Radio legend Dick Biondi talks about Elvis at Lake County Fair
Early in his career, an amused Elvis Presley fielded a request from a deejay in Cleveland to sign a shirt for a promotion at a concert.
Dick Biondi planned to jump into the crowd and offer the autographed item as a prize.
"He said, `You're crazy. I'll sign it twice,'" the Radio Hall of Fame broadcaster recalled Saturday before an appearance at the Lake County Fair.
But Biondi had misjudged the intensity of Elvis fans.
"The shirt was ripped to shreds and I wound up in the emergency room," he recalled. No one got an autograph because there was nothing left.
In more than half a century in the business, Biondi has hobnobbed with music royalty and has called some famous artists, such as Bobby Darin, dear friends.
Biondi as the nation's top deejay helped introduce audiences in 40 states and Canada to rock and roll - records which he still plays for WLS-FM.
While at WLS in 1963, Biondi was the first disc jockey in the U.S. to play a Beatles song, "Please Please Me."
"It was different. It was good," he said of the Beatles record.
Months later, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he introduced the Beatles as well as the rival Rolling Stones at Dodger Stadium and Hollywood Bowl concerts.
But as a celebrity in his own right, Biondi still follows a simple rule.
"There's an old saying: The bigger they are, the nicer they are and I always thought that was important," he said before heading to the Lake County Fair's WLS-FM booth for an audience with average Joes who couldn't have agreed more.
Mary Lou Diebold of Grayslake and Sharon Fabier of Lindenhurst had never met but were comparing notes on the radio legend they have been listening to for decades.
"We just started talking," Fabier said. "We came here because of him."
Unfailingly chipper, Biondi dispenses a steady stream of handshakes and hugs. He asks audience members where they are from and engages in brief but animated conversations, poses for pictures and signs autographs as if it is a pleasure rather than a job.
"He shook our hands like we were old friends," said Diebold, who decades ago as a 12-year-old had a signed picture of Biondi.
"I want an autograph and then I'll be happy," she said. "This one I won't throw away."
Biondi had tenure at WLS and WCFL, both Chicago AM radio powerhouses, before leaving for North Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1973. A decade later, former radio mainstay and current Fox Chicago News anchor Bob Sirott, tracked Biondi down for a "Where are They Now?" television segment. The renewed interest brought Biondi back to Chicago, where he has been playing oldies since.
"Dick had a way of communicating right to you," Sirott said. "I think he communicated with the listeners in a way few others did - he really did care about the audience."
May 1 was proclaimed Dick Biondi Day by Gov. Pat Quinn in honor of his debut at WLS in 1960. The proclamation lists his "inexhaustible willingness to meet with his fans off the air," as well as spinning records at thousands of dances, reunions and charity events as part of his legacy.
Biondi said he still "can't wait to get on the air" and broadcasts as if he is having a conversation with one person.
And even after all this time, he sounds exactly the same, says Sirott. "His voice is ageless."
It is that personal quality and enthusiasm for the material that provides an escape to simpler, less stressful time for many listeners of a certain generation. But not all fans are aging Baby Boomers.
Stephanie Corcilius, 21, this year's Miss Lake County Fair, was having a picture taken with Biondi.
"My dad is a big oldies fan, so we listen to him on the radio quite frequently," she said. "Oldies are goodies."