First thing one must know about Sweet Dick Whittington is that he’s a private person. Very private. I’ve heard small rumors to this effect and have an aircheck of him mentioning a Valley Times (pre-Daily News) photo article on him and consistent claims that he is “very private” in the article and during the broadcast whenever mentioning the article. (So much for being very public about being very private…but, I digress)
Why such privacy? Could he be the real Howard Hughes or Jimmy Hoffa in disguise and hired warm bodied slackers to be his body bag? Is the Bermuda Triangle buried under his home? Could he actually be controlling Dick Chaney through his brain waves?! Again, who knows. However, there are enough hourly Payton Place episodes with today’s celebrities & politicians to focus our attention to such nosey anal retentive meditations here. So, we’ll just respect his privacy and leave that part of him alone.
The only real personal information that is generally known is he was born on July 2nd (no year given) and in Philadelphia. That’s about it. Thus endith the personal lesson. Oh, and, according to a 1975 LA Times article, he started in radio in Delaware after trying a career of boxing. His first radio gig was the same station his mother was working as a programmer….and a few months later, she ending up firing him with the words, ‘I can’t disown you, but I can fire you.’
What is better known is his professional resume and this is where we come in.
Like any good radio personality that survives years of ownership, program and format changes, Sweet Dick was employed by a long list of stations. The following list is compiled from two leading radio web sites: LARadio.com and 440.com:
K?? (Stockton, CA) 1957
KROW (San Francisco, CA) 195?
KSFO (San Francisco, CA) 1958
KNEW (San Francisco, CA) 1959
KNOB (Los Angeles, CA) 1960-62
KLAC (LA) 1960(?)-1963
KGIL (LA) 1965-1975
KFI (LA) 1975
KGIL (LA) 1976-1981
KIEV (LA) 1982
KHJ (LA) 1983
KGIL (LA) 1985
KIEV (LA) 1988
KABC (LA) 1989-1990
KMPC (LA) 1990-1991
KNJO (Thousand Oaks) 1994-1995
According to the Internet Movie Database, Sweet Dick also had a long list of small parts and voiceovers in major
movies and TV series. TV appearances included Love, American Style, Almost Anything Goes (a personal favorite),
Sanford & Son, McCloud, Dallas and, possibly the biggest job he had, 5 episodes on Laugh-In in 1968. Movie gigs
include Fritz The Cat, The Candidate, Raging Bull, The Thing With Two Heads and Steven Spielberg’s movie debut
Duel (as heard over the opening credits). Last known appearances were an The Fall Guy episode and a 1984 movie
…and thus endith the professional lesson, from what I know that is. Deep subject, ain’t it.
This is probably where MY personal lesson comes in. The old fanboy who still remembers the man, who still
pointlessly hordes his precious Sweet Dick airchecks like crack and just has barely enough free time to slap together
a site on him.
It was 1976 and while America was getting down for it’s grand 200th birthday, I was stuck in the
middle of a piss water town of Roy, Utah, where their celebration consisted of a few stands
selling Callaghan bottled water, a fireworks ban and a 8 pm curfew to us heathens under the age of 13.
Being a urbanite born in Santa Monica and raised pretty much everywhere else in the general LA
area, my year stay here felt more like a small desert town from a B-movie filled with nervous
outsiders and paranoid Mormons. Quite a test of tolerating humanity at a such a young age. Why this town and this state? From what I heard, my Dad picked the town as it was the name of his third son and he couldn’t stand living in the same state with his mother anymore. Gee, thanks DAD!!
To cut this part of the introduction piece short, I “escaped” from Utah and landed into the bosom of the grand urbanrama of the San Fernando Valley, mainly Northridge, with my mom. Thanks, Mom!
It was 1976 and while America was getting down for it’s grand 200th birthday, I was stuck in the middle of a piss water town of Roy, Utah, where their celebration consisted of a few stands selling Callaghan bottled water, a fireworks ban and a 8 pm curfew to us heathens under the age of 13.
