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In The Flesh

Media – December 2023 • In Memoriam

| November 30, 2023

Dick Biondi (Chicago Sun-Times Archives)

 

Every December, I write a column dedicated to the great pros we lost in the media this year. This year was a particularly cruel one. We lost writers like Bill Zehme and Joe Goddard (Chicago Sun-Times), television stars like Jerry Springer, Richard Belzer, Suzanne Somers, Matthew Perry, and Richard Moll, recording and movie stars like Harry Belafonte, Richard Roundtree, Dwight Twilley, Piper Laurie, and Burt Young, and director William Friedkin. 

But there are three Chicago radio treasures I really want to highlight. All were significant losses.

In January of 2023, we lost Lin Brehmer. Lin has been memorialized on the radio by his colleagues at WXRT, on stage by his friends Jon Langford and Tony Fitzpatrick, and with a special concert at the Metro. The Cubs even had Lin Brehmer Day.

I don’t claim to have known him well, but I did get a chance to interview him a few years ago, and here is Lin in his own words…

“I’ve been very fortunate. Think about Lin’s Bin. It’s not exactly the way a program director would draw it up. There aren’t a lot of PDs out there saying, ‘Hey, we should have the morning guy do a four-minute written essay!’ I’m appreciative to XRT for allowing me to do it all these years. This is a very cool job. I’ve met just about everyone I’ve ever wanted to meet. I met Robert Plant five or six times, spent long periods of time with Pete Townshend. Met Bob Dylan when he did a show at the Metro a few years ago. The only one I can think of that I’ve never met–and I wish I had–was Tom Petty. I was in the same room as him a few times, but I never got the opportunity to chat with him. That’s a regret. He was very important to me. The first record I ever played on the radio was a Tom Petty record.”

In November of 2023, we lost Jim Channell. His time in Chicago lasted only a few years (at WDHF/WMET in the 70s), but the high-energy wild man Captain Whammo left his mark on the air. I talked to him about ten years ago. He had become a born-again Christian and was living and broadcasting in Florida under his real name. “Captain Whammo” had been left in the dustbin. One of our topics of discussion was the origin of his stage name. I must admit I didn’t see this answer coming…

I grew up in Chicago and went to a Christian school for eight years, “The Pillar of Fire”, then went to Lake View High School. Going from that strict Christian school to Lake View High was quite a transition, as you might imagine. I thought, “Man, there are girls everywhere!” I had lunch with eight different girls at one table.

My heroes in those days were the coolest, most stylish, best-dressed big league baseball players, Bo Belinsky and Sandy Koufax. My buddy and I would find out what they were wearing, and we’d get the same attire to pick up chicks. For instance, Bo had black slacks, a checkered jacket, and hush puppies. So, I got those too.

So, anyway, we were dressed like Bo and Sandy one night trying to pick up girls, and we were coming out of a pizza place in Old Town, and this guy on the street had this box and did a gyration and said, “I’m going to Hazel’s house, and I’m going to get me some Whammo!”

So, me and my buddy, after we moved on to other towns, would always mention this when we talked to each other. We’d call it: comparing whammo notes. It was an inside joke between the two of us. Well, one night, I was on the air on WDHF in Chicago, and I said, “I’m horny tonight, give me a call.”

The PD hotlined me and asked: “Did you say what I thought you said?” When I told him I did, he said: “You can’t say that.” So, I substituted the word “Whammo” instead, and he liked that. He liked that a lot. In fact, he told me to drop my real name, Jim Channell. He said: “From this day forward, you are Captain Whammo!” 

In July of 2023, we lost one of the most influential figures in Chicago radio history when Dick Biondi passed away. I never interviewed Dick, but I tried for twenty years to convince him to write his memoirs. I even offered to help him write them. Dick couldn’t be convinced.

It’s too bad because I worked at the same radio station as Dick (WJMK) for ten years and got to know him well. We even did a few shows together (photo). His stories were legendary. Dick hung out with Elvis at Graceland, introduced the Beatles on-stage at the Hollywood Bowl, did sock hops with people like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chubby Checker, and more. Bob Sirott once said that Dick should just be given the mic and permitted to tell stories all night.

But here’s what I’ll always remember about Biondi. He was a genuinely humble and gracious man, and he loved and appreciated his listeners more than any broadcaster I’ve ever known. He lit up when he met or talked to them. They loved him, and he loved them.

There will never be another Dick Biondi.

 

-Rick Kaempfer

 

 

 

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