In this week’s issue… Remembering Dick Biondi, Bob Shannon, Marshall Miles and too many more – NY’s WVIP sold – Cutbacks at NJ101.5 – Big gift to WGBH – Hamilton FM seeks move
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s hard to even know where to start this week’s column, after a constant drumbeat of obituaries as we keep losing some of radio’s great talents.
Dick Biondi spent most of his career and achieved most of his fame in Chicago, but the “Wild I-Tralian” was a product of Endicott, New York, where he developed an early interest in radio. Visiting family in Auburn, he was allowed to read a commercial on the air at WMBO, which led to early work at WINR in Binghamton and WCBA in Corning, where he was a sportscaster in the 1950s.
Biondi’s first big gig as a top-40 DJ was at Buffalo’s WKBW, where he was one of the charter class of jocks who helped launch the “Futuresonic” hit radio format in 1958. Fired from WKBW for describing his boss’ car on the air and asking listeners to throw rocks at it (they did!), he briefly moved to WEBR, then landed in Chicago in 1960 at the start of the top-40 format at WLS.
The rest was radio history: Biondi had a hit novelty record (“On Top of a Pizza”), made the usual moves that DJs did back then, going to KRLA in Los Angeles, then returning to Chicago and WCFL in 1967. He had a very brief stint at Boston’s WBZ after leaving Chicago again in 1972, settled in Myrtle Beach, then returned once more to Chicago in 1983, working briefly at WBBM-FM before settling in at oldies WJMK (104.3), where he spent more than two decades. In his final years on the air, Biondi worked at WLS-FM (94.7) before illness took him off the schedule in 2016.
Biondi never forgot his upstate New York roots, returning to Buffalo in 2011 for induction into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame and to Binghamton for the Binghamton Broadcasters Reunion. He was 90 when he died June 26 in Chicago.
*Just up the road in Syracuse, Don Bombard was a local boy made good, playing radio on a pirate AM station in high school and winning a guest DJ contest on WOLF (1490). After college at Syracuse University, he became a fixture at WOLF and competitor WNDR (1260), moving back and forth between the stations over a decade between 1967 and 1977.
From there, he was off to Pittsburgh, working at flamethrower top-40 WKTQ (13Q) as afternoon jock, as well as doing booth announcing for WIIC (Channel 11).
After four years there, Bombard moved to New York City to work for a recording studio and launch a radio syndication business, but he was soon back behind the mic, appearing under his real name on WYNY (97.1) and then, by 1982, as “Bobby Shannon” on WCBS-FM (101.1), and it’s there, of course, that his fame really grew.
At night and on weekends, and then in afternoons on WCBS-FM, “Bobby” became just “Bob Shannon,” one of the sharpest personalities on a radio station that was full of them. Shannon was quick with a pun and a bit of music trivia, much of which he collected in a book, “Behind the Hits.”
When WCBS-FM flipped to “Jack” in 2005, Shannon and his wife, Connie T. Empress, took their act to WLNG on Long Island – and when CBS-FM returned to classic hits in 2007, it was Shannon who was behind the board, cutting off “Don’t Stop Believing” and hosting the first airshift.
Less than five years later, he was gone from the station, at first temporarily and eventually permanently. There were frequent “what happened to Bob Shannon?” questions, but whatever was happening with his health, his privacy came first.
Shannon died Wednesday, at 74, survived by Connie and two children, remembered as one of the brightest spots in the very bright history of CBS-FM – and of Syracuse and Pittsburgh radio, too.
*Another New York City “Bob” died last week, too, after a record-setting career. As we told you when Bob Sherman’s final shows aired just over a month ago, the former New York Times music critic and Juilliard School professor served as a typist, a music director and eventually program director at the then-Times owned WQXR, where he was later a senior consultant. Beginning in the late 1960s, he became a program host, starting the “Woody’s Children” folk music show (which later moved to WFUV) and “The Listening Room,” which ran until 1993. He remained with WQXR hosting “Young Performer’s Showcase,” a weekly show he started in 1978. Sherman’s last “Showcase” aired June 14 and 17.
And as happens sometimes, Sherman didn’t much outlive the end of his show. He had suffered several strokes in recent years and had a fourth last week, which caused his death Tuesday at age 90.
(There are yet more obituaries in this week’s column; read on for more in our subscriber-only section, which is the meat of NERW every week.)
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