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Q&A: Dick Buckley: Highlights from Issue 24: The Chicago Issue

Highlights from Issue 24: The Chicago Issue

Chicago jazz radio legend Dick Buckley (center) with Count Basie (right) and Joe Williams / Photogra


Monday, February 06, 2006

What follows is an excerpt from Issue 24: The Chicago Issue

For more information on this issue, click here


By Josh Tyson

For thousands of Chicagoans, Sunday afternoon starts with something more robust than another cup of coffee: the voice of Dick Buckley. Once a week at noon on 91.5 FM, WBEZ, Duke Ellington's "Skin Deep" makes its drawn-out, brassy ascent, crescendos, then plateaus as Buckley ushers in another installment of “Jazz With Dick Buckley,” his baritone voice sliding effortlessly alongside the music. For three hours Buckley plays classic jazz records, interlaced with informative commentary.

Buckley was born in 1924, just outside of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He currently resides in Oak Park, Illinois, where the following interview took place.

Stop Smiling: What defined swing, your favorite era of jazz?

Dick Buckley: In order to be a good working jazz musician, you had to have a style of your own. A lot of young fellas came up copying Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge, but they went on ahead and found their own voice. Now it's a double-edged sword, thanks to the college courses musicians take, where they all come out sounding the same. I grew up in an era that can never be repeated.

SS: What, do you feel, was the impact of fusion?

DB: They lost the public. That was the main thing. Jazz only consisted of, what, three percent of records sales? The figures dropped even lower than that with the way things were going. During the swing era, jazz and the public were the closest together that they were before or after. The big bands always had good jazz players, and people were exposed to it and liked it.

SS: What was your first job?

DB: My first job was at WANE in Ft. Wayne in 1948. I was working there for about 14 months when I got a phone call from the program director for WFMB in Indianapolis, which was one of the major stations between Chicago and New York. He was driving through Ft. Wayne and heard my show and he asked me if I'd like to work at WFMB. Every young announcer has a dream of something like that happening.

SS: What was the primary reason they hired you?

DB: I was hired because of my voice. The station specialized in low voices. All the guys had low voices and the old Western-Electric microphones had a low bass response. You knew when you hit WFMB on the radio because all the announcers sounded alike. I worked until I got fired because of my narcolepsy.

SS: Have you suffered from narcolepsy your entire life?

DB: Yes. WFMB was a CBS basic station and CBS was the number one network in those days. I had no show of my own. I was a staff announcer. There would be a half-hour show and then a 30-second station break. That's where the stations made their money, and I slept through a couple of them. The boss called me in and told me, “One more time and you're gone.” Well, he might as well have just fired me then and there.




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