Being a urbanite born in Santa Monica and raised pretty much everywhere else in the general LA area, my year stay here felt more like a small desert town from a B-movie filled with nervous outsiders and paranoid Mormons. Quite a test of tolerating humanity at a such a young age. Why this town and this state? From what I heard, my Dad picked the town as it was the name of his third son and he couldn’t stand living in the same state with his mother anymore. Gee, thanks
To cut this part of the introduction piece short, I “escaped” from Utah and landed into the bosom of the grand urbanrama of the San Fernando Valley, mainly Northridge, with my mom. Thanks,
ABOVE: Me, circa 1974. RIGHT: Northridge Fashion Center, circa 1970's and 80's
My Sweet Dick Experience only increased with the arrival of summer vacation, which obviously afforded additional
time to listen to the man of the Valley mic. Additional bubbles of memories includes: 1) Dick giving his producer
“WENDELL!!” a hard time, 2) the Real Ed Zeil’s (or “Ceil”) Kicker Of The Day, 3) the latest incarnation of the weekly
“Clean Thoughts On A Dirty Wall” where pretty much everyone in the station participated (one episode contained a
classic running “bit” of James Stewart reciting the alphabet) 4) Larry Las Vegas segments (which fed well into my
growing Vegas obsession), 5) Sweet Dick trying to hit on Miss Pamela McGuiness while she gave her traffic reports
and her sponsorship (from Independence Bank) and 6) Sweet Dick trying to relieve his boredom while reading
endless commercial spots by tweaking and rewriting them.
Another memory was more on the serious side. While doing one of her traffic reports from her plane, Pamela had
noticed that the landing gear wasn’t working properly and couldn’t land safely. When Sweet Dick picked up on this,
he became personally concerned and spent a good chuck of that day’s program to this developing situation; talking
to the air traffic controllers at the Van Nuys Airport, calmly talking to and reassuring a nervous Pamela and giving the
By the time Pamela had to land her crippled plane, Sweet Dick was broadcasting close to the airport’s runway.
Fortunately, the landing wasn’t as bad as anticipated and Pamela exited the plane without injury. As she ran out the
plane in great relief (pretty much in tears), Sweet Dick was there to meet her. The incident was front page news on
the next day’s edition of the Valley News. As unfortunate this situation was, it was quite an eye opener for me to hear
such human drama unfold before my ears while Sweet Dick respectively and sincerely reported it.
For my birthday, I got a Sears “boom-box” and three blank tapes. This gift was the start of my personal project to
record many of Sweet Dick radio moments as much as possible. In between recording what else that was on the
LA airwaves, a couple of TV shows and, much later, Las Vegas radio commercials, the antics on the KGIL airwaves were a priority.
Out of the three original tapes, only two survived from years of jealous roommates, moving all over the rest of “So
Cal” and metallic information oozing off the tapes like bad SFX of a zombie movie. However, there are some
highlights that survived.
As previously mentioned, Sweet Dick found reading radio commercials with a straight face a bore and “spiced
them up” with humor, 99% at the risk of their clients. Two of such moments remains: one was for ‘Mark’s Exotic
Birds’ “next to Pup ‘N Taco”. These commercials would have “Mark”, who probably was the show’s producer, visit
Sweet Dick with his large army of very noisy birds. One spot had Mark showing off a “Swallow named Linda
Lovelace”. However, the birds, who were performed by the station’s staff, would chirp and squawk loud enough to
drown out Sweet Dick and “Mark” by the end of the spot.
Then there was The Sizzler which, at that time, had just opened their second location and hired Sweet Dick to read
their announcement. From the moment Dick saw the script, he took a left turn by getting the some of the station’s
staff to stand behind him and sing Battle Hymn Of The Republic while he ranted off about the success of the
restaurant in spite of family tragedies like the owner leaving his wife for Mexico. “Well, there goes THAT account!”
blurted Dick as he tossed the script aside.
Another commercial moment contained two female employees from a soda store called The Pop Shop. Identifying
themselves was ‘The Popettes’, the ladies showed up during a broadcast to give Sweet Dick a birthday cake and
card. The card read the following:
‘Dear Sweet Dick, with your morning shtick.
Your humor is funny, but you’re sick sick sick.
With your thick wavy hair and you muscular form,
You help keep our little radios warm.
So keep playing those heavy hits, and don’t ever stop.
Here’s a toast to your birthday from the Van Nuys’ Pop Shop’.
