dr george pollard
"Wanted," read the ad, "a Dick Summer style dj for east coast major." The ad used lingo, to save costly space. "Major," the reader knew, meant a radio station in a large, east coast market. Perhaps the ad came from Boston, Miami or New York City. The goal was lofty.
Many djs claim such ads ran about them; it's shtick to hype self-importance. Opening Billboard Magazine, to the classified ads, this one jumped off the page, about 1978. "A Dick Summer style dj" is asking a lot. Why didn't the advertiser call Dick and offer him a job?
Surely, the ad flopped. There never was, isn't now and won't ever be another Dick Summer, above. The mould broke after the original. From Brooklyn come unique successes and few copycats.
Summer fit well among giants. His warmth, sensitivity and style matched "Wolfman Jack." He balanced the raucous "Cousin Brucie." His intelligence complimented Carl de Suze. His subtle mischievousness laid way for the lampooning Don Imus. He and Alison Steele, the Nightbird, were late-night poets, who set listeners free and aloft.
The sum all others and more, Dick Summer stands tallest. He's as smooth as Larry "Superjock" Lujack or Sonny Fox. He's as off-the-wall as Dale Dorman or Soupy Sales. As cerebral as Steve Allen, Dick Summer is cleverer. He offered Shrewsbury crumbs or a scoop of peanut butter to contest winners.
William B Williams (William Breitbard), of WNEW-AM, was the childhood idol of Dick Summer. About Williams, Bill O'Shaughnessy said, he confirmed "good taste knows no age or season ... [he] was comfortable with everyone ... and everyone was comfortable with him." The same, and more, is easily said of Dick Summer. As with Williams, you heard it in every air shift.
Summer leapt more than his share of tall radio towers. A New York station fired him for being too successful. On a cold Christmas Eve, thousands of women, men and children jammed the Boston Common, in response to an innocent on-air comment. His interviewed shy celebrities, such as Rod McKuen, Judy Collins and the late Sandy Baron, and stamped lasting impressions.
"It was fun," says Dick Summer, as if it were usual. If only it were usual. His hopes for radio are few. The move away from listener needs, to the wants of owners, he believes, lessens the role of radio, in our lives. The purpose of radio has changed, but radio has a purpose. We need only to find that purpose. We are almost sure where to look, but no one has bothered.
Summer has little ego, but much attitude, both the result of a lifetime of creative expression. He worked as a hypno-therapist, helping men and women manage their fears, phobias and frailties. Fittingly, he called his practice, Quiet Decisions. His passions, today, are flying, and Wonder Wench.
Matthew White joined Dick, in his home studio, for a chat. Many truths emerged, as you'll read. Do what you love and success follows is most obvious. Less apparent is that in our uniqueness lies opportunity: find out what makes you unique and work it to your advantage. Dick did.
under my pillow at night
Grub Street (GS) I thought we might start with whether or not you ever really imagined your name would always come when people talk of the best of radio and the potential for radio. What of do you think of when you hear stuff like that?
Dick Summer (DS) I'm amazed. I mean that's ... whew! I always was one of those kids that put the radio under the pillow. Did you do that?
GS I actually had the radio next to my desk.
DS You're a really young guy, what do you get out of radio?
GS I get more out of radio now that I am driving to work early in the morning. There is nothing more satisfying or relaxing then listening to someone just chat. For me it's a two to two and a half hour drive and I need something that's calming and relaxing.
DS What do you listen to?
GS Well it goes on and off. Sometimes I'm looking for funny stuff, I like rock music so there is for the Philly area there is 93.3, Preston and Steve, they are a couple of radio personalities. They will just chat about anything. I think they strike more to the younger generation.
DS What kind of stuff do they talk about that you like?
GS It's so random, they will just talk about funny stuff they hear about and you just never really know and that's what I like.
DS Well, that's good. To me, radio was something you feel and ... I got kind of intense about that. There was a guy by the name of William B. Williams, you would not know him. He worked in New York.
I'm from Brooklyn, and my early reference was obviously New York radio. William B Williams (above), at that time, had a show in the evening. He called himself Willie B. Willie B. talked directly to me. Willie B. had a show called the "Bachelor's Apartment." I see your eyes light up; yes, exactly [and] it wasn't dirty by any means. He was playing music, but I didn't listen to the radio for the music, I listened to the radio because these guys were talking to me, and that was a wonderful thing.
So, that's what I wanted to do when I got to be on the radio. I wanted to make that sense of an actual tactile feeling. I used to call it the huddle, in the back of my head. I played a reasonable amount of street football when I was a kid, I liked football. Do you play football?
GS I know my way around the football field.
DS Well, you know what a huddle is; the guys get around and you know, "you fake to the left, and you go deep."
GS "You run the post, you run the fly and so forth."
DS Exactly, what I mean. So you are figuring about something you are going to do together. There is a sense of physical closeness. You're "us" and they're "them."
Well, to me what Willie B. did was give me a sense of being a part of "us." It was Willie and me and a couple of his friends or whatever. He said something once that made such sense that it just kind of exploded in my head.
He was interviewing Vic Damone. Do you remember that name? Damone was a big singer from a long time ago ... and Vic Damone and Willie B. were both involved in the charity in New York, they were doing a charity thing. Damone was promoting [the charity] and [he and Willie B.] were buddies, they knew each other.
At the end of the interview, Willie said to Vic, "Vic, I really like you." And for some reason that just went 'POW!' in my head, because I hadn't heard anything like that on the radio before. It was just a guy saying to another guy, "Hey, I really like you," it was that simple, but it was so real! It was a guy enjoying another guy's company. That, to me, is the thing I wanted to do. I wanted to bring people into a huddle together. And that's why I got started. That was the defining thing for me in terms of what I wanted to do.
GS That is an admirable goal.
DS Well, it's personal. Everybody likes different things; some guys like to be funny or whatever. I miss that in radio right, now - the personal.
There are some morning shows that have it, I'm told. I haven't heard the morning show you're talking about. Maybe they do, maybe they don't.
Willie B. had a sense of humor, but he wasn't particularly funny. But he was very real. It was a thing you could touch. That was the huddle.
I think talk radio does that to some extent, right now. Talk radio is a gut level. The gut that it expresses is almost all anger. I think that is very limiting, and I don't particularly care for it. Still, at least there is a gut level thing. There is a feeling about it. You don't get that from most radio anymore, that doesn't mean it's bad.
There's an old quote, "The hand of time writes and having writ, moves on." Times change, things change, radio has become very efficient. It wasn't efficient in the time of Willie B. "We're going to play you ten in a row now, simply wasn't the point
It's kind of a commodity: you go to radio to get something specific, like a particular kind of music or the time or the weather or [traffic]. You didn't do that then or I didn't. It was just something different. The question as to what happens in my head when somebody says that my name is a big important thing, obviously I'm on as big of an ego trip as anybody else. It's really surprising, because, well, it's just is surprising.
GS A lot of kids, in Brooklyn, were listening to radio, not all worked radio. Why did you choose to work radio?
DS I was in college, Fordham University, in The Bronx, part of New York City. New Rochelle is the town right next to the Bronx. I had a job at a small radio station there, WNRC-AM, in New Rochelle.
That was a wonderful experience, in a lot of ways. One of which was the receptionist there by the name of Marge. Marge knew I was very interested in her in a carnal fashion. Marge was a little older than I was, I was 19 or so. She must have been in her mid 20s. She was very nice, and very pretty.
I was on air in the evening of the day I quit. The station signed off at 9 p.m. At 8:45, every night, we had to a 15 minute newscast.
The way the station was set up, the studio was in one spot, there was a [large] glass [window panel]; beyond the glass were the transmitters. The guy on the air had to handle the transmitters, too. Behind the transmitters was a rear entrance.
I told Marge I was leaving WNRC-AM because I was graduating. I was going to work in Albany, New York. As I said, she knew I was carnally interested [in her].
Quarter of nine, I start the newscast. Marge shows up behind the glass window, between me and the transmitters. She starts unbuttoning her blouse. I'm trying to do a newscast. I'm 19 or so and about five minutes into the news, she has her blouse off and she is doing a strip, while I'm trying to do this newscast.
The guy who owns the station always listened to that newscast, for two reasons. First, he wanted to be sure you didn't sign the station off too soon. Second, he wanted to [catch up on] the news.
Ten minutes in [to the newscast], Marge is down to her skivvies, I'm looking at the clock, and the steam is coming out of my ears. I got down to the sports and she has her bra off and I figured "YESSS!!!!" I started the weather, she smiles, she puts her clothes back on, she blows a kiss and is [gone]. Was kind of an initiation and it was wonderful.
