Meeting Dick Whittington
(photo found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4GrjDf9Dxs)
Of course my first official blog posting would be about "Sweet" Dick Whittington. As I mentioned on LARadio.com, my first encounter with him was his time at KFI when they tried an all-comedy format (Lohman & Barkley, Mitzi McCall & Charlie Brill, Hudson & Landry -- innovative, but unfortunately and ultimately unsuccessful). I didn't know much about him, other than an article I'd seen in the L.A.Times where he was dressed as General Douglas MacArthur and leading his audience into an invasion of Catalina Island.
Having described this a few months ago at LARadio.com, I apologize for being redundant. Nonetheless, my introduction to the Whittington whackiness was in the mid-70s when Jaws was the blockbuster movie of the year. Whittington surmised the reason sharks were so aggressive was they were sleep-deprived, irritated creatures as sharks don't sleep (they have to keep swimming so water will pass over their gills). So the fertile mind of Whittington solicited a card shark, a pool shark, and a loan shark to visit the KFI studios where the three "sharks" would stand in a kiddie pool and be lulled to sleep with lullabies. I was hooked (excuse the pun). Dick Whittington became a "must listen" part of my day.
I followed him back to KGIL (I confess I didn't hear him during his first run there), to KIEV, then to KABC, finally landing at KMPC. But it was his time at KIEV, the little station than could, when he was doing an all-night talk show for which I have my fondest memories. I was living in Riverside at the time, attending grad school. Like all grad students I kept bizarre hours, Dick Whittington kept me going in the middle of the night as I tried to get my assignments done. I'd even call in periodically, not that any of my contributions were particularly memorable.
I knew the Times and other newspapers had written stories about the return of Dick Whittington to the L.A. airwaves, so I wrote him a letter to appreciate his work and if the station had any copies of the articles:
And whaddaya know, I received the articles and a kind note from his "Sweetness." If I was already a fan of Dick Whittington, I was now a loyalist. I was disappointed when he left (understandably) the overnight shift and eventually left the local airwaves sometime in the mid-80s, although I remember he popped into KGIL on an April Fool's Day, stating he was going to take over mornings from the late John Swaney (with no offense meant to the great Swaney, it was a cruel prank to very sensitive me).
Fast forward to 2000. Don Barrett had an LARadio.com Day as part of the celebration of radio at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills. He allowed me to meet the guests backstage -- Gary Owens, Al Lohman, Bill Ballance, Jimmy O'Neill, the widow of Robert W. Morgan. Chuck Cecil, Dave Hull (who I'll feature in the future) and (drumroll please) Dick Whittington! It was the first time I'd met him in person, I'm sure the word "fanboy" would have applied to me at that moment.
Since then, we've exchanged emails (where he reminds me how much he enjoyed my writings at LARadio.com, as long as it was about him), a phone call or two, and visits with him when we visit the family timeshare over in the Central Coast. He charmed my boys immediately, he flattered my wife (while reminding me I married a child bride), and refused to let me pick up the tab for lunch (we saved the check for Don Barrett).
Of course Dick Whittington is an original and will be always remembered as such. But he also cared about his listeners. He had them join him to assist in the aforementioned invasion of Catalina to getting his audience to participate in a facetious "Salute to Mussolini" event (imagine dining on pizza and wine at 6 in the morning) to a live broadcast in the middle of the night from Downtown L.A.'s Pacific Dining Car, allowing listeners to dress up one more time in that prom dress or bridesmaid gown otherwise just hanging in the closet (while driving there. I got a ticket for an illegal left turn, it made the night more memorable than necessary) -- the list goes on -- Whittington brought his listeners along for the ride. That by itself is admirable.
I also know he was a great encouragement to others in the business. I won't embarrass him by naming names, but Whittington helped his peers get jobs, offered assistance to some who were down on their luck, and affirmed others when they needed it. I admire anyone who's willing to help out a fellow human being, especially since radio can be such a challenging world.
I continuously remind Don Barrett how much I appreciate him for many reasons, I admit meeting Dick Whittington in person will always put me in debt to both gentlemen.
The other radio hero in my book is the Hullabalooer, Dave Hull. That's for next time. For now, stay safe and sane and please stay tuned.