Wolfman, the fabulous Dick Biondi at WLS-AM in Chicago, 50,000 watts blasting out over the Midwest. Biondi and WLS laid down the soundtrack of my high school days. Early Beach Boys surfing music and fast cars (She’s real fine my 409) were big favorites. One of my buddies swore Help Me Rhonda was the greatest song ever. Biondi played all that music, and whatever he played, I loved.

One Summer day a bunch of us fans “borrowed” the family car and took the Indiana Toll Road up to Chicago just to watch him. We wound up at the Tribune Tower, as I recall, where you could see the DJs and their boards as they sent the music across the Midwest. Then a big meal at Tod’s Steak House (rib-eyes for $4 with all the fixin’s). Now that’s summertime living.

We moved to Chicago 10 years ago, and one day I tuned to WLS-FM. I heard a familiar voice. It couldn’t be Dick Biondi after all those years, must be some imitator. But it was Dick himself, playing the classic hits, even Help Me Rhonda, but also more well-known songs, even a bit of Bob Dylan. I added a preset for WLS, just like when I was a kid.

Dick Biondi passed away this week. Here’s his obituary. Rest in peace, Dick, You made a difference in my life.

Image by Yoshikazu Takada, Chiba Beach, Japan. It doesn’t matter where you are, It’s Summertime, Summertime, Sum-sum Summertime according to The Jamies, 1958.

55 replies
  1. James Sterling says:

    While in college I worked nights in a gas station in Central Illinois. Dick Biondi was a favorite back in the ’60s. He could be heard on WLS in Chicago or on KXOK in St. Louis. The dual locations were usually the result of something outrageous he said on air, management sending him into timeout in one place or the other. Each station knew they were lucky to have him. I can still hear his voice reminding us on a cold winter’s night to ” get our brass monkeys inside.”

    • timmer says:

      Yup and on some nights I could get Biondi/WLS at the St Paul / River Falls vortex. We were cool if we could say “heard it on WLS”

  2. B-radleyA says:

    Grew up listening to the Big89. Biondi, Clark Webber, Ron Riley, Larry Lujack. Those guys were my heroes. I wanted to be them, and was for a short lived 4 year radio career out of high school. Great memories of all of it.
    On Top of Spaghetti will be earworming me the rest of the day.

  3. dimmsdale says:

    The Internet Archive has at least a few Biondi air checks (look for “WCFL Dick Biondi 1967 Unscoped And CKLW 1967 Scoped”), there are Biondi air checks on YT as well. I find those period air checks really evocative in a time-capsule kind of way; if you think back to the dj’s and key radio stations that made a big difference in your life, you can *probably* find a corresponding air check on the internet, to whisk you right back there. For me it was the summers I worked for the Forest Service up in the Rockies, where we got Charlie Tuna on the skip when he was at KOMA-AM. (Sure enough, there’s a Charlie Tuna air check from 1966 that my younger self COULD possibly have been listening to as it was being recorded, with whatever hopes for my future I might have had back then.) Time Machine. Fun stuff.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I checked that Internet Archive with your link, and then just searched for Dick Biondi. Right back in the old Plymouth Valiant heading to Shoney’s for a Big Boy and a Coke. And those ads? Got a pimple? Get a Stridex!

      • dimmsdale says:

        Exactly! For the last couple of decades (until I gave up the effort) I used to try to limit number of hearings of tunes from back then, to keep that fresh specific sense of the time and place that always sprang into my imagination (Proust: madeleines) when the tunes played. I have my own particular play list of stations’ airchecks that can evoke that, all broadcasting prior to 1970: WOL-AM in Washington, KOMA in OK City, and WOR-FM in NYC, awakening my own version of your run to Shoney’s’ in the Valiant. Fortunately there are a LOT of internet sources of air checks out there.

  4. bloopie2 says:

    I grew up in Cleveland, so we listened to KYW 1100 (later WKYC) and then WIXY 1260. But we also got CKLW 800 coming in clearly across Lake Erie from Windsor. I didn’t pay as much attention to the DJs as I did to the songs. Too many of my brain’s memory cells are filled with all those great songs, from the Beach Boys on up, until college when I basically stopped listening to new radio. I used to say that the very first rock song that I learned the lyrics to was Jan and Dean’s Dead Man’s Curve. Now, I say (but only to myself) that I know the lyrics to almost every song on the Sirius XM 60s channel.