During the reading, he stops and humorously belts “Thank you, POOPettes!” When asked the Popettes their
ages, he shocked to learn that not only where they 16 and 19, but, after adding their age up, he was still older…”
Later on the same day of this improve radio spot, the station’s staff grouped together and gave Sweet Dick an on-air birthday roast. After receiving a bottle of SunSweet Prune Juice from the news department, producer Barry Koff anointed the proceedings with “It’s was so tough to find lines to put you down, amen with so many qualities”, he trips into a bad Georgie Jessel impersonation and the roast began.
Just some of the roast highlights: sportscaster Joe Buteda: “Sweet Dick’s show is like a horns of a steer the way I look at it,
a point here and a point there and in between a lot of bull.” Joe McDonald (years before his ESPN job) “Seriously folks. You can’t help but admire Sweet Dick. If you don’t, you’re fired.” Ed Ceil went into a series of Sweet Dick family tree through history: “Jim Bowie Whittington: frontiersmen and chief cook at the Alamo. He was the one who prepared tacos and refried beans for Sam Huston and the rest of the guys. Then there’s C. Richard Whittington Smythe, designer and first captain of the Titanic. Just wanted to stop by and get some ice.”
After the smoke was settled, Dick was given the chance to reply and did so by jokingly complain that while laughing at the
“weak” material, it added extra lines to his face.
Near the end of that day’s broadcast Sweet Dick asked the listeners to call up during the show’s outré and tell him how
much of a good time he had. Which was when I quickly called the station and got in line. Not only was this was my first time calling a radio station, it would turn out to be the first time getting on the air…in which I embarrassed myself by sing some goofy birthday jingle. I made the experience even worse by actually recording THIS segment, too. I’m surprised I hadn’t burned that part of the tape.
The next day was even more eventful. As the 4th of July landed on a weekday and the staff had to broadcast, they ended
having an outdoor daytime fireworks show. After a live broadcast from Alphy’s (supermarket Alpha Beta’s version of Denny’s) and while Ed Ciel is flying around with Pamela, the rest of the staff did the fireworks show at the stations parking lot. For the final piece of firework, Sweet Dick improvised a foot race to see who’ll set it off. Joe McDonald won and had his “cheap thrill”.
Fairly recently, I was very lucky enough to score additional Sweet Dick airchecks. One dated April 29, 1977 was the day
Sweet Dick officiated a wedding. Thanks to the Universal Life Church, Dick was ordained as a minister and planned to marry a woman to 5 men, some of which worked for the station, including the ever suffering WENDEL!
After the bride bouquet was thrown from a plane onto the stations parking lot, vows were exchanged (“A! E! I! O! U!” and with a handful of “blahs blahs blahs”), even though it was interrupted by a commercial break from JC Penny.
However, the real score was a two-hour excerpt from later that month. On April 27, 1977, Sweet Dick, Wendell and a few
witnesses drove down to the Van Nuys Airport to break a Guinness World Record for riding a taxing airplane wearing a
chicken suit “going slower than the speed of sound”.
When he arrived at the airport, Pamela was coming in and he suited up. After showing off a few brand new impersonations that each ended with a “BOCK! BOCK! BOCK!” and felling ridiculous in his chicken suit, Dick got on the saddle that was placed over the fuselage and was ready.
Soon after the plane began to taxi, Joe Buitita who gave play by play riding along side Pamela’s plane, all the while Dick was “BOCKING” and flapping his arms awhile feathers where flying all over the place.
The stunt lasted no more than 10 seconds before Pamela first noticed the police sirens. As it turned out, the airport police was chasing after Dick and the plane. Once the plane stopped and Dick got off, he was ticketed for riding a plane in a public airport.
Once back at the radio station, Dick got a call from the airport security saying that since the stunt was for, as Dick earlier
proclaimed, “America, San Fernando Valley and against communism”, they’ll disregard the ticket….which included a fine of $5,000 (1977 money, that is).
Recording my stash pretty much came to an end when I ran out of tape and listening to the radio show ended when I moved out of KGIL’s limited signal. In late 1978, I ended up in El Segundo, which was a suburb just south of LAX, and getting the weak signal on my old boom box was nearly impossible.
