DJs provide personality in homogenous world

By Clyde Davis: Local Columnist

Some advances, spurred by technology, are welcome. It seems unlikely that any of us would trade our CD players for an eight-track, except in a moment of nostalgia. It seems equally unlikely that we would swap cable access for the days of three television channels and an outside antenna that needed frequent adjustment.

Miracles though those may have been, in their time and context, we have gotten used to more convenient options.

Other times, progress comes with a price, as the cliche says, and we may long for the good old days that are fast fading. One of the areas in which I find this to be true is the vanishing breed of the disc jockey who is a radio personality, not just a faceless, and occasionally androgynous, voice. Let me hasten to add that we have in our own area several DJs who are, in fact, fine radio personalities. That being said, I fear a future that brings truth to musician Tom Petty’s perhaps prophetic “Last DJ.”
Let me reminisce, knowing that for many of you, the details were different but the essences were the same.

In western Pennsylvania, we had Porky Chedwick, “your platter-pushin’ papa, your bossman, the Daddio of the Raddio, Pork the Torque” on WAMO. We also listened to weekender Charlie Appel — “You’re gettin’ your glee from the Appel tree!” — and Wild Child Dick Kemp.

These were the local guys, who were supplemented by equally colorful syndicated radio hosts, on occasion: Dr. Demento, who played the strange and unusual music, or Wolfman Jack — “You’re howlin’ and prowlin’ with the Wolfman!” Though these and a few others were syndicated, they were anything but homogenous, and formed a gracious complement to our local personalities.

I hasten to add that these were the radio personalities favored by teens, in our area, circa early to mid-1970s.

Our parents had their own icons, equally unique and individual. Jack Bogut woke them up in the morning, and Ed and Wendy King, who ran an adult talk show, put them to bed at night. “Jazzbeaux” Collins fed their desire for the Big Band music their generation grew up with. You get the picture, I hope.

Like the remaining radio personalities in our area, the DJs we grew up with were involved in the life of the community.

Charlie Appel, who was a schoolteacher, played turntable for weekend dances several times a month. Porky Chedwick —well, it seemed like every time one turned around, at a public function, the Bossman was there. Wild Child Dick Kemp specialized in car-oriented events such as races and “kustom kar” shows.

These are just examples— the DJs of that era were media celebrities and local stars, not just faceless names with no known location.

I applaud the radio professionals in our town who have the guts to do it “the old way.” Some I count as friends. I think it is one more stance against a homogeneous, everything the same, bland mix of lifestyle I fear is sometimes creeping into our world.

And though it is hard to stop progress, who decides what is counted as progress? I, for one, don’t want to see Tom Petty’s satirical musical prediction come true: “There goes the last DJ, who says what he wants to say, who plays what he wants to play, hey hey hey.”