GS One would hope for an initiation of that sort.
DS Yes, well one did. The basic reason "one" got into the radio business in those days if "one" was being honest, was the fact that it was a good way to get girls, and it really was. Anyway, that was an initiation at WNRC-AM.
From WNRC-FM, I went to Albany, WROW-AM. That's where I met the guy who I think was the most talented guy that I ever worked with. I worked with some talented guys. I worked with Don Imus, "Cousin Brucie" [Bruce Murrow], Wolfman Jack and Willie B., too, as a matter of fact. The most talented guy, the biggest raw talent I ever met, I met at WROW-AM, in Albany, New York. His name is Bruce Bradley. I think he was the smartest, most talented, just incredibly bright guy and I admired him a lot. He was a few years older than me. A few years later, Bruce and I worked together later at WBZ-AM, in Boston, and that was a pleasure.
GS Actually, before we get into the radio I thought we could talk about other things you do. You were involved with hypnosis, aren't you?
DS I was a hypno-therapist for about 18 years, in New York City. As I said, poverty got me into radio; I needed to make some money. When I was in New York City, I worked radio and I had a hypnotherapy practice. I voiced commercials, too, and, for a time, I did a syndicated radio and television show. I got a little busy, but I had six kids. When you have six kids you have a great deal of pork that needs to be put on the fork.
I love hypnosis. Not stage hypnosis, but clinical hypnosis. My degree is in Psychology and Communications, a double degree at Fordham University, which was a Jesuit school. They hated hypnosis [at Fordham]. I remember the professor talking about Freud. Freud was a hypnotist, who rejected it, eventually. I remember asking the professor why, what was the problem, with hypnosis? He almost held up something, in the form of a cross. It was almost like something from the devil.
I was a young guy, and this [response] interested me. I started learning about [hypnosis]. It became obvious that hypnosis wasn't something from the devil, and in fact it was a wonderful tool. You couldn't actually study too much about [hypnosis] because it was considered weird at the time. So, I studied, with some pretty weird people. I studied with a witch because I think witchcraft is based on some hypnosis. I studied with a stage hypnotist, and I did a lot of reading. I developed my own stuff, which included hypnosis and some work with video. It was at a time when video machines were first becoming popular.
I believe in self image. Self image tells you a lot about yourself. I found that if you could feed a positive self image back to somebody and then solidify [the self image] through the use of hypnosis, then you could skip over a lot of the rigmarole. If you learn how you look when you are doing something that you're really good at, it teaches you a lot about yourself. When you think of hypnosis, what do you think about?
GS My understanding is very limited. I immediately think of the swinging watch in front of the eyes, and all of the sudden you are clucking like a chicken.
DS Well, that's the stage stuff. Actually, hypnosis is a system to make you very [focused] and concentrated on something. As you know, when you concentrate on something you can get deeper into it. Do you read a lot?
GS Oh yes.
DS When you are reading something you are really into, somebody could shoot a gun off next to you and it would just be a minor annoyance. You're really focused on that, you are seeing pictures in your head when this goes on.
GS This is a problem my mother has run into when she attempts to talk to me, right next to me. Saying my name over and over again until it's like an explosion.
DS If you can take that around the other way. Instead of trying to get you out of that state of concentration, we increase your state of concentration. You're a very good hypnotic subject, believe it or not. You fit the profile. The profile of a good hypnotic subject is somebody who has some intelligence and also would tend to colour outside the lines a little bit. Usually, a writer or an artist of some kind and hypnosis is a really interesting kind of thing.
I can encourage something you don't even realize, at this point, on a subconscious level. You're subconscious level can experience it. You can let your subconscious do whatever it wants to do. You can just allow whatever you want to happen, it can just feel good. That's a very light state of hypnosis, and I didn't dangle a watch. It tends to make you kind of relax.
If I wanted to continue that, I could have your eyes close all the way down. When you did that, there would be a state of relaxation and comfort, inside, and I can feed that back to you and put it in a post-hypnotic suggestion. Then, every time you do a particular thing, you would tend to feel that sense of relaxation. If you were in an uptight situation, [there'd be an automatic and subconscious urge to relax, for example].
I fly an airplane. There are times I get into some ... uptight situations and I've used this for myself. What causes most problems in an airplane is when a pilot panics. Panic is what kills people in an airplane. If you find yourself getting into a situation like that and you use a post hypnotic trigger to relax and get rid of some of the feeling you were just having, it breaks the momentum, of the panic. Therefore, it breaks the panic and you are back in control of things.
GS All of sudden, it's not so bad.
DS All of sudden, you're in control and you are going to deal with things as well as you can deal with things, which is as well as you can do. That's one of the best uses, of hypnosis.
You can do that on the radio. The original hypnotists were the Shamans, the medicine men [, of native cultures]. They built a fire. They dressed in strange clothes. They told stories about the gods who were up there looking at you, and they would strike fear into your enemy and all that stuff. These gods were on your side. You went into battle or found yourself face to face with a dangerous animal; you had these gods on your side. I mean wow!
Obviously, we didn't go that far, on radio. I like nighttime radio because, unlike the daytime, [the listener isn't] fighting the traffic and so on. Most of the time, if you listen to the radio, at night, you want companionship; you want to feel like somebody is there. If I tell you stories: "Once upon a time." What a great thing. "Once upon a time Matt was sitting by the telephone and it rang. At the other end was this quiet, gentle lady's voice." Now I've got your attention, right? It's not hard to get your attention; you're a young guy with testosterone.
That is where the stories came from. Stories are a form of hypnosis. "Once upon a time," shifts your attention from the fact we're sitting at a kitchen table. You are thinking maybe this happened to you, or you would like it to happen.
GS You imagine it happening.
DS That's exactly right. You can do that on the radio, especially at night. I loved that, I just loved that.
GS It's almost like you created another little world.
DS At WNBC-AM, in New York City, I had a show I called "Dick's Place." "Playboy Magazine," at that time, had a feature called the "Bachelor's Apartment." It was like the show title Willie B. used.
"Playboy" would have these four or five page spreads of these incredible Manhattan pads. Some of them would have swimming pools, pool tables, bars or fancy beds. I took five of those from different issues, pasted each one on cardboard backing and put them around me. I was there and that was "Dick's Place." We had sound effects, of girls jumping in the water and giggling. What a lot of fun.
That was the story. One of the things that happened at WNBC-AM was interesting. We were right in the middle of Manhattan. The station is in the RCA Building. It's right across the street from the Radio City Music Hall. Are you familiar with Manhattan?
GS I've been there several times.
DS The WNBC-AM studios are in Rockefeller Centre. The area around Rockefeller Center, "Times Square" and "Broadway," is the entertainment center, of New York City, and maybe the world. The women, we called the "Broadway Babes," who worked the showbiz area, had a habit of showing up at the studio, wearing a raincoat and nothing else.
The guards would let them upstairs. It's funny because the guards would always call upstairs, when my wife would show up. They always asked permission to have my wife come up stairs, but they always just let the Broadway Babes up without calling. It was just a terrible, sinful, awful, wonderful thing. Anyway, I digress. (Laughs)
We were talking about hypnosis, it does many wonderful things. Wonder Wench [, my wife,] was afraid of flying, when I first got my license. In the beginning, she could only fly with me, if I put her to sleep. We would take off, I would put her to sleep, and when we got wherever we were going I would wake her up. (Laughs) Hypnosis helps pain and other things too, that was the other side of it.
You can't call flying a hobby, like collecting stamps or whatever. Flying is more like being addicted to drugs. (Laughs) It is that intense, and obviously I love it a lot. We have a little four-seat airplane. It's all over the floor of the hanger right now. Every year the FAA requires that you have a mechanic look at it. Flying is not like cars; guys who work on airplanes have a federal license. One of these guys has to take the airplane almost totally apart, once a year and checks everything out. That's happening right now.
Flying is a big thing, with me, and so is music. I like all kinds of music. I didn't get to play all kinds of music on the radio. I like all kinds of music ... classical, jazz, and country.
GS I love country. Obviously, I like the country music from my generation.
DS The guys who don't have long gray beards.
GS Yeah, I grew up on country.
DS I grew up in Brooklyn. I was the only guy in Brooklyn, who liked country music.
GS My best friend and I were the only two people I knew who liked country, in Delaware.
DS I don't know what the entertainment situation is like around your way, but there is a place in Lancaster [, PA], which isn't far from here, where they bring in a lot of big name acts of all kinds, including country. Wonder Wench and I have seen Dolly Parton, all kinds of people. The place is called the American Music Theater, and they have a website. You can check out.