From there, I lost contact of Sweet Dick and went on to other distractions and obsessions. In 1980, while at LAX, I glanced
over a used copy of the Daily News and noticed an article reporting that Sweet Dick had just walked off the air. He had
announced that he couldn’t “work” with the stations new format, which had just switched to what they were calling in their ads, ‘Ballads, Blues and Big Bands’. That was officially the last time I heard him.
I remember in the 1983 that KHJ-AM was trying to re-establish themselves as a top 40/oldies radio and compete directly with KRTH-FM. Like many AM stations, KHJ had fallen rock bottom from their glory days and a brief last-minute gasp with a country music format only made it worse. They were making some big noises about this last ditch effort, which included local TV segments, one of which caught me off guard as it included a brief interview with Sweet Dick. Apparently, KHJ plans included Sweet Dick as one of their featured DJ. Oddly enough, this was the first time I actually SEEN Sweet Dick in the flesh!
This run-in was the last I’d hear from him for a long time. In the late 80’s, I was digging through piles of old Billboard
magazines as research for a broadcasting class where I bumped into a more rarer sighting: an article on Sweet Dick. It got
worse as I pilled through old Los Angeles Magazines and bumped into another one. It was covering an earlier stunt of him and the crew visiting the UK to give the queen a proclamation that the San Fernando Valley was willing to be “adopted” by her country.
Then, while blindly wondering around the radio dial, I bumped into Sweet Dick interviewing Al Lohman. The interview was on the sad occasion of the passing of Al’s old radio partner Roger Barkley and both gentlemen talked for well over an hour about Barkley and LA radio history in general. If only my tape recorder was paying attention at the time.
Then in 2002, The Museum Of Television & Radio had a LA Radio Day that featured local radio legends like Lohman, Stan
Freberg, Dr. Demento and, in a rare public appearance, Sweet Dick himself. I missed the Dr. Demento presentation but I did arrive early to catch the tail end of Freburg’s and claimed my seat for the discussion that featured Lohman and Sweet Dick.
Each of the personalities were introduced with a video presentation. Sweet Dick’s video was a bit of a personal
astonishment for me as I saw many of his other stunts beyond my limited experience. The video contained filmed highlights of Dick’s tap dancing invasion of Catalina Island and the elaborate wedding of the Queen Mary and a small dingy (complete with a life saver as a wedding ring), while his outré theme (a lopped intro edit of Boz Scaggs’ Lowdown) played in the background. When Sweet Dick walked out on to the stage, he got a thunderous applause.
The one hour program was so lively that it extended almost up to an additional 45 minutes and Dick was witty and warm with his friends on stage and many in the audience.
Then came the Q&A session. This was the part I was looking forward to and dreading. Obviously, I wanted to ask Dick a
couple of quick questions, but, in those days, public speaking didn’t mix well with my low-key personality. Adding an extra
layer of nervousness associated meet a media figure that played dominantly during your childhood, you can guess the level of stammering might have involved.
I survived that moment and managed to ask Dick that if he still has many of his old radio tapes and if he’s ever going to
finish that book of his. Dick said that he doesn’t dwell into the past and prefers to live in the present and he has two to three editors looking at the book to “perk it up”. He then thanked me for asking about the book.
Sweet Dick fielded a few more questions from other more calmer radio fanboys and fangals. One was the origin of his
famous nickname (someone commented that he was a “sweet gentleman”) and another was what he doing now (as he a
private kinda a guy, I won’t go into details here, but he did mention investments and Central California).
The show had to stop against everybody’s wishes as there was a roof top party about to take place in a few minutes. So,
everybody got up and began to slowly scamper out of the theatre. I managed to make my way near the stage to shake Dick’s hands and say my thanks, but I clearly wasn’t the only one doing the same and after a few minutes of bad crowd control, I gave up and left for home. Hell, at least I finally get to see him in person.
Now it’s 2020, all roads paved through this story has ended here, this cheap web site, paying tribute to a personal media
hero who happens to be private human being…and who now lives near my own (now former) backyard, up here in Central California. I often fantasize that I might bump into him and finally give that handshake and thanks, only without that damned stammering.
If that doesn’t happen, that’s okay, too. My guess is that he figures he suffered enough and that’s only fare.