    I remember that I would look at the flashing red lights on the local radio towers, from many miles away, and wonder how on earth one little old light bulb could shine red light over every spot on the surface of a sphere many miles in diameter, all at the same time. Sheesh, the things you remember.

  5. Hcgorman says:

    Oh man. I use to listen to Dick Biondi with my transistor radio under my pillow. My first thought was he must have been a 100 years old! He must have been a kid when he got started. One of my friends in college grew up in NYC and said that he could get WLS most nights.

    • wrhack68 says:

      Exactly. With an earphone, so my parents would think I was sleeping instead of listening to Dick Biondi!

  6. Bruce Olsen says:

    I won’t move the focus from Dick Biondi, but there’s another good topic for bmaz: DJs.

  7. DoctorDoom says:

    I understand how you feel about Biondi’s passing. I felt similarly at Scott “the Professor” Muni’s passing. I’m a bit younger than you and grew up in southern Connecticut, within range of WNEW-FM. Another favorite DJ from when I was in junior high, Earle Bailey, (then on the University of Bridgeport radio station WPKN) is still broadcasting on Sirius XM.

  8. Hoosiergirl says:

    I grew up in Whiting, IN and spent my summers on Lake Michigan. I lived at Five Points, just a cpl miles from the IL state line. I took my transistor everywhere, including to bed at night and to Whiting Beach. I stayed glued to WLS and Dick Biondi and knew (and still know) the words to every song they played. Also remember Larry Lujack. Remember Chicken Man? Remember the “Silver Dollar Survey” issued every week of the top 100 songs? My girlfriend and I would quiz each other by artist or by title. The Beach Boys were the bomb.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. Last time you commented as “Hoosiergrl” and before that once under your real name. Please stick with the same name going forward. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  9. BriceFNC says:

    Great at WKBW a Buffalo station that should be remembered for tremendous DJ talent including Tommy Shannon, Joey Reynolds, Dan Neavereth and Biondi!

  10. Atomic Shadow says:

    My folks moved us from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Southern California in 1966. Dick Biondi was on KRLA with Bob Eubanks, Casey Kasem, Emperor Bob Hudson and Dave Hull.

    The talent pool was deep.

  11. bird of passage says:

    Piping up to say- I grew up a few hours south of South Bend, Indiana, with older siblings. WLS was our station too. My brother, the oldest, was an ace at predicting number one hits.

    We would do the dishes in the kitchen after supper and while the folks were in the living room listening to big band music, my brother was teaching us how to do the twist. One of my sisters had her own transistor radio. We called her, of course! Transistor Sister. :-)

    Those years were too short-lived. The memories are not.

    • bmaz says:

      You probably know where Murray KY is then. One set of grandparents lived there forever, and we spent give or take a month there every summer. Not during the day, but at night you could pull in both WLS and WWL. Sometimes you had to hold the antenna, but came in pretty good. Lol, what was it about having human skin contact with the antenna??

      • Elvishaslefthebuilding says:

        I spent my teenage years in Denver and so late night AM radio listening was something I spent a lot of time doing. I could get KNX in Los Angeles, KFAB in Omaha, WOAI in San Antonio (even in the morning after the sun came up), KRLD in Dallas, KMOX in St. Louis and often WLS in Chicago. Ever so rarely WJR in Detroit. No doubt there were others too. I used to have to turn off the heater in my fishtank as the light going on and off created interference with the AM signal.

      • bird of passage says:

        As the youngest, my job was to sit on the counter and hold the antenna near the window. LOL

      • dimmsdale says:

        I may be over my skis on this one, but I believe it’s explained by the water content of the human body, which is at least somewhat conductive. That’s why AM radio transmitters often tended to be sited in marshy areas (NJ’s meadowlands used to be the preferred location for NYC’s major AM stations’ transmission towers; since the advent of the internet, not so much!).

        • bmaz says:

          Lol, that’s it?? It is the water? I do not doubt it. You could stick it under your arm if too tired to hold in your hand. Man, those were good times.

  12. Elvishaslefthebuilding says:

    One of my regular internet places for years was reelradio.com – the founder, Richard Irwin, was a pioneer, albeit a crabby one, of collecting internet airchecks. He amassed a massive (3000 or so) airchecks, all of which were curated with comments. The treasures on the website include a ton of CKLW and KHJ airchecks, along with the original history of rock and roll (as broadcast in 1969). They also include 1960’s/70’s/80’s airchecks from virtually every market in the country, often with the original music.