GS Sounds pretty interesting.
DS They bring in all kinds of big names. So did I answer your question?
GS I think so. I just wanted to hear a little about some of those things.
DS One more thing. The goal, of the way I did hypnosis, was to make you feel comfortable. You can do these things as I'm encouraging you, not forcing you, but encouraging you. The more I can encourage you to do things, the more I become a part of your system, a trusted part of your system. That can be spread so that your system, not consciously necessarily, your system begins to trust what I say and as long as I don't violate that trust it becomes something that your system will accept easily. If I violate the trust (snaps fingers), I'm out of there.
GS And you're not coming back.
DS Right; you can't force somebody to do something under hypnosis that they would not normally do. Now, quack like a duck, Okay. That's fun, and you might do it, anyway, but I couldn't force you to go kill somebody. If you hated a person, then I could give you permission to kill him or her, but that is a different matter [and you still might not kill them]. That is the limitation of hypnosis. I couldn't force you to do what you don't want to do. A good hypnotist will watch you to see what you're doing, and encourage you to do it more.
GS I thought we could more about radio talk. We already chatted a little about WROW-AM, in Albany, New York. That was your first full-time job, after university?
DS Yes, it was there that I met Ted Knight. Ted Knight was 'Ted Baxter,' on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show," [in the 70s]. Ted Knight played "Mailman Ted," on WTEN-TV, the television station, owned by WROW-AM. Both were in Albany, New York. I was a staff announcer on the television side. "Mailman Ted" was a kiddy show. Ted Knight was not really much different from 'Ted Baxter.' He didn't stretch a whole lot for that role. Ted liked to stick his finger in his ear, and listen to his own voice.
WTEN-TV was my first experience working television. The guy who did the Sunday morning news quit, unexpectedly, on a Thursday or Friday. The television program director needed somebody to do the Sunday newscast, and asked around if anybody had television experience. I said "sure. I do." I said that because I watched television. (Laughs)
GS There is some experience for you.
DS Sure! So I was assigned to do the Sunday morning television news. That was before Teleprompters. It was a good experience; it taught me how to ad-lib. I was basically a staff announcer at WROW-AM and I wanted to be a disc jockey. So I kept looking for a disc jockey (dj) job.
I got one at WNHC-AM, in New Haven, Conn., where I met, among other people, Danny Ingram, who later became a big star at WABC-AM in New York. Dan is an extremely talented guy. He did the morning show [at WNHC-AM], and I did the evening show. It was through Dan that I got to meet people like Rick Sklar.
Rick Sklar was the program director of WABC-AM, in New York City. Sklar is usually given credit for the dominance of WABC-AM, and that is not quite fair. The guy who really put WABC together is a guy by the name of Mike Joseph. He was the original consultant there. Mike was kind of a pain in the tail, but a very bright guy. Mike was a total cynic in terms of radio, but he was one of the original top 40 programmers.
Do you know how top 40 came about?
DS You know the term though?
GS Well, yes.
DS Top 40 was started by Todd Storz. That was down at WTIX-AM, in New Orleans. He had bought the station, when the station was not doing much.
Todd was in a bar one night ... listening to the jukebox. He noticed that people kept playing the same six or seven songs over and over again on the jukebox. A light went off in his head. He said, "Hey, if those are the songs people want to play, let's play 'em."
Storz put together a tight play list. I don't think any top 40 station ever played 40 records. There were the top selling records that stations played. WABC-AM, for a while, was playing 18 records. Top 40 came from an informal observation Storz made.
In the early days of top 40, it was a high personality format. Guys like Jack Carney, at WIL; in St. Louis; Dick Clayton, at WIL, and Danny [Ingram], at WABC-AM, in New York, where Harry Harrison was the morning guy. These were the names that made the format.
It was interesting, because when I went to New York, I was the morning guy at WPLJ-FM [, which was owned and operated by ABC Radio, too]. Harry was the morning guy at WABC-AM and he had been there forever. We used to go to the same coffee shop, down the street from the radio station, and I would run into him there at about 5 a.m. He was going to work at the AM station. I was going to work at the FM station.
Harrison was a very nice guy. I think he was an ordained minister. People sometimes criticized him because he was always so upbeat and positive, but he was really that way. Ron Lundy was the midday guy on WABC-AM, by that time.
Lundy was the original tight-format, top-40 guy. Very little to say and very 'up' all the time. There was a very famous commercial campaign for a butter substitute and Ron was the voice of that butter substitute. All he said was (high pitched voice) butter! Butter! He made a fortune doing that.
One of the good things about New York radio was you got to be in commercials. Commercials are lucrative, on a national level [, that is, the commercials played all over the country]. I got to do a whole bunch of [national spots], fortunately. Sometimes, during the hard times, in between gigs ... the commercials that kept the pork on the fork. So that was good.
GS We were just talking about WNHC-AM.
DS I'll give you a little chronology. I got fired from WNHC-AM. I get fired a lot. You hear that word often [, among men and women who work radio].
I got a job out in Indianapolis at WIBC-AM. The morning guy out there was Bouncin' Bill Baker. Bill was a very talented guy, but just the noisiest, loudest guy you ever heard on the radio. It was good; he got you up and got you to work.
"Easy" Gwynn was the afternoon guy. Easy had been there 25 years or so by the time I had got there and he was a little over-the-hill. Like some guys in the radio business, just being there was a big part of what they brought to the table. "Easy" was one of those guys, if you tuned in and "Easy was on the air, you knew that all was right in the world.
Jack Morrow was the chief announcer. Jack was a triple threat guy. He was a salesman as well as an on the air personality. He also was a big sports guy. WIBC-AM originated the Indianapolis 500 and Jack was one of the chief announcers for that, as was Jim Shelton.
I did a show for Merrill's High Decker, at WIBC-AM. Merrill's High Decker was a drive-in restaurant; it was right across the street from the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Merrills was in such big trouble, they had to make a deal with an auto dealer up the street.
Merrill's [arranged for] the auto dealer [to] park his used cars in the parking lot, of the drive in, on the weekends to make [it seem the drive-in] had business. That's how bad it was.
Merrill's built a studio on top of the building, on top of the drive in, for me. We originated a show there. It was one of the great success stories of radio. Within in two weeks they had traffic jams outside it with people trying to get in. It was really what a radio station should do. We encouraged local bands and we would do live broadcasts with them. [I'd also] take the mike out to the car, and just do a fast thing outside [; talk with customers]. It was very local.
We did things like 'make it or break it.' What I did was take a new record every day and have the engineer play the record at 10 PM. I'd have the [microphone] in the parking lot, among the cars. I would say, "If you like that song, honk your horn." That made it. "If you don't like it then honk and we'll actually break it on the air." The records that "made it," we played every night. It was a lot of fun.
From WIBC-FM, I went to WIL-AM, in St. Louis. Jack Carney was program director. Dick Clayton was there, too. Dick Clayton was one of the best, and he had a great voice.
I remember one of the bits that Clayton did, to this day that, and have copped it a few times. Clayton had one of those whiskey voices, you know? He used to talk and reminisce between the songs. He said," You know I like lollipops. I don't know why, but I like all kinds of different flavor lollipops. After a while you tired of strawberry and cherry and licorice. Why don't they make an onion flavored lollipop?" He was that kind of guy; he was a very funny guy.
Jack Carney did the morning show. Jack had a character, and I learned a lot from him. Jack's character was, "Pookie Snackenburg." There was a song called the "Purple People Eater," at that time, and Carney used to play with that. I learned a lot from him.
Carney fired me, but it was okay because he taught me a great deal. He taught me that you had to do something a little different. He said, "You got a good voice, your production is good, but you are not giving me a reason to listen to you instead of the other guy, who's playing the same records, on the other radio station."
I realized that it was true. You can tell jokes. Guys like Jay Leno get paid a lot of money to tell jokes, but they have a whole staff of writers. There is no way you can do that four hours a night on the radio.
I had to be someone different. I was trying to understand that and trying to learn from it. I think I did.
One of the things I learned was to just try to be who you are, on the air. It's a hard to do. It's a hard thing to learn to talk like we're talking. When you get in front of a microphone you start to talk like (deep voice) "Hey, kids." Sometimes, if you don't do that and you just learn to talk a little bit you can let whatever it is that you are come out. That is a good way to tell stories, which is what kind of comes full cycle.
