After receiving the email below from FH Reader Marcie Vanneste, we were inspired to do a brand new Dick Biondi feature, digging a bit deeper into his incredible career in radio ... as well as sharing some big, upcoming news about the Dick Biondi Film Documentary.
This is the email that started it all ...
>>>Yes, I loved WLS Chicago with Dick Biondi!!!!! He took me thru all three years of high school till he got bumped for that mini-skirt joke, which would be 5th grade humor, possibly even 4th. Why do “they” let crap on radio today and yet Dick got cut short? (Marcie Vanneste)
Well, Kent, Dick and I had a great visit when he was on WBBM-FM during the mid-80s. Early one morning before his show, probably around 2:00 AM in his WBBM office, I had my cassette recorder, turned it on, and we talked for more than an hour. The conversation turned out to be his audio-biography up to that time. One of the topics we discussed was 'what happened to his WLS gig?'
Back during 1968, he had told me about the supposed mini-skirt joke that got him fired, which he may have told on-air shortly before he disappeared from the Big 89, but I had never heard his version of the real story. So, here is an audio excerpt from that night when he explained what really happened.
For decades, people have speculated as to what the “off color” joke was that Biondi told that got him fired … and several have even offered up their own versions as to what he supposedly said.
(It’s funny because in all these years, I’ve never heard it referred to as “the mini-skirt joke.” Biondi was fired in May of 1963 … and I didn’t think that the mini-skirt really took off until a few years later. I guess I always associated it as more of a mid-‘60’s fashion thing.)
In his book “Rock And Roll Radio: The Fun Years, 1955 – 1975,” Clark Weber put to rest the long-standing rumor about Dick’s off-color remark …
We can now put to rest, once and for all, one of the greatest urban myths related to Dick Biondi and the supposed story of why he got fired from WLS.
To this day, I still run into people who tell me the tired tale that they were listening the night Biondi supposedly told an off-color story on the air that caused him to be fired. The undeniable fact is that it just didn’t happen. I was there and became an eyewitness to the incident. In fact, here’s what did happen …
There was a disagreement between Dick and WLS management over the increase in the commercial load during his show. He had monstrous ratings, and it seemed that every sponsor in the country wanted to reach that audience and was willing to pay any price that WLS would charge for commercial time on his show. As it turns out, an American Dairy Association’s advertisement happened to be the one additional ad that broke the camel’s back.
Biondi went on the air one night in 1963, saw the added commercial, and became irate. Armend Belli, the WLS Sales Manager, tried to calm him down, but Dick was very unhappy. I had just come off my “Silver Dollar Survey Show” when I heard what appeared to be a loud commotion in the hall. Dick was making it clear to Armend, in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t want to have so many advertisements because they were forcing him to interrupt the flow of music on his program. Program Director Gene Taylor intervened and tried to calm down the situation, and finally suggested to Dick that he go home and just cool off. Biondi did go home, but the next day, May 2, 1963, three years to the day he had begun at WLS, he was fired. Station Manager Ralph Beaudin had tried to sort out the situation but ended up firing Dick.
It was highly regrettable for Dick, and for WLS, because he had become so popular with his own national audience and was our “Pied Piper.” The kids loved Dick, and his listeners have always been very loyal because Biondi prided himself on looking out for his listeners … and he felt an obligation to take care of their welfare (i.e. just too many commercials.) However, WLS resisted Biondi’s reaction to the added commercials and made clear to him that the station was determined to maintain its position on the number of advertisements. It was a situation that had gotten out of hand, and Dick’s career was affected by the event.
So, simply put, there was no dirty story … just a misguided understanding of the situation. And, despite his great popularity at WLS, Dick was fired by the station. Dick Biondi has also been inducted into three Halls of Fame: The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, The Radio Hall Of Fame and The Museum of Broadcast Communications Hall Of Fame.
In an interview with Stew Salowitz for his book “Chicago’s Personality Radio: The WLS Disc Jockeys of the Early 1960s”, Original WLS Program Director Gene Taylor had this to say about Dick Biondi …
Biondi was one of those extremely difficult people to work with, and he was an immense talent. Boy, if there ever was a Pied Piper of Hamelin, it’s Dick Biondi.
He could, on the air, tell kids to wear one white sock and one black sock to school the next day and we’d get calls from parochial schools and school board members about how this guy was leading their students and their teen-agers down the paths of sin by making them do things like that. And then there were his peanut butter pizzas, and people would order them or bring them up to the radio station for him.