    I count 14 Dick Biondi airchecks on the site and none of them come from when I listened to Dick, when I lived in Detroit in the late 1980’s – I always think of him as a Detroit guy. One of airchecks which is unscoped dates back to May 2, 1962 and is 55 minutes long.

    Here is the link to the site: https://reelradio.com/ – registration and a donation are required to access it and it might take a little while to get the attention of the operator, since Richard (aka “Uncle Ricky”) passed away in 2018 or 2019.

    I had tried to help Richard get this collection affiliated with a museum (like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) – they were not interested, and his untimely death basically ended those efforts. The site is limping along – but it’s worth checking out for an hour or a few days if you have the time. It is one of the places I love on the internet.

    BTW – And as for Murray Ky – I misread it as “Murray the K” and indeed there are a bunch of Murray the K airchecks on Reelradio

    • dimmsdale says:

      Thanks for flagging ReelRadio, Elvis. I wonder what happens to the site (and the collection) when those of us who remember what it was to have a physical “radio” playing (on your desk, in your bedroom, or thru a tinny 3-inch speaker on the dashboard) are long gone. I was based in Winter Park for a couple of summers, and we couldn’t get the Denver stations nearly as well as we got KOMA via skip, what with the Continental Divide getting in the way. Meanwhile, I’ve logged back into ReelRadio, and I’ll put a little something in the collection plate. I don’t understand why the Paley Museum in NYC wouldn’t have gobbled up the collection–it’s right up their alley, I’d have thought.

      • Elvishaslefthebuilding says:

        The Paley Museum is a good thought. I think the exhibit coding was not up to “museum standards.” I had a contact at Rock and Roll and it never came to pass. But the site does need to find a permanent home as it still is a one-man band – if something happens to the current administrator I think the site goes away forever.

        • dimmsdale says:

          Well, if I had any juice with the current administrator, Paley is an option I’d suggest. I’m not knowledgeable enough to understand your coding point, but I’ve been a Paley member since the days when you requested a TV show you wanted to view from the catalogue, and an invisible hand had to manually LOAD the VHS tape into your viewer remotely, so I’d have thought they have a grip on primitive technology; possibly the overall size of the RtoR collection is daunting…or possibly there are copyright/ownership impediments. Presumably the “collection” includes original source material, audio tape or cartridges, but it’d be a shame for it all to end up in a dumpster. EUGH! I shudder at the thought!

      • Rayne says:

        There’s a younger generation mourning the loss of mix tapes the same way. I wonder what Gen Z will mourn?

        • Rayne says:

          Hmm. I don’t know if it will be something as trite as that or mourning the ability to surf the internet without having to use cloak-and-dagger to hide from the surveillance state.

        • Rayne says:

          If you’re a young woman in Texas or a trans person in Florida, yeah. They’re already there.

        • dimmsdale says:

          That’s a good question! Part of the thrust of this entire thread is the sense of personal contact we all (mostly) had with the dj’s who “brought” us the music, along with the ubiquitous jingle packages that propelled a station’s unique sound. Dick Biondi, Wolfman Jack, Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Scott Muni, and much later the brilliant Vin Scelsa; I don’t know what the GenZ equivalent to those guys and the atmosphere they conveyed would be.

        • Rayne says:

          In the case of “disc jockeys,” late Millennials/early Gen Z have had personalities who have influenced their media consumption, like music producer/DJ David Guetta, music producer deadmau5 and DJ Avicii (RIP).

          With the rise of digitized music and streaming distribution, the walls between artists, producers, and DJs have become extremely permeable. When they mourn the loss of these folks they’ll be losing more than someone who introduced them to a song or artist or created a play list.

    • rosalind says:

      Paley Center was my first thought also. Another is to reach out to Stevie Van Zandt (musician, longtime guitarist for Springsteen) (not gonna assume everyone knows who he is). He is a big time rock’n’roll historian, and has a great organization named Teach Rock that has free fun lesson plans on a huge range of subjects. Always a chance the air checks could be used in one of their programs some way. Their general email is “Info (at) TeachRock (dot) org”.

      • Elvishasleftthebuilding says:

        Rosalind – that is an interesting suggestion.

        Looking at the Paley Center website, their online offerings of historical recordings are scant (I didn’t find any).

        The key for the preservation is to continue to make the recordings and the analysis available to the public as long as possible.

        In 1996 when reelradio came online, it was billed as a Real Audio demonstration site. So some exhibits were encoded in R.A. 2.0 and then jumped to R.A. 3.0 – over time they became unlistenable – I think that some modifications have been made to the website so that many of those early contributions can be heard again.