When I worked WCPO-AM, in Cincinnati, I did a Saturday dance show, on WCPO-TV. It ran noon to 6 pm. Yes, six hours. Then from 8 pm to midnight I did a WCPO-AM remote, usually from the Colony Restaurant. Not too many disc jockies, even in the smallest markets, do ten hour days, live on television and radio.
A year or two later, at WISH-AM, in Indianapolis, I did another television dance party, on Saturdays. That was fun. The first hour was simulcast on the radio. We did what may have been the first stereo broadcast. We would bring in local bands; put the radio mike on one side and the TV mike on the other. I told people do it this way at home, put the radio over here and the TV over there. That was kind of fun, that was good stuff.
It was from there to WBZ-AM.
GS Before you get into WBZ-AM, I had a story I was told and wanted to see if I could verify with you to see if it is true. Supposedly, when you were working at a station in Indianapolis, you wanted to work in Boston. So, you sent in an air check to WBZ-AM, every week, for a year, before you were hired.
DS Yeah, it was WBZ-AM. The story there is that WBZ-AM is a clear channel station. There are a handful stations in the country that are 50000 watts and there is nobody else in the frequency. WBZ-AM, at night, is heard coast to coast [, from Labrador to Barbados, north and south, and to the Rockies, in the west]. It's like a little network unto itself.
I was working in Indianapolis. I'm from the east coast, I'm from Brooklyn. I'm dialing around for east coast stations. I run into WBZ-AM, and my buddy, Bruce Bradley, is on the air.
I think, if Bradley can get there, I can get there. I started sending air checks to Al Heacock, who was programming WBZ-AM, at the time. It wasn't every week, every month, is more like it. I don't know if I won the contest or just wore them down, but after a while Heacock called. He said, "We like your stuff. Come on up and meet us." He flew me to Boston, it was a wonderful experience. It was everything I thought it was.
Al Heacock was really the father of what we call now Classic Rock. The format wasn't big at that time. It was brand new.
First, let me tell you a bit about WBZ-AM. Morning guy was Carl de Suze. He started at WBZ-AM, in 1941, and he had been there forever. Carl was the only guy I ever met who would come to work in the morning wearing a cape. He looked a little bit like a bat sometimes. He was constantly late and would say things like, "Dear boy, I ran into a cougar on the road this morning." He made up these really weird excuses for being late. I was doing the all night show and I really wasn't interested much in his excuses. I just wanted to see his butt there at the radio station.
I met Wonder Wench [my wife,] at WBZ-AM. She was the continuity person, the person who put the logs together. Carl, as well as all of the other guys, was deeply in lust, with Wonder Wench. Carl had seen his best days; in the sense he was really kind of boring to listen to in the morning. He was like "Easy" Gwynn. When you tune Carl in you knew all was well in the world. The world had not gone to hell.
GS It was comfortable.
DS Yes and that was a big lesson for me to learn. He wasn't funny, but he was very consistent. Consistency is so important in radio.
In those days, the 1960s, djs made extra money hosting record hops [dances], at high schools, or emceeing concerts. We all did it. But Carl gave lectures instead on current events, to citizen groups.
He was at WBZ-AM so long he had a month's vacation. So he would go to Iran or some place and he would put together slide show presentations and he would give lectures. This is why he would come to work dressed in his cape sometimes: it was part of his bit giving lectures. He hung out with the Kennedys. There is an interesting story behind that.
When Kennedy was assassinated, I was at WBZ-AM. You know the Philadelphia experience? There was a time in Philadelphia when WFIL-AM was a monster. There was, at that time, one huge station, in Boston, and that was WBZ-AM; not only in Boston, but throughout New England.
Kennedy was from Boston. You have no idea what that did. It was mind boggling to the entire country. Were it not for Walter Cronkite I'm afraid the country could have come apart.
Walter Cronkite anchored the "CBS Evening News," at the time. He was known as "Uncle Water," [and the most trusted man in America]. When Kennedy was shot, the world tuned into Uncle Walter. He was calm, and he kept people calm.
Well, the radio world, in New England certainly, tuned into WBZ-AM. I had no idea what to do. I was in my 20s, had paid some dues and thought I was half decent on the air. The assassination was still more than most of us could handle.
It was a wonderful radio staff. Dave Maynard was the midday guy. Dave was clever and smart and wonderful. The afternoon guy was Jefferson Kay, and then it was Ron Landry who went out to LA and became a big name out there. There was Bob Kennedy, who used to call himself the 'other Bob Kennedy' did a talk show ["other" as in not Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the president and US Attorney General]; Bruce Bradley and me.
It was a good staff, but none of us knew what to do, when the president was shot. He's from your backyard. What do we do?
The only one who knew what to do was Carl de Suze. He took one of the stations mobile units and he went to Boston Common. The Boston Common is a [350 year old] park in the middle of Boston. It's loaded with history.
Carl went to Boston Common and told stories about John Kennedy. He knew him! They hung out together. Anyway, Carl stayed on the air for seven or eight hours. He just stayed on the air talking. (Pause) What a lesson. That was what radio was supposed to do; the huddle. You didn't experience it so you have no idea what it's like when a president gets shot. It's like you take the dollar bill and you just erase the picture on it.
GS People needed that consistency.
DS Oh my god yes. WBZ-AM was an amazing station. I was there in the 1960s and it was before cars had air conditioning. You come to a stop at a traffic light or whatever and the guy next to you and he had the windows down and he was listening to WBZ-AM. You go down the beach and everybody had on WBZ-AM.
WMEX-AM was also a popular top 40 station and they had some audience, but when something huge happened people would tune into WBZ-AM.
WBZ-AM played pop music, but the deal was if there was a big problem then you stopped playing music and you talked. There was a hurricane one time and I was on the air. I was talking and I was taking calls. This guy calls in and he has a beach house; he is talking about how the surf is really up. All of the sudden there is this huge noise and he got real quiet. He said, "I gotta get out of here. That wave just came through my front door." (Laughs) It was that kind of station. I don't know if you ever heard that kind of radio, it was magic. That was my background in radio.
There is this one story, it was really funny. WBZ-AM had a remote. [A remote is when a station originates from outside its studios, in a store or mall. Many stations had remote studios, in trailers, which were hauled to a location.] The station had a remote trailer and we were always [on] remote. We had a remote on Cape Cod [about 90 miles south of Boston]. I was on my way down, and a little late. I got pulled over, by a cop, for speeding. I showed him my license and registration. He said, "Dick Summer? Are you the guy on the radio?" I said yeah. I thought maybe he was going to cut me a little slack. He said, "You know, I really hate your show." (Laughs) I loved it. I died. I'll never forget and it was just kind of funny.
GS It was when you knew you made it to the big time.
DS Yeah, you know, I guess in a way your right. That's a very interesting observation.
After another remote, the producer and I went to a diner. I was wearing a jacket that said, "Brooklyn," on it. I'm an old Dodger fan. I'll never forget it. There was a young woman, in the diner, who said, "Oh, Dodgers huh?" I came up with something funny like, "Yeah, they're just on a long road trip." She looked at me funny, and I said you know they are in Los Angeles now. Now she is about your age and they moved to L.A. in about 1957.
GS Yeah, it was a long time ago.
DS The branding "Dodgers" is so much "Brooklyn Dodgers," though. It'll be at least another generation before the idea, of Brooklyn, is gone from the idea of the Dodgers.
Anyway, back to WBZ-AM. Al Heacock is an important name. If I can do anything with this or any interview then I would like to do this: Al Heacock is not in the "Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame." He should be.
Al Heacock was the program director, of WBZ-AM. Right now, a top-top morning show may pull a seven or an eight [share], in a top market. WBZ-AM had 25s. You are talking three times the ratings of anybody you know now, and plus.
People used to call all the time, asking about the format. We didn't have a format and nobody would believe we didn't have a format. These days every song is part of the play list and, as a matter of fact, they are all on computers and you just push the next button. At WBZ-AM you played what you wanted to play.
Al would call a meeting, of the djs, every once in a while and tell us to play the top 20 records every once in a while. We used to bring our own records in. People would come over to bring tapes of their stuff and if we liked it we would play it. It was that kind of thing. We pulled 25s and better [, in a 30 station market].
I did a folk show on Sundays. I used to emcee at a place called the Unicorn Coffee House, in Boston. There were two main coffee houses in Boston, Club 47 and the Unicorn. Club 47 was more traditional, whereas the Unicorn took chances on new music.
When the Unicorn had new acts come in, I would emcee those, too [, often in a larger venue]. They brought in a big name act by the name of Jose Feliciano. They brought in "The Doors" and "Cream"; they brought in a lot of [acts] like that [into a larger venue they ran]. The Unicorn was bringing in people playing electric guitars; rock, hard rock, in a folk club. I said what's going on here? I realized what was happening was the Jimi Hendrix era. Music was changing from folk, to folk rock and to hard rock.
