A Day With A Legend Starts A Life Of Friendship

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(by Radio Ink Chairman Eric Rhoads) Big things happen when you least expect them. It was the summer of 1974, I had been fired from Y100, and I was living with my parents. One day my friends Charlie Willer (the man who got me into radio) and John Garrett decided to take a road trip to Chicago from Fort Wayne. Our goal was to meet the famous voice behind The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy and Chickenman. For three radio geeks, there was no better way to spend a day.

We arrived in Chicago, had lunch at the Water Tower Place McDonald’s, and met with one of John’s friends. Following our lunch, we all walked down to Oak Street, to the studios where we were going to sit in on a recording session, behind the controlroom glass. To our amazement, in walked the legend himself, the voice we had heard on so many national commercials, the voice we heard as both the Tooth Fairy and Chickenman: Dick Orkin.

Not only did we get to watch this legend record a spot, we actually got to meet him. My palms were sweating as he walked into the room, greeted us, spent some time with us, and gave us a dose of inspiration. I frankly don’t remember what he said, but I know the three of us were so thrilled that we returned home and spent a couple of days recording an audio thank you.

I doubt Dick even remembers that day, but it was a big day for us. Not only did we get to meet Dick Orkin, but the friend we’d met for lunch ended up becoming my wife. It was a memorable day.

Radio isn’t the same as it was then, and what played well in the 1970s probably doesn’t seem like it would play as well today, but I can’t help believe that it could (in fact, Chickenman can still be heard on broadcast radio here and there to this day).

Ultimately people want most to be entertained and amused. The Tooth Fairy and Chickenman were created as short daily syndicated segments built around a commercial break, and each episode offered a cliffhanger to bring us back the next day. It was fun, everyone talked about it, and it got us back to the station each day at the same time. I used to listen to Chickenman on WOWO. At its peak, it was heard on about 1,500 stations.

Dick Orkin isn’t just a legend because of The Tooth Fairy and Chickenman; by way of his Famous Radio Ranch, he was the voice of legendary radio campaigns for Time magazine and many other national accounts. Agencies were known to abandon their TV plans and hire Dick and his team to create radio campaigns that cut through the clutter and made the cash register ring. There were hundreds of them over decades, and it was known throughout the agency world that if you could afford Dick Orkin to do your spots, your product would sell.

In fact, when I got into the magazine business, I decided to use radio to sell radio. Dick produced a radio skit for us that ran several minutes. We directmailed thousands of cassettes to the radio industry, and our subscriptions soared.

Dick was always a little different. Not just funny different, but innovative. He never rested on his success; he was always studying the next big thing. I could always turn to Dick for the most interesting books, and one day he called me and said, “This new Internet thing is going to change everything.” I honestly did not get it at the time, but he saw it. In fact, he prompted me to do a conference about it, and we launched that event in 1999, before any radio stations even had websites. Today it’s called Convergence.

In fact, Dick even introduced me to plein air (outdoor) painting as a hobby, which resulted in my starting a magazine devoted to the subject. He too paints as a hobby.

What Dick Orkin has always preached is that creativity, humor, emotion, and entertainment will always surpass the success of logic and facts. He spent years on the road traveling to radio events to train in-station copywriters and salespeople on how to make radio spots that sell. He taught his formulas so that stations could create their own brand of insanity. He also trained ad agencies worldwide, which of course resulted in them using more radio.

As Dick celebrates the 50th anniversary of Chickenman, I just want to note that his impact on this industry has been vast and meaningful, and if we listen, his tools and techniques for creativity can still impact radio listening and response today. On a personal note, Dick took the time to be a friend and to challenge me, and most of the things he’s introduced me to since I met him in 1974 have been great gifts. For that, and his friendship, and what he has done for radio, I am grateful.

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Eric Rhoads
Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink magazine and can be reached at [email protected]

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