He was one hell of a talent. He had a tendency, in my mind’s eye, at that time to have a lot of highs and a lot of lows. When he was high, he was sensational … when he was low, he was the most depressed human being in the world. It was kind of a battle constantly to keep him from getting too high or too low and to keep him on an even keel, where he wound up producing on the air the kind of things that you needed. Even when he was depressed, he sounded good on the air, but he could be a little miserable to live with once in a while. As a matter of fact, I’m the guy who fired him!
There have been all sorts of strange stories that have made the rounds on why Dick Biondi got fired, the general perception being that he said something really rotten on the air, and that simply wasn’t the circumstance at all. Most of the things he said maybe were little double entendre jokes, stuff like that, which caused no major problems for us. Primarily, Biondi got fired because the two of us got into a shouting match one day over something … who the hell knows what it was? He hated commercials, and it might even have been that there were too many commercials on his show, and we got into a shouting match at each other and it came down to a point where it was best for everybody to part company. You can’t have disc jockeys telling program directors how to run radio stations, and at the top of their lungs, and that’s kind of the way it was going, with the rest of the staff standing out in the hallway, listening through the door, to see what was happening.
Biondi’s response to all of this (in the same publication) was:
Stew Salowitz: There are a few things in radio that can wear a disc jockey out, like having eighteen minutes of commercials an hour …
Dick Biondi: Well, it was that, but it was the principle behind it. Even today with the bottom line, they don’t put that many commercials. You put five minutes of news, five minutes of something else that was talk-oriented - to me, it was dumb because it was taking up time from the records. And then twenty one minutes of commercials. So you figure you’ve got thirty one minutes of talk or commercials and then you’re supposed to play records and maintain some sort of an audience. That didn’t make sense to me … so I fought it
SS: And that was the real reason for your being fired at WLS?
DB: Definitely. That’s the fight that I had with the sales manager. We literally came to, well, I went after him with a letter opener. I was going to stab him … I didn’t care … I saw red and lost control. The engineers and whoever wrestled me down, wrestled him down and they told us all to go home. I guess they mean to go home and cool it. I took it as being fired and that was it. I never came back.
There was no denying how big Dick’s audience was … while on the air, he would tell the kids driving around in their cars to honk their horns and you would hear horns blasting all over the city. Biondi used to give Taylor and upper management at the station a hard time on the air all the time. (Picture Howard Stern in the movie “Private Parts” talking about his boss, “Pig Vomit” … only fifteen years earlier!) It made for fun radio … and one time, he told his listeners that the Program Director had just bought a new car, described what color it was and where he would be driving at a given point in time, and then encouraged his listeners to throw rocks at the car if they saw it pass them by on the street! It’s a wonder he wasn’t jailed … and that nobody got hurt!
Still, despite being reported otherwise, Biondi’s beef wasn’t with Gene Taylor … he says he and Gene were “best buddies.” The real beef was with WLS’ Sales Manager, Armend Belli, who felt Biondi would be taking money out of his pocket if they cut back on the number of ads they ran each hour during his show. I get it … if your whole income is based on sales commission … and you’re selling top dollar spots on the hottest show in town … you don’t want ANYBODY limiting your earning potential. But Dick was there to entertain the kids. His live record hops drew capacity crowds. He put on his show for THEM … and wanted the program to flow in the creative manner in which he was trying to present it.
Biondi was, without a doubt, the Top Jock in the City of Chicago at the time … he had more listeners than anybody … (it has been estimated that at his peak, Dick captured as much as 80% of the entire listening audience of The Windy City!!!) … and, as such, his show was the PRIME spot for advertisers. Problem is, Dick didn’t want to play commercials … he wanted to be able to play more music and talk to the kids on the air. But WLS could charge a premium for advertising on Dick’s show and, as a result, he was soon airing more commercials than anybody … and, as we all know, radio is a BUSINESS … and companies willing to pay top dollar for a spot on Dick’s show, where their ad would be heard by more listeners than anywhere else, were filling up his timeslot. (Biondi used to say that he was lucky to be able to play two or three records per hour … I don’t know if it was ever really THAT bad … but he DID bring in an awful lot of money for the station.)
Over the years, after hearing SO many variations on the story as to WHAT Biondi said on the air that was so offensive … and how he was told to go home, meaning EXACTLY that … go home, cool down, relax, and then come back tomorrow in a better frame of mind and do a good show, which Dick took to mean “Go home … for good … you’re fired!”, it’s nice to see that all parties concerned have settled in on ONE version of the story now, agreeing that the whole episode was likely just one big misunderstanding. Kudos to Dick Biondi for standing on his principles … to the point of even being willing to give up his job in defense of them.