GS It was happening in front of your eyes.
DS It was happening right there! I asked Al [Heacock] to come on down and take a look at this. Al came, listened and watched. The next day he instituted the only format that WBZ-AM had [, to that point]. He called it "Liquid Rock." He picked some of the music he heard at the Unicorn. Al picked bands like "Strawberry Alarm Clock," [a Boston band that had national hits in 1967], "Orpheus, "The Ultimate Spinach" and "The Beacon Street Union." These are band you probably don't even know. It was rock. It was Frank Zappa. It was that era, obviously because it was that time. Heacock had us play one liquid rock song an hour, and some of that stuff was pretty heavy.
We changed the Sunday night folk show, and it became "Dick Summer's Subway." It was a subway, as in underground, as in underground rock. That was Al's doing and he let me do that show.
"Subway" started playing stuff like "Alice's Restaurant," [by Arlo Guthrie]. Well, WBZ-AM was a Group W station. It was Westinghouse Broadcasting. One of the lines in "Alice's Restaurant" is about "the mother-rapers and the father-rapers, on the Group W Bench."
The Group W suits, in New York, heard it on the air one night because, as I said, WBZ-AM can be heard all over the place. They freaked. "What is this stuff they are playing," they said. They called Heacock and said get this guy off the air. Heacock was program director, which is a middle management position, but he said, "No." He's telling the president of Westinghouse 'No.' The president said, "Tell him to not play that stuff at least." Heacock said, "No. That's what it is."
The other side of this is that Al was a pretty wealthy guy. He made a lot of money in the stock market, and he didn't need the job, at WBZ-AM. He just loved radio, he was a radio guy.
The suits, in New York and Washington, looked at the ratings. "Holy shit, the station has a 25 share? Maybe we shouldn't screw with WBZ-AM, too much." Time Magazine did a little article on "Dick Summer's Subway," [which the suits surely loved].
I had started promoting local Boston bands, and there were some pretty good ones. They would bring tapes in and I would play the tapes. Some of the record labels started picking them up. We started a thing I call the "Boston Sound" and some of those guys did pretty well. "Time Magazine" did a piece about the Boston Sound, which brought it [, me and WBZ-AM] to the attention of the suits, again.
GS Did that quiet the suits, at headquarters?
DS No, it didn't. We got a visit from the president of Westinghouse Broadcasting. He came in to see Heacock, to tell him to get me off the air. I didn't even know he was there, but he came into the studio and started talking, with me, about my music selections. This was while the records or commercials were airing. He was jovial, not demanding; but I knew where it was going.
The engineer understood, too, and called Heacock, on the hotline. Ten minutes later, Al was at the station and he says to the president - I'm not using his name, on purpose, because he really is a decent guy, although he's a suit - "Excuse me, would you step outside, I have something to talk to you about." The president did not come back into the studio, and that was the end of that. Everybody said, "Yeah, radio wins one."
Shortly after that, Westinghouse moved Heacock from WBZ-AM to WINS-AM, in New York, shortly thereafter. Al started putting together a music station, a little like WBZ-AM. About a month later they went all news. The suits won. (Silence)
GS Seems draconic, on the part of Westinghouse. What about FM radio?
DS Everyone looks at FM as the beginning of contemporary rock radio. FM was insignificant at the time, a little like pod casts are now. I think pod casts are going to be very important, that's why I do them. The heyday of the podcast is near, but it's not now. That's what FM was at that time, the podcast, of the day.
WBZ-AM was heard coast to coast. I had a fan club in Los Angeles, when I was at WBZ-AM. I had a fan club in Chicago. We had ratings all up and down the East Coast at night. That's what WBZ-AM was at that time, it was huge. We're playing this stuff and it began to take off. Then the FM stations began to pick up on it. That's where modern rock started and had it not been for Al it would not have happened.
I think that's an important story. I think [Heacock] belongs in the "Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame." I can't say it wouldn't have happened without him, but it would've taken a hell of a lot longer and been much more difficult.
FM is the radio king right now, but it's technically limited. FM can only broadcast line of sight, for 40 or 50 miles and that's about it. WBZ-AM is the whole country. That's the significance of Al, and I wanted to make sure that gets involved in this thing because I think it's important.
GS A lot of good decisions were made at WBZ-AM , at the time, anyway. (Above, on-air at WBZ-AM, about 1964, Dick announces the winner a scoop of peanut butter.) Seems the television side, channel 4, used a slogan, "We're 4 you," that also applies to radio.
DS Here's another example, of the authority of WBZ-AM. I was doing a remote one Christmas Eve. I was on the air from 8 pm until midnight. I had asked people to write in and tell me what they feel about Christmas. I got a lot of letters. When someone at WBZ-AM asked for mail, they literally came in by the sack full, okay? One of the reasons I got to meet Wonder Wench was she was running the continuity department and I hired her to help me answer mail. It wasn't unusual to get 1500 letters a day.
Anyway, the station was originating from the Boston Common. It is a big park, they are very proud of it in Boston, rightfully so. They decorate every tree in the park, with Christmas lights, it's just gorgeous. We are down at the Common, with the broadcast trailer.
I said [on the show], "I got all these letters from people who said what Christmas [meant] to them. For a sacred artifact, when you get rid of it, you burn it. These letters were sacred artifacts. You don't just throw it out. At midnight we'll burn all these letters and we'll sing some Christmas carols, come on down."
I didn't think too much of it. By 9 o'clock, quite a few people are showing up. It's Christmas Eve, and its cold in Boston. I kept promoting it and by ten o'clock more people are there. Now we have a lot of people are there. 11 o'clock the place is wall to wall people and I'm thinking "Holy Shit!" because I didn't have any permission to do this. We're beginning to get a traffic jam on the street because it's right in downtown Boston. Oh, god. 11:30 there is a real traffic jam. We must have had a couple of thousand people there, I have no idea.
A cop comes over, a sergeant, and says "What's going on here?" So I told him and he laughs and says okay. So he goes back. Some of the guys from the Unicorn show up: Tom Rush, Jose Feliciano and Judy Collins as I recall. They had finished a show, at the Unicorn, heard about what I was doing and they came down.
We found some metal baskets, in the park, and put the mail in the baskets. I had the mike outside, and we set fire to these things. It was just before midnight, they started singing "Silent Night." Have you ever heard 2,000 people singing "Silent Night," on a cold, snowy Christmas Eve? Wow! What a memory.
That was the 'huddle,' and big time.
GS There was a massive connection.
DS Yeah. After that it was on to WNEW-FM [in New York City] ... I used to listen to WNEW-AM, that's where Willie B. was. I got a call "How would you like to do the morning show?" Wow! Now, I'm on WNEW-FM (above).
GS Betcha that felt good.
DS Do you play baseball?
GS Well. I play softball. I actually play second base.
DS Okay, how would you like to be a softball player and have a call waiting for you that says we need a second baseman for the Phillies? (Laughs) Okay, you know what I mean?
Anyway, that was the only reason I left WBZ-AM, was to go to WNEW-FM. That was the big leagues calling, as far as I was concerned.
In the radio business, Philly is a major market and Boston is a major market, but New York and LA, that's the [A-level] show. WNEW-FM is the Yankees. I say that with great respect for all kinds of other teams, but when people think baseball, they think Yankees.
GS They think 27 world titles, they think the Yankees.
DS That was WNEW-FM. Scott Muni, the program director called, and said to me, "Come and do the morning show." I say, "OKAY!! When do you want me to start?"
What a staff, at WNEW-FM. John Schwartz; he's a writer as well as a big name DJ, was the mid-day guy. Scott Muni was the afternoon guy; Scott was known as the "Professor." He was the program director, too, a nice guy and a legend in New York [and everywhere, I think]. Roscoe did the evening show; he's another legend. The overnight person was a woman named Allison Steele. She called herself the 'Night Bird.' Allison (above) had the kind of voice that you could pour over pancakes. Oh-My-God! She was a very pretty woman, who liked to wear short leather miniskirts. This is important only because, as you recall, I was doing the morning show, okay? In other words, I was the next guy on the air.
GS And she was just leaving?
DS Oh God! It was very difficult for me to keep my mind on things, but anyway that was the beginning of WNEW-FM.
