Dick Biondi, fast-talking star of Top 40 radio, dies at 90

Dick Biondi, an energetic, fast-talking Top 40 radio personality, nicknamed “The Screamer”, who in the early 1960s became one of Chicago’s most popular disc jockeys and, thanks to the strength of his station’s signal, was well heard outside the city, and died on June 26 in Chicago. He was 90 years old.

His death was confirmed by Pamela Enzueller-Police, director of the highly anticipated documentary. “The Voice That Shook America: The Dick Biondi Story.”

Mr. Biondi was a brash, though not surprisingly jock, at WLS-AM, which changed its format to rock and roll when he was hired for the late evening shift in 1960 for $378 a week (about $3,900 in today’s dollars). The station’s reach in 38 states and Canada provided Mr. Biondi with a platform that made him a major media personality as rock music grew in popularity.

Inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1998, Mr. Biondi quickly established himself as a star in Chicago. He called himself a “Wild I-tralian”; hosted record jumps and charity events; record a new song, “On top of a pizza,” A parody of “On Top of Old Smoky,” which became a local hit in 1961.

“No one has ever come close to his character,” Ms. Enzoeller-Police said in a phone interview. “He was wild, outrageous, goofy and wonderful. He was like a big kid — he was one of us. He spoke our language.”

In 1961, the Gavin Report, an industry publication, named it the 40 best disc jockey of the year. His evening ratings eventually rose as high as Chicago radio.

Despite “working in the shadow of a night disc jockey, where he rarely penetrates the glare of national publicity and the adulation of fan magazines,” future film critic Roger Ebert wrote in late 1961 in The Daily Illini, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s student paper, “Biondi has succeeded in the last two years in becoming a popular man in the Midwest.”

The Chicago Tribune reported over the years that Biondi’s program attracted as much as 60 percent of all listeners in the Chicago market. In 1962, the Tribune said most of its local audience consisted of teenagers.

Mrs. Enzweiler-Pulice was one of Mr. Biondi’s young admirers. I created a Biondi fan club and wrote a newsletter. She was 13 when she first met him at a shopping mall, where hundreds of people watched him arrive by helicopter.

“Wherever he went, the fans would boo him,” she said.

WLS became an important part of the record companies’ hit-making machine, and Mr. Biondi was a significant player in that equation. It was especially important to the Four Seasons, whose brand, Vee-Jay, was based in Chicago.

Another group that was in Vee-Jay, at least for a while, was the Beatles. And it’s likely that when Mr. Biondi played Vee-Jay’s single “Please Please Me” in early 1963, it was the first time a Beatles song had been heard on a US station, said Mark Lewisohn, whose “Tune In” (2013) is the first of his dropped trilogy “The Beatles: All These Years.”

But Mr. Biondi’s time at WLS ended in 1963 after only three years. He was fired when he complained about the amount of commercials on his show compared to his competitor, Dick Kemp, aka “The Wild Kid”, on a competing station. Mr. Biondi said the rumen angered the sales manager. In one confrontation in the studio, Mr. Biondi, armed with a letter opener, had to be restrained by two engineers.

Mr Biondi said this was one of 25 times he has been fired from various jobs during his career.

Shortly after his dismissal, Herb Lyon, gossip columnist for The Tribune, reported: “Former WLS Dee Jay Dick Biondi, still championing the young, jogging ’round town, is pushing his new album, ‘Biondi Talks to Teenagers, which is a real twist. ‘”

Richard Orlando Biondi was born on September 13, 1932, in Endicott, New York, near Binghamton, to Michael and Rose Biondi. He first performed on the radio when he was eight years old, and as he stood outside a studio in Auburn, New York, the announcer he was watching asked him to come inside and read a commercial for a women’s clothing store.

That started his love affair with radio. As a teenager, he worked as a coach on a station in Binghamton, where an announcer tutored him in his technique. In 1950, after graduating from high school, he got a job in Corning, New York, as a sportscaster.

Over the next decade, he worked stations in Alexandria, Los Angeles (where he played R&B and called high school football games); York, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and buffalo.

He hosted Record Jump in 1957 starring Jerry Lee Lewis, who was at the fiery height of his fame, but actor Michael Landon took to the stage at the event, who talked his way through his song “Give me a little kiss (Do ya, huh?).”

“I’ve gone crazy girls,” Mr. Biondi said in an interview. On the TV show “Chicago Tonight” in 2003. “You know how good-looking he was.”

Mr. Biondi grew a beard, which he dyed from week to week to match the official colors of the high schools where he regularly hosted record jumps. He sat on the flagpole for three days and nights at the insolence of the listener.

He said he met Elvis Presley backstage in Cleveland and convinced him to sign the white T-shirt he was wearing; Then Mr. Biondi wore it as a jumpsuit, which fans tore so badly that he had to go to the hospital emergency room to treat his badly scratched back.

After leaving Chicago in 1963, Mr. Biondi spent the next half-century on the move. moved to KRLA in Los Angeles in 1963; She hosted a nationally syndicated show on Mutual Radio from 1964 until its cancellation in 1965; He then returned to KRLA, where in 1965 he and bandmates, including Bob Eubanks and Casey Kasem, performed the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. He returned to Chicago in 1967, in the WCFL.

“The day I left Chicago,” he told The Tribune in 1967, “I began to want to go back. It’s the only place where she made an impression on me.”

But in 1972 he left for a station in Cincinnati. He later moved to Boston and North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, before returning to Chicago for the Good in 1983, and most importantly as a presenter at a new oldies station, WJMK-FM, for 21 years. He returned to WLS (this time on the FM dial) from 2006 through The station ended its affiliation with him in 2018.

Among his survivors were his wife, Marybeth Biondi, and his sister, Geraldine Wallace.

Many of Mr. Biondi’s encounters with rock stars are still alive decades later.

For example, he notes that after Michael Landon, who starred in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, wowed an audience of several hundred fans in 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis went on stage for his second set and performed 14 songs.

“He went crazy at the second show,” said Mr. Biondi. He’s gone and there’s Michael Landon. He says, ‘Okay, pretty boy, top me this time.’