For the generation of kids who came into their teens during the early 1960s, the soundtrack of their nights came from transistor radios buried under pillows, the music slightly muffled but DJ Dick Biondi’s voice loud and clear and unforgettable.
Biondi died June 26 and obituaries have chronicled his 90 years: the more than six decades in the radio business; the couple dozen stations that employed his rapid-fire, enthusiastic delivery; his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame and other honors that came his way; and the many current radio stars who were influenced by him.
One of those current stars is Bob Sirott, the media mainstay currently found weekday mornings on WGN-AM 720. He devoted part of his Monday program to Biondi, playing clips from Biondi’s radio past and portions of the many times he interviewed the DJ on radio and TV.
“You had to be here and listening to really understand the magic he created,” Sirott told me. “There was an intimacy to him. You really believed that he was talking directly to you and doing so with a voice that was natural and real, nor at all like that of an announcer.
“He was a rebel too and that never changed. In his later years, he was sometimes accused of being phony but he was not. Everything in the world, in life, changed but not Dick Biondi. He remained authentic and there was comfort in that.”
Another youngster listening in the ‘60s was Pam Enzweiler in her Villa Park bedroom. “He was the voice of my youth and far beyond,” she told me.
She first heard him when he worked at WLS-AM 890 from 1960 to 1963, where the native New Yorker dubbed himself “The Wild I-Tralian.” He was a sensation, becoming, without much argument, the first U.S. DJ to play the Beatles (“Please Please Me”) and so many of the other songs that introduced much of the nation to rock ‘n’ roll. His 9:30 p.m.-to-midnight show nightly commanded a stunning 60% share of all listeners (translating to millions of teenage ears in 38 states and Canada).
Enzweiler met Biondi in person when, she said, “after some begging, my dad drove me and my friend Joan, and my sister and her friend, to the Hillside Shopping Center,” where the DJ was making a promotional appearance.
Biondi was tireless in such off-air activities, appearing at ribbon cuttings, proms, sock hops and charity events. While most DJs, then and now, were loath to mingle in this fashion, Biondi did so with relish, endearing himself to packs of teens who became devoted listeners.
She remembers, “He was wrapping things up but still made time for us. He was as kind as could be, the nicest guy.”
Enzweiler started a Biondi fan club and wrote a newsletter that she distributed at sock hops and schools. She came downtown to join the groups of kids who routinely gathered outside the old WLS studio at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive to watch Biondi’s show live.
Biondi left Chicago in 1963. Enzweiler would attend Willowbrook High School and the College of DuPage, work in the hospitality business, marry a man named George Pulice, get divorced and start a video production company.
“I lost track of him,” Enzweiler, who now goes by Pam Enzweiler-Pulice, once told me. “Even though he was back on Chicago radio for a time (from 1967 to 1972 on WCFL-AM 1000 and WMAQ-AM 670) and then he was all over the country, working in real obscurity in Myrtle Beach for a decade. But I tracked down his phone number and called. I wondered if he would even remember me.”
When he heard her name, Biondi said, “Pam, where have you been?’”
The two kept in touch by phone. He later returned to local airwaves for decades starting at WBBM-FM 96.3 in 1983, then WJMK-FM 104.3 and finally WLS-FM 94.7.
Over the years, they discussed the possibility of making a film about his life. In 2014, they got to work on what is now a lively hourlong documentary, filled with old clips (film and sound) and the more than 50 interviews she has conducted. She is on camera and Biondi is too, of course, but so are musicians such as Bobby Rydell, the ever-elusive Brian Wilson, Frankie Valli and Ronnie Rice, and broadcasters like Sirott.
A number of Midwestern venues have been having special screenings of the movie, “The Voice that Rocked America: The Dick Biondi Story,” as Enzweiler-Pulice continues to raise the funds needed to finish the film. The next takes place Sunday at The Acorn in Three Oaks, Michigan.
“This has really been a labor of love and it is almost finished,” says Enzweiler-Pulice. “I do think the film does Dick justice. At previous screenings, there has been a lot of laughter, some tears. People learned some things they never knew about him. I feel he was a national treasure and it has been an honor to know him.”
“He was such a humble man. Maybe that’s one of the reasons his impact and influence have been underappreciated. I hope this movie gets him the respect that he deserves, that it rekindles the memories of so many of us.”
“The Voice That Rocked America: The Dick Biondi Story” screens 1 p.m. July 9 at The Acorn, 107 Generations Drive, Three Oaks, Michigan; www.acornlive.org