I came in at a salary level that WNEW-FM couldn't afford, at that time, and I had six kids. I had to make a decent salary. [Top management] decided to shift me from the morning show, on FM, to the all night show, on AM, where they could afford the budget. I got the show that I used to listen to when I was a kid. It was called the "Milkman's Matinee." To give you an idea of WNEW-AM: it had its own local studio band and they had a singer, Frank Sinatra.
GS (Laughs) I've heard of him!
DS That was WNEW-AM. There was no other radio station in the universe like WNEW-AM, it was just incredible. I used to stay awake to listen to the "Milkman's Matinee." Art Ford was the DJ when I was a kid. He was the smoothest DJ, I ever heard.
When we talk we tend to talk in disjointed, well, you know. Not Art. Art was steady. It was an incredible thing to listen to, and warm and honest and real and all of those things. You talk about an honour to work at a radio station.
The morning guys were Gene Klaven and Dee Finch. First morning, Klaven, one of my heroes, comes walking into the studio and says, "Welcome to the staff." A little later, Dee Finch comes into my studio to welcome me. About 9:30 am, who walks up to me, but my ultimate radio hero, William B. Williams, and welcomes me to the staff.
I listened to WNEW-AM, on the radio, [when I was young] like you listen to the guys in Philly. William B. Williams was the midday guy and Teddy Brown did afternoons. Legend, legend, legend, it was legend after legend. Evenings was Al "Jazzbeaux" [Jazzbo, early in his career] Collins. It was a Murderers Row baseball lineup, it's impossible to describe. Jim Lowe was there. Jim had a hit record at the time called the" Green Door," as a singer, but he was a hell of a radio guy.
Probably one of the first djs, in the country, was a guy by the name of Jerry Marshall. He was a staff announcer at WNEW-AM at the time. WNEW-AM lost its network affiliation and had some time to fill. Jerry Marshall said "let me play records." So he did, but, he didn't just play records. He called it the "Make Believe Ball Room." The idea was that he was sitting in this dance hall with all of these great bands and he made it seem like that. It's arguable that he was really the first personality disc jockey on the air. That was WNEW-AM. [It was] just unbelievable.
When I I worked WNEW-AM, overnight, when I hosted "Milkman's Matinee," Wonder Wench was still in Boston. As I said, WNEW-AM booms into Boston. She used to listen to me, every night. Most of my talk was directed at her, up in Boston. This was the ultimate huddle.
I got fired, from WNEW-AM. You'll hear me say that a lot. WBZ-AM I left, voluntarily, though.
The guy running WNEW-AM was a fan of Arthur Godfrey. In the 1950s, Godfrey fired a singer, Julius LaRosa, live, on the air. It was right after LaRosa finished his song. Godfrey walked up to LaRosa and they talked a bit, just like on every other television show they did, then he said, "You're fired."
Years later, when LaRosa somehow became available to do a radio show, WNEW-AM snapped him up, to do afternoons. This meant everybody moved back a shift. I was doing the overnight show; there wasn’t any place to move me. Okay, I understood.
So, it was back to Boston, to program WMEX-AM, which had been the competition for WBZ-AM. It was the only competitor at the time. That was an interesting thing. WMEX-AM was a 50,000 watt station, but wasn’t clear channel. The signal was so distorted that you sometimes couldn’t hear it at night at the studio, it was a terrible situation. It was also one of the last major radio stations owned by an individual. They’re all big corporations, now, but this guy was Mac Richmond. Probably the most hated man in broadcasting. Did you ever hear of him?
GS I read about him.
DS Did you really? Lot of people hated him, I can’t say that I liked him, but I respected him a lot. He taught me a lot about top-40 radio because I didn’t know anything about top-40 radio. My background had been WNEW-AM and WBZ-AM, it wasn’t top 40. I didn’t know where the jingles were supposed to go and I was programming the station. I got a very fast lesson from Mac. (Laughing) But I respected him, you know?
Mac Richmond was one guy up against a bunch of big guys, and he chintzed on money quite a bit. He didn’t have a generator at the studio and we lost power one time. The city lost power and he comes running into my office and says, “Get on the air and tell’ em we’ll be right back.” I said wait a minute Mac, there’s no electricity. Anyway, that was Mac Richmond. Mac was a multimillionaire, owned a station in Las Vegas, a station in Washington, DC. The station in DC was because he needed to go down there and negotiate with the Federal Communication Commission. Station in Vegas was because he liked, well, he liked to go to Vegas.
He used to take a month off every December to go to Vegas. One time, just before he was off to Vegas, he had had a blow-up, with the News Director, probably over something minor. The News Director quit, on the spot, and I had to replace him.
It was early December, not the time when everyone wants to change jobs and move the family. I was looking around and I found a guy from WPOP-AM, in Hartford. He was very good and I hired him, helped arrange moving his family and we were reset.
Mac came back from his vacation, at the end of December, hears the guy, on air, and doesn’t like him. Mac called me in to his office and told me to fire him. I said, “Mac, give him a shot.” Mac said, “I don’t like his voice, fire him.” I said, “C’mon Mac, the guy just moved here. He brought his family here.” Mac said, “If you don’t fire him, then I will.”
I spent that Christmas Eve in a bar, with a guy who had just moved his wife and five kids from Hartford, telling him he was fired. Not for anything he had done, but simply Mac didn’t like his voice. I quit, that night. I couldn’t do that. I don’t have that in me.
Fortunately, I got a job at WPLJ-FM. It is the ABC-FM station, in New York, and it needed a morning guy, so I went back to work there. That was a rock station, it was good. I enjoyed that. Interestingly, the guy that now does that show was a kid listening to me when I was on the air at WIBC-AM, in Indianapolis. Scott Shannon is his name and he is now a big guy in broadcasting. As a matter to fact, he has been kind enough to credit me with being some kind of influence on him which I found to be … very good.
On air, at WPLJ-FM, were guys like Pat St. John and Jim Quinn; good guys. I was enjoying it. Then, NBC me offered me a shot on a show called “Monitor.” Monitor was the last network entertainment show on NBC radio. It was network, it wasn’t just local, but it was in the dying days of network radio.
I told WPLJ-FM, “Hey, I’m going to go do Monitor.” They said “No, you’re not.” I said, “What do you mean?” They said, “You may have noticed that that’s a NBC network show. I said, “Yeah.” They said, “You may have noticed we’re an ABC owned station and you can’t do that.” Well, to give you an idea of Monitor, the graduates, of Monitor, included the likes Steve Allen. You don’t turn down an opportunity to host Monitor.
I quit at WPLJ, just to do a one day a week show at Monitor. They let me do wonderful things and I loved it. Fortunately, Perry Bascom, the general manager at the local station, WNBC-AM, had been the manager at WBZ-AM, while I was there. He liked what I did at WBZ-AM and so he said come on over and work at the local station too, so I could do local and national.
That was an interesting thing. The local station and the network station were under two different union contracts. The local station required any recording that was done to be done by a union engineer. The network contract did not. Network people could go out with their own tape recorders and do stuff. I did something for Monitor once with my own tape recorder and I wanted to use it on my local show, too, and I couldn’t because of that quirk. I really thought that was a weird thing.
My first shift at WNBC-AM, I was on the overnight show. Each studio at WNBC had a water carafe. My water carafe ran out of water so when a record went on, I filled it at the water fountain outside.
Engineer kicks the button, he says, “I know you’re new here, so I’m not going to report you.” I said, “For what?” He says, “You filled the water carafe.” I said, “Yeah (pause) it was out of water.” He said, “That’s a stagehand’s job.”
In order to get your water carafe filled you were supposed to call the stagehand to come and fill it.
GS The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), in Canada, had the same problem for a long time.
DS You were the air guy, that’s it, and it was (pause) interesting. Some wonderful people were there Imus, of course, did the morning show. Joe McCoy, who later became the program director at WCBS-FM, was on midday, Bruce Morrow, who came from WABC-AM to do afternoons. Oogie Pringle did evenings, for a while, and then Wolfman Jack came in and did evenings. And I did overnight.
Wolfie [Wolfman Jack] was a whole different trip. Wolfie was a Brooklyn boy and a very, very nice guy. He had a drug problem that got in the way.
GS I heard about that.
DS Yeah, but, he was a very nice guy. I have one of the things that I always judge people on. Barb [Wonder Wench] used to come with me a lot to the studio and a lot of guys would try to hit on her, while my back was turned. Wolfie never did, Wolfie was a gentleman and I respected him for that; a nice, interesting guy.
Walt Sabo was the promotion guy at WNBC-AM. He is a very big name now as a consultant. Interesting guy He consults a whole bunch of stations now. He left WNBC-AM to become program director at the ABC Radio network.