Biondi left WLS and headed out to the West Coast to work for KRLA … (I wonder how many commercials he had to play on THAT show!!!) … and, after playing the VERY first Beatles record in America in February of 1963, was now introducing The Fab Four for their live concert at The Hollywood Bowl. (He will be forever tied to the earliest stages of their development here in The States, yet is rarely mentioned in this regard, falling WELL into the shadows behind disc jockeys like Murray The K and a few others.)
By the way, you can read the whole story of Who Played The First Beatles Record in America right here: http://forgottenhits.com/who_played_the_very_first_beatles_record_in_america
Dick Biondi was one of the original seven disc jockeys hired at WLS 890 when the station flipped to its Top 40 format … but in reality, he was really only there for three years. (He first signed on the air on May 2, 1960 … and was fired EXACTLY three years later on May 2, 1963.) He came back to Chicago in 1967 to work for the competition, WCFL, during what has to go down as one of the greatest radio wars in history. The two 50,000 watt Top 40 stations battled it out for listeners for nearly a decade (until “Super ‘CFL” finally threw in the towel and flipped to an Easy Listening / World’s Most Beautiful Music format.) Jocks often changed stations in order to keep popular names on the air here in Chicago. They were often lured for more money in the hopes that they would bring their listening audience with them and, as a result, MOST of the jocks on the air from 1967 – 1975 ended up working at both stations, even if it was just for a very brief time.
Biondi would come back to WLS (ABC Radio) on the FM side of things, playing oldies for a couple more decades from the 1980’s and beyond. (This meant that he was playing the songs that he had played when they were brand new releases many years before.) Along the way, he met many of pop music’s biggest stars … and they would often call into his program to talk.
The Dick Biondi Documentary has been in the works for close to a decade now. Pam Pulice, an original Biondi listener from his FIRST go’round at WLS here in Chicago, has been raising funds to finally push this thing over the top. (She even knitted the sweater that Dick is wearing on the cover of his “Favorites” album!)
Besides being heard from coast to coast via WLS’ powerful 50,000 watt signal at night, Biondi actually had his own shows from coast to coast, breaking out in a big way first in Buffalo, New York, and then later at KRLA in Los Angeles after the whole WLS firing debacle. In between, he spent DECADES here in Middle America, playin’ the hits on WLS AM and FM.
There is quite a story to be told … and this film NEEDS to be made … so please help in any way you can. (Donations are being accepted RIGHT NOW at: https://www.dickbiondifilm.com/)
Pam brings us up to date on a few other announcements …
I’m delighted to tell you that the “urban legend” surrounding Biondi’s firing from WLS-AM in May, 1960, will be detailed in our documentary film, “The Voice That Rocked America: The Dick Biondi Story.” The events that unfolded on that day will be told by veteran WLS deejay Bob Hale, who remembers it well, Dave Fogel, Scott Childers, John Landecker, Tony Lossano, Art Vuolo, Dennis Tufano, and, most importantly, Dick himself. It’s a great story and I’m not going to give it away. Suffice to say, it will put to rest this tale that has been circulating for over 50 years.
For all you Biondi and music fans, Ron Onesti is about to make a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT … https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=4699854886704920&set=a.262570470433406.
Ron has been with us through this entire seven year journey.
He was the first to show our Teaser on the stage of the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. He’s provided backstage access to interview the great Tony Orlando, Bobby Rydell, Paul Shaffer, and many others. He’s invited us to speak at many Cornerstones of Rock concerts. Ron helped us raise funds at our Good Times Fundraiser in 2019. And right now, Ron is putting all the pieces together for a big event to help us get to the finish line. This is going to be something really special with many surprise guests!!!! And we can’t wait!
Special thanks to Jim Peterik, Carl Giammarese, Dennis Tufano, Ray Graffia and Bruce Mattey, Ronnie Rice, Jimy Sohns, Tom Doody, Jim Pilster, Ted Aliotta, and all of the Cornerstones of Rock artists who have graciously helped with this labor of love. If I’ve learned one thing from making my movie, it’s that it takes a community. And I’ve been blessed to have the support of an incredible community of artists, entertainers, people in the media, and fans.
Director of Communications and Marketing, Joe Farina and I are absolutely over the top excited about what’s about to come down. I wish I could say more.
If you want to stay in the loop, sign up for our newsletter https://www.dickbiondifilm.com/contact.
Kent, as always, thanks for all you do.
Stay well everybody! And stay tuned for the BIG NEWS.
The Voice That Rocked America: The Dick Biondi Story
We’ll be there, Pam … just tell us where and when!!! (kk)
[And I hope I didn’t let the cat out of the bag with all of today’s commentary. It just goes to show how, after nearly sixty years, this story is still circulating and still generating interest. Again, another reason why THIS FILM NEEDS TO BE MADE!!!]