        I will see about TeachRock.

        • rosalind says:

          i did a keyword search in the Paley archives and pulled up a few air checks from KKBT 92, WABC, KHJ and…Casem Kasem. ever since they changed the name from Museum of TV & Radio to Paley and closed their Beverly Hills location, it seems like the current leadership is not as invested in the archive side of things. But ya never know…

        • Elvishasleftthebuilding says:

          I am emailing the info at TeachRock with a request for conversation. I believe a website that contains the entire History of Rock and Roll” as broadcast in 1969 before Woodstock or the Beatles broke up with commentary and stories from folks who were there , is perhaps worth preserving “in perpetuity”. Maybe folks there will agree and will want to help.

        • dimmsdale says:

          Well, being a short subway ride from the Paley Center, I took a trip up there just now. Turns out they’re not acquiring *anything*, either radio or TV related, since the start of the pandemic. Sadly, we can cross them off the list.

      • StillHopeful says:

        Yes, Steven Van Zandt! In addition to all his other coolness, he has a channel on SiriusXM (Channel 21, Little Steven’s Underground Garage), originally dedicated to The Ramones (playing mainly songs that influenced The Ramones).

        As I heard Maria Bartiromo say once, in a promo before her eponymous song, “they play the coolest songs in the history of rock n roll”; going back to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ike Turner, Peggy Lee, Big Mama Thornton, etc.

        Oh, to the point, there are several shows that are run by old time DJs, like Kid Leo from Cleveland. Little Steven has his own one hour shows where he has a historical anecdote of a few minutes, followed by a song that is somehow related to that anecdote.

        Those shows take me back to FM stations from late 60’s onward; after the songs are played, then who wrote, produced, side story, etc.

  13. John Clarke says:

    I’m from Chicago and I remember him and the other DJ’s on WLS and WCFL well. Had one or the other on all the time until WXRT-FM “Classical Rock” appeared in the early 70’s.
    A friend who shall remain nameless was a DJ at small town southern station. He recounts picking up the WLS broadcasts of the Beatles singles debuts on American radio and recording them, then replaying them “exclusively” on his station before anyone could get the records!

    • theartistvvv says:

      Love that Beatles records story!

      I recall when ‘XRT was only on a few hours a night, after mebbe 10:00PM until mebbe 2:00 AM – where I learned about jazz.

      I also recall how WLS frequently played “Stairway to Heaven”, edited down to about 3 minutes. One August I hadda construction job and they played it nearly every night as the sun was going down and we were knocking off.

      I seem to recall Biondi was doing oldies around then.

      • John Clarke says:

        Yes! Many nights in high school falling asleep to WXRT (with album tracks exceeding 4 minutes!) and waking up to the news in Spanish.

  14. cmarlowe says:

    My earliest memory of the Wild I-trailian dates to 1962. Same for many of the Chicago DJs mentioned here.

    Things like that and the summer of 1964 Beach Boys concert at McCormick place in Chicago are indelible memories. I do remember how good they sounded live. No gang of extra guitar players, background singers, etc. Not even a keyboard player (Bruce Johnston was not there yet). Just these 5 guys with 2 guitars and a bass and great vocals.

      • dimmsdale says:

        Yes, and if one were to do a YT search for “Drake Chennault jingle packages,” one MIGHT hear one’s hometown flagship station’s jingles…as sung by the Johnny Mann singers, and as played by … the Wrecking Crew! (possibly including Glen Campbell, on the earliest sessions).

  15. Lisboeta says:

    A view from across the pond…

    When I was a teenager in England (many moons ago!) the BBC had a broadcasting monopoly and was rather po-faced about the ‘modern’ music it deemed fit to play. For we teens, Radio Luxembourg was the preferred station, although it, too, was quite selective about what it broadcast. The radio that I and my siblings had at the time was ancient, but it served until the advent of the affordable-to-teens “tranny”.

    In the early ’60s, pirate radio stations hit the airwaves: boats anchored off-shore, beyond the reach of UK law, of which Radio Caroline was the most famous. Finally, we got to hear the appalling, subversive, rubbish hitherto denied to us! Such as the Rolling Stones. But I think the Stones have had the last laugh?

  16. 123becks says:

    I grew up in Long Beach, CA I remember him well on KRLA. From Variety.com, “Biondi moved to KRLA Los Angeles in 1963 and became the first radio personality to play the Beatles on a station. By 1967, he returned to Chicago.”

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