Working at WNBC-AM went along fine for quite a while, but the program director either quit or got fired. It depended who was telling the tale.
The next program director at WNBC-AM was a guy who was my competitor in Boston. His name is Mel Phillips. Mel was the program at WRKO-AM, in Boston, while I was the program director at WMEX-AM.
WRKO-AM was a very hard format top-40 station. It was a station consulted by a guy named Bill Drake. We were pretty fierce competitors. Mel became the program director at WNBC-AM, while I was on the air there and I thought “Whoops!” Much to Mel’s credit, there was never a problem. He was very professional about it, he understood I was hired to do my job and he was hired to do his job. This was a different situation and that’s the way it was.
Philips was succeeded by John Lund, another important name in radio. A real gentleman who is now involved in some other things. Radio should miss him because he was quite a guy.
GS You sort of talked more than played music, at WNBC-AM, didn’t you.
DS Yeah, I had a mixed show. I did music from 10-to-midnight and then talked from midnight-to-2am; so I had guests. I had all kinds of guests.
GS Did you talk about anything in particular?
DS Well, I never did political talk radio. I don’t like it, I don’t like politics. I feel badly about the viciousness and the pettiness and the ridiculousness of it. When the world is coming apart at the seams and they get into talking about Hillary Clinton’s neckline and Barack Obama’s preacher. Who the hell cares? I’m not interested. So, it was talk radio with all kinds of stuff on and it was a lot of fun. I had Bob Gucione on the show, the guy who [owned and ran] “Penthouse.” Interesting guy, he was a photographer. He used to like to take a lot of his own pictures, very bright man. I liked him.
Bob Pittman came along, from Chicago, as the new program director. He fired everybody. He fired Imus and Cousin Brucie and Wolman Jack and everybody. It was mostly a cost cutting thing and they put in a hard top 40 kind of thing. You weren’t going to tell Wolfie or Brucie to do top 40, so they fired them.
There was a story, with Pittman. He called me into his office and I knew what was coming. “He said close the door. I never heard anybody do a radio show like yours. Its communication on a level I’ve never heard. We’re not going to do that so you’re fired.”
GS Basically it was like, “I like you, but you’re gone”?
DS Well, yeah. I understood. It was kind of a funny thing in a way. It wasn’t funny at the time but is funny, looking back on it. To his credit, he left WNBC-AM and started MTV; very, very bright guy.
Pittman’s also a pilot and we’ve spoken a number of times since then. Pilots are a clanny group. There are only about a half million pilots in the country. It’s like we’re going down and out. I started flying about 25 years ago. There were about 750,000 pilots at that time and we’re down to 500,000 now, so you’ve lost a third of the population in that time. So when you find another guy that’s involved with it.
GS You really cling to it.
DS Yeah, you really do, but [Pittman] is a good guy and I wish him the very best. I got fired from there and a very little while later, the guy, who was the assistant program director at WBZ-AM, Dan Griffin, was the general manager of WYNY-FM. It was the FM station for WNBC-AM, in New York. He knew me and he hired me to do the same shift that I was doing on the AM station. So it was just down the hall.
GS So it’s like you hadn’t even left.
DS Yeah, it was very interesting. I met some interesting people there. Dr. Ruth did a show on that station. It was very good. I got into a tangle with the program director there and it got to a point where I said, “Either he goes or I go.” Dan very rightfully fired me. He was right!
The program director, of WYNY-FM, was a pain in the tail. I used to do a thing called Drops. You take little voices and you drop them in during the show. He didn’t like that.
I went on vacation, and when I came back all of my drops were erased from the tapes. Literally hundreds of these drops were gone, plus a lot of the stories that turned into my CDs. He didn’t like them so he had them erased. To me that is, among other things, simple thievery. If he didn’t want me to use them, all he had to do was tell me.
The same program director took Mouth versus Ear off the air, shortly before I was fired. Mouth versus Ear had the highest ratings of anything on the station on Friday nights. The program director took it off because he felt it was destroying the continuity of the music, on the station. It wasn’t a music show, so he took it off. That was his thinking.
GS Good ratings just simply weren’t enough?
DS You would have to talk to the program director. We came to a parting of the ways, as it were. I fell back for a couple of years. I had my hypnotherapy practice and it was doing well. It was called “Quiet Decisions.” I was doing a reasonable number of commercials, so financially we were doing okay. Then I got an offer to do mornings at WPIX-FM [, which is now WQCD-FM], another station at New York.
There is a very interesting story behind that. When I got the job, I met the general manager, John Goodwill. We got along very well, we had dinner together and he was discussing his ideas. At the end of the dinner, I said my wife’s maiden means “goodwill,” in Polish. He looks at me shocked and said “Not Barbara?” I said, “Yeah, how do you know her.” Turns out they were first cousins. How about that? They had lost touch. Isn’t it a small world? So, that was kind of neat and John was a good guy.
I was doing the morning show. I also had a syndicated radio show from Westwood One called “That’s Love.” The show was a lot of fun. I also got to do a television show for Metromedia called, “Love Songs,” which was also a lot of fun and quite lucrative.
My friend Bruce Bradley got the morning show on WNEW-FM, while I was doing mornings at WPIX-FM, so we were competing with each other. In our first head-to-head ratings, I beat him, which, to me, was a wonderful thing. As I said, Bradley is the most talented guy that I have ever known in the broadcasting business.
Bradley got fired and so did I. Again. WPIX-FM moved to a smooth jazz format and. Management said to me, “We want you to stay on but we don’t want any Dick Summer radio.” (Pause) Huh? (Laughs) I knew what they meant. They wanted just a ‘don’t say anything, just play the music’ deal.
I lasted about a month and they fired me, and I was just as glad. I didn’t want to do that. The weird part is I am a jazz fan. I love jazz, but smooth jazz isn’t jazz. Smooth jazz is death by saxophone; that’s what we used to call it. The play list included a lot of Kenny G. I’m sorry if you like Kenny G. I don’t. To each his or her own, I guess.
From there, I went through a couple of years where it was just Quiet Decisions. Then Wonder Wench said to me, “You have to close Quiet Decisions.” I said, “Why?” She said because “it’s killing you.” and I realized she was right. I had been doing it for 18 years. You get involved with people. You try to pull back as much as you can and [make it impartial], but if you are any kind of decent person, you will get [too] involved. It was happening to me. I closed Quiet Decisions, but had an idea for AC radio.
AC is adult contemporary. It’s inoffensive contemporary radio, that’s AC in a word. The format does very well during the daytime; it’s kind of a background thing. People put it on at work and it just kind of buzzes around. They don’t have any ratings because there isn’t any particular reason to tune it in, its background.
I figured why not talk on the AC format, at night. Tell stories, the kind of thing I like to do. Bonneville Broadcasting originally bought the idea of a talk show on an AC station. They had a lot stations around the country. They bought the idea and they had a New York station, WNSR-FM [, which is now inactive]. They owned stations in just about all of the major markets.
Bonneville Broadcasting made a deal. I would go with them and they would put my show on their network, which would have made it an instant success. The problem was they wanted me to go to Chicago to do it, and I didn’t want to do that. Bonneville dangled a reasonable amount of money in front of me and being well, human, I said okay. I went out to Chicago.
Bonneville said we’ll just start on the local Chicago station, and we will put it on the network, [once we’ve got it going smoothly]. We put it on the air and it did very well. I asked when it was going on the network. It got to be funny after a while. Obviously, they were stringing me. They just wanted me out in Chicago to boost their Chicago ratings.
I was very uncomfortable in Chicago. I’m a Brooklyn guy, an East Coast guy. Philly and New York are very similar. Not Manhattan, but the rest of New York, where most people actually live. They are kind of upfront and I like that. If a Brooklyn guy doesn’t like you then he will either ignore you or say you’re a shit-head and I don’t mind that.
GS It’s real.
DS Yeah, it’s real. In Chicago, they will smile at you and shake your hand you turn your back and you have a knife in it. I really didn’t like that so I was glad to get out of that.
A guy, Lloyd Roach, was running a station in Philly called Kiss 100, at that time. He bought the idea. Lloyd was a board operator at WHDH-AM, when I was on at WBZ-AM, in Boston. He confessed to me later while he was on the board sometimes at WHDH-AM, he used to listen to me on the radio. He was a very innovative guy and I admire him a lot.
So Lloyd picked it up for Kiss 100. This was a talk show at 9 pm, on an AC station. I started 1 January 1988, and the show was doing very well. The numbers were coming in, sponsors were picking it up. On St. Patricks Day, I got a call from the program director, the station is being sold. They are changing it to a top-40. (Sigh)
So, I said that’s it, I’m not doing this anymore. That is when my friends the Binders came into the story.
