A BRIEF ‘ENCORE’ FOR WHITTINGTON
By James Brown
LA Times, August 24, 1980
It was a homecoming of sorts. A little less than a year after he took his celebrated walk off the air at KGIL,
Sweet Dick Whittington, Los Angeles Prodigal Son – one of the wildest, most imaginative, unpredictable
talents ever to grace our local airwaves our local airwaves – was back on the morning saddle,
entertaining the commuter troupes with his own, personalized, Sweet Child world of wit and wisdom.
“As a radio star, I, uh, of course don’t used the bathroom. As you well know, people in motion picture,
radio and television don’t go (to) the bathroom at all….But if I did use the bathroom….”
Ah, yes, it all comes back to us now. No, Sweet Dick has not made a triumphant to KGIL “in the Sin
Fernando Valley.” He is, in fact, filling in for a two-week stint which started last Monday as co-anchor
(with Chuck Walsh) of KABC’s 5 – 9 a.m. “Ken & Bob Company” – aka “Newstalk” – replacing the
vacationing Ken Minyard and Bob Arthur. For him, it’s just a temporary hurrah.
“I really had no desire to get back into it,” Whittington said after his first day back. “It was Ken Minyard
who really pushed for it. I’ve always liked Ken’s work and we’ve been friends for years, but I have to say I
was a little surprised that they would go for something like this because, you know, people have a
tendency to categorize you. I was ‘Dick Whittington the Deejay’. This is something entirely different.”
Indeed. Throughout his career, Whittington has always been a solo act – weaving his banter, outlandish
phone calls and stunts around a scant selection of music, maybe three or four songs an hour, the
“Heavy Hits.” But this, as he says, is something else again.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the “Newstalk” concept, it’s a fine-tuned mixture of straight news,
features and shtick who success depends on the material. For these two weeks, Walsh, who co-anchors
KABC’s weekend “Newstalk” assumes Bob Arthur’s role of the straight-forward newsman and, as is often
the case, straight man for Whittington who, like Minyard, gives the off-the-wall side of the news. In any
case, it’s a delicate balance.
“This is an entirely different format from anything I’ve worked,” Whittington said. “Everything is news-
oriented on top of the fact that I’m not used to working with anybody. For about the first hour and a half
this morning I was a little shaky. I was probably pressing a little bit. But Chuck Walsh is a nice guy, very
professional, very easy to work with. And believe me, it’s a pleasure to be working at the No. 1 radio
station in town. Radio can be (a) great platform….”
The Whittington legend was fashioned at a radio station that did not have the mass-audience potential of
a KABC But what little KGIL did have was that city within Los Angeles known as the San Fernando Valley,
and Sweet Dick and it Lord and Master in the morning.
A litany of Whittington stunts over the years would be too numerous, but a few of the choicer moments
For instance, there was his famous “invasion” of Catalina where Sweet Dick and his troops dressed in
the uniform of “the war of your choice” to preserve that gateway to San Pedro for “Amurka.”
Then there was the time that Whittington held a “paint-off” in the KGIL parking lot, flying the winning entry
to Paris to be hung in the men’s room of the Louvre. He once phone the Pope to wish him a happy
birthday, sponsored an acne radiothon with unlisted phone numbers, fought Art Aragon for charity,
dropped a couple of Alka-Seltzer in the Pacific after a nerve gas spill….and, well, you get the idea. Sweet
Dick marched to his own tune – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But he never let himself
become too comfortable to try something new. And that is what his listeners looks forward to. There was
always the chance that Sweet Dick would try something crazy…
The last days at KGIL were not pleasant. Last summer the station decided to switch formats to its current
“Ballads, Blues & Big Bands” and Whittington, feeling the sounds of the 40’s were not compatible with
what he was trying to do, culminated his displeasure by taking a walk off the air on Oct. 10th, right in the
middle of his show.
“My deal with KGIL was that I’d work for a gross percentage of sales,” Whittington said, “and I knew that
with the big bands coming in it was going to hurt my income. But, really I had just become fed up with the
whole situation. Totally disenchanted. Nothing against Stanley Warwick (KGIL general manager) or any
of the other people involved, who I like, but the format changes had just gotten to a point where I’d had
The walk, Whittington says, was not a spur-of-the-moment thing. “It was all carefully planned. They knew
an hour beforehand I would be leaving. It wasn’t a nice thing to do, I suppose, but of course I’ve never
done things that I should be doing….”
After spending two months of “not doing anything except to sit back and think about things,” Whittington
spent the better part of this past year working on a couple of TV development deals, writing a script and
appearing as a stand-up comic “mostly out of town, because there’s more money out of town.”
The KABC show is, as of now, a one-shot thing for Whittington. He doesn’t envision rejoining the
weekday the weekday grind, but he isn’t burning any bridges, either.
“If the right situation developed, sure I’d consider it,” he said.
And KABC program Wally Sherwin, while not offering any specifics, nonetheless gives a broad hint that
just such a situation might be considered in the not-too-distant future.
“It’s too premature at this point,” Sherwin says, “but after the Dodger season we will be formulating some
changes and we hope Dick can play a role in that.”
For now, one more week of Sweet Dick is about the best we can do. But for his fans, that’s better than a
year of just about anyone else.