|Scene: a din-filled
press conference of The Beatles that preceded their Chicago concert. Ron
Riley, WLS' fearless disc jockey, fights his way through a mob of reporters,
radio and TV technicians, press agents and gatecrashing fans to collar
John Lennon for a quick taped interview.
Shouting a little to be heard above the hubbub, Ron asks: "John, maybe this is the wrong question to put to a millionaire, but do you think young people today - boys and girls - have too much money to spend?"
"No, I don't," is the reply. "When I was a young bloke in Liverpool, I could always use a few spare shillings. Quarters, to you Yanks. I think most modern kids know the value of money. And if they didn't have a bit to spend on entertainment, where would we be?"
That the Beatle spokesman would take time out to chat personally with Riley in the midst of such a frenzied affair is evidence of the high regard they Mersey musicmakers have for him. Ron was one of the earliest Beatle boosters.
Ron's popularity with performers is matched by that with WLS listeners. They may not be hip to computers, but school-age guys and gals throughout the Midwest "program" their homework to catch as much as possible of Ron's early evening show. The lessons are usually tackled before supper or between the show's finish and bedtime.
"Nearly all Ron's teen fans are members of his mythical "Ron Riley Rebel Raider" troop. Why "Rebel?" Well, maybe it suggest Ron's defiance of WLS morning man Clark Weber, who claims to be the No. 1 leader of pop music lovers. Ron is involved with a running feud with Clark. Typical Riley taunts aimed at his thinly-thatched fellow D.J. include: "Weber wishes so much he had dandruff that he put salt on his shoulders" ... and ... "Weber is a fine example of a self-made man which should put an end to the do-it-yourself craze."
From sign-on to sign-off Ron keeps his show jumping. In addition to presenting a tuneful array of top recording artists - The Beatles, the Hollies, Paul Revere, The Supremes, Sonny and Cher - he enlivens his swingin' soiree with tips and quips, quickie record critiques and oddball comedy voices. As Ron explains it: "My format is to include something for everyone without catering to special groups."
Chicago-born, Ron attended suburban Antioch High and, bitten early by the broadcasting job, went on to major in radio/television at the University of Wisconsin.
"My first full-time broadcasting job was with a station in DeKalb, Ill.," Ron recalls. "I did everything there. Worked as announcer and engineer and even waxed the floor and filled the coke machine after hours."
Ron later worked in Appleton (Wis.), Milwaukee and Cleveland before making a happy landing with WLS in 1963.
"People keep saying that as a radio personality I lead an easy life - the old life or Riley, I guess they mean," Ron complains. "But I put in many more hours at WLS than my allotted air time. After my show, I talk at length with listeners by phone. Getting their reactions to the program is a thing I really enjoy. Every day I also have to check out new records and other show material and plow through the mail that hits my desk."
Off-station, energetic Ron keeps busy as host of numerous record hops and local concerts given by visiting U.S. and British record stars.
"I do manage to spend a few hours each week with my wife Toni and our daughters Robin, 6, and Karin, 4." Ron says, "Toni and I get special kicks in dining out at restaurants specializing in exotic foods."
Ron's hobby is ham radio. He delights in making like Marconi in tapping out messages to other hams and also talking person to person. And he also digs sports: particularly, boating, water skiing and pro football. The first two are spectator only. Judging by the monsters playing pro football today, who can blame him? If he has to tangle with anyone, Ron would prefer it to be his archenemy of the airwaves, Clark Weber. He know the battles will be strictly verbal and all in fun. Bruce Lovely is a phynque (that's intellectual talk for "fink") who continually harasses Ron Riley from a vantage point outside the studio window. Bruce squats there, overlooking Michigan Avenue, screaming and heckling, always the do-gooder for Riley, sort of a loud conscience.
Shortly after Bruce "joined" the show, Ron started getting drawings of what Bruce Lovely looked like. WLS ran a contest for the best "look-alike" drawing of Bruce, and a student at Notre Dame University won.
During the past three years Bruce has been in a flock of misadventures including the time he swiped a heckacopter (he can't swear on the air) from a local TV station and got into a dog fight over the city. He also took a trip to England and tried to bring the Beatles back with him. Bruce even went into orbit once, and gave nightly reports from the rocket.
As far as Ron is concerned, Bruce's worst habit is his constant harping on his favorite disk jockey - Clark Weber.