I have to back up a bit and tell you about that. When I got the job at WNBC-FM, things got a little complicated because I was doing commercials and a lot of other stuff. I needed to hire an accountant to do my taxes. I was also going through a divorce at the time.
A friend of mine, Jim Audifred, is a lawyer. Jim knew Harry Binder, who’s a lawyer and an accountant. Harry did my taxes. We were audited three years in a row.
I never let Harry forget it, and we became friends. He’s a nice guy and I enjoyed him a lot. He brought his brother Charles into the law firm and that became an outfit called, Binder and Binder. One day, I got a call from Charles. “Harry and I are going to be in the neighborhood, let’s have lunch.” I said sure so they came down. They asked how I would like to do their commercials. I said I would be glad to help them. They basically offered me a job as the Communications Director for the company.
The writing was on the wall for the kind of radio I liked. I don’t mean good radio was going away. It was just the kind of radio that I liked personally that was going away.
Everybody likes different things, you like blondes, I like brunettes. I figured it was time. I took the job. I’ve been with them ever since. I’m very proud of what we’ve done together. They’re good guys.
Binder and Binder do social security disability, which is kind of an arcane thing. Most people don’t even know about. You pay into social security. You pay your FICA taxes. When you reach retirement age that gets paid back to you.
There is another element, which is the disability thing. If you become disabled after you’ve paid into Social Security, for a certain length of time, if you become disabled and can back that up, with medical evidence, if you’re legitimately disabled and not able to work, then you are eligible to receive security under the disability terms. Most people don’t know about that. Binder and Binder help out in this regard.
GS Looks like we’ve gone through it all. Now of course when you are on the radio you would come up with your own things that you would use. Whether it was a giveaway or things like that and I’m sure that the budgets were not always high. I’m going to throw this out there, something that I’ve read about: the scoop of peanut butter prize.
DS (Laughs) Okay.
GS I would really like to hear the story behind this one.
DS Night-time radio is low budget radio. Almost all of the station money goes into the morning show and nighttime is ‘whatever.’ I always believed in fun, and I needed a prize to give away.
At WBZ-AM, I had a thing called “Down with Sandwiches, Up with Shrewsburies.” I thought sandwiches were named after the Earl of Sandwich, who, supposedly, was the first to slap some meat between two slices of bread, and eat away. I found out it wasn’t really Sandwich, but the Duke of Shrewsbury, who was a big gambler and didn’t want to take time out from gambling to eat dinner.
It occurred to me if you are going into a restaurant you shouldn’t order a sandwich, you should order a Shrewsbury. “Down with Sandwiches, Up with Shrewsburys,” was the slogan. I used to give a prize to whoever did the most for the cause of furthering the Shrewsburys.
WBZ-AM was an important station, and restaurants actually started putting Shrewsburys on their menus. I used to give a prize, but didn’t have any money, for a prize, so I gave, what I called, the Top Crumb Award. The Top Crumb was the top crumb from the Shrewsbury, in my lunch. I would tape that to a station picture, and send it to people. That was the Shrewsbury Award.
Once in a while, I had a special contest, with a better prize, a scoop of peanut butter. The first caller to give the right answer won a scoop of peanut butter. It was a low-budget show, so winners had to provide their own spoons. On the most special occasions, such as the 4th of July, I’d up the prize to crunchy peanut butter.
In New York, there was a similar problem with prizes. I decided that if Superman could have his Kryptonite anybody from New York could have some Brooklynite. My folks lived in Brooklyn, so I go there a lot. I took a bag and collected a lot of little stones from around the folk’s house. Those were the prizes. Your nurdle of Brooklynite was the goal, every rock was a nurdle. If you win six nurdles of Brooklynite, you got a case of notoriety and that was probably what you’re thinking of. You do your homework. (He laughs.)
GS I had some good sources (laughing). Where do you think radio is going?
DS I think it is dead.
GS You think it is dead?
DS It’s eating itself. The thing that saved radio when television came in was a couple of things, actually. There were a couple of guys, Murray “The K” Kaufman and Alan Freed, who played to kids and teenagers; they were effective. They brought something to it. It was a little like the huddle. I don’t hear anything like that happening now. Those kids grew up to be your parents; they grew up to be me. Those were the kids. I don’t hear anything like that coming in now. I don’t hear my grandchildren talking about something on the radio. I played my grandchildren some air checks of mine and it boggles their minds. They can’t believe it, Mouth versus Ear. You’ve got to be kidding.
I don’t hear it and so I don’t know what is going to feed into radio. Like anything, radio has to grow. It’s an art form. I don’t see it growing.
The other thing is the Internet. The Internet, within a very short time, will be completely portable; Wi-Fi, and so forth. At that point I can sit downstairs in my little production studio or here, at the kitchen table, as a matter of fact, and broadcast internationally. That’s what my “Good Night Podcast” is, an international broadcast from my kitchen. It’s really a broadcast. When the internet is totally portable you can hear it in your car or any place you want. Radio, over the air, is limited. FM is limited in terms of distance, AM is limited in terms both of distance and quality. What’s to make people listen to the radio? I don’t know. That’s why I think it is dead. I think it’s dead because it’s eating itself. What’s happening now is we are losing ratings and the big companies are divesting.
The corporations are firing guys. A friend of mine, Al Bernstein, just got fired out of WLTW-FM, in New York, along with Jim Ryan, the program director, and Valerie Smaldone, another air talent. They are very, very good radio people. Stations are spreading shifts. Instead of doing four hours air people are now doing five or six hours. That isn’t going to bring anything to radio. What is there now to make you listen to the radio? The guys you listen to in the morning, if they were on an Internet station you could hear them just as well, in your car, without fading or anything like that and they’d have half the commercial activity.
GS What’s to stop me from going to that? You just don’t think that there is anything unique?
DS Do you? You are more into the contemporary aspect of it. I don’t see it, I don’t hear anything. Everything else in radio right now basically outside of some morning shows; everything else is not really a radio station, it’s just a different mix of records, CDs. It’s just a different packaging of music. They’re not bringing anything to it. If George Bush got shot or was killed, what would they do?
GS They would probably sit in their stations and report it.
DS You see what I mean? Where is that? Who can deal with that, you know? I don’t know if I’ve answered your question or not. I feel bad. I loved radio, I really loved being on the radio. I just loved it, the huddle.
I had a friend, who was a cop in New York. He was a wonderful guy, by the name of Billy McGroaraty. He called me one day, while I was on the air. He had the hotline number. He called while the music was on. He starts describing this hideous murder scene he’s at. Blood everywhere, just blood. It was awful. I said Billy it’s always good to talk to you, but I’m on the air, why are you calling me with this. He says, “They had the radio on, guess who they are listening to when this happened?”
Then there is the Jeannie Campbell factor. Jeannie was my first girlfriend. She was eight and I was seven. Jeannie Campbell was the symbol of all of the girls I knew who probably would not have gone out with me if I had asked them too. (He laughs.) I used to love the fact that I was doing pretty well in radio and I knew damn well that at least some of them were listening. YESS!! Jeannie Campbell … eat your heart out. Yeah, I loved radio. So, I don’t know if that answers your question. Is that it?
GS I think so. I have to ask where the name Wonder Wench came from?
DS Wonder Wench, first of all, is fun. I think radio should be fun, this is fun stuff. Life should be fun. Wonder Wench actually has many names. She is Wonder Wench, she is also Prop Chick. I have a friend who has a motorcycle and he calls his wife his Motorcycle Chick. So I call my wife Prop Chick It’s a wonderful thing. Did you see the movie about Howard Hughes?
GS It’s called “The Aviator.” I’ve not seen it.
DS Treat yourself to it. There is a scene in it that Barb and I have experienced. He takes his girlfriend [Kate Hepburn] for a flight at night. That’s an experience that you really should have: a small plane flight, at night. It’s nothing like being in an airliner. Being in an airliner is like being in a bus. I have enormous respect for it, but being in a small plane is like being in a little sports car. Do yourself a favor and rent the movie because it’s a good movie. There was a time I was working on the airplane a number of years ago. Another guy came over and he was working on his plane too…he was exhausted he had snot in his beard and it was frozen and it was one of those cold miserable days. He wanted to borrow a wrench. He looks at me and says, “You know, Dick Summer, we’re sick.” He’s right, it’s a sickness. It’s very much like drugs because there is that kind of a high. So anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
GS Thanks, Dick.
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Interview edited and condensed for publication.
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