IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…Radio Says Goodbye to Dick Orkin

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(By Editor-in-Chief Ed Ryan) On Sunday, one of the most creative minds to ever grace the radio airwaves passed away. Dick Orkin, the creator of the radio series Chickenman, has died. Many of us grew up in radio listening to the program Orkin created, which eventually made it onto over 1,500 radio stations in its heyday. When I interviewed Orkin for the cover of Radio Ink Magazine in 2016 he sent me every Chickenman episode ever created on CD. He was one of the nicest people I have ever interviewed. Click HERE for the full interview.  

Born in Williamsport, PA, in 1933, Dick Orkin was ready for radio at age 16. He began as a fill-in announcer at WKOK in Sunbury, PA. After earning his BA in speech and theater from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, he attended the Yale School of Drama, then returned to Lancaster to become the news director at WLAN in 1959. Orkin would move on to KYW in Cleveland, and in 1967 he took a job as production director at WCFL in Chicago, where he created Chickenman.

Chickenman chronicled the exploits of a crime-fighting “white-winged warrior” and his secret identity, mild-mannered shoe salesman Benton Harbor. It’s a short-form radio series many of you probably remember hearing or even playing on your station. Chickenman’s 250-plus episodes have been syndicated around the world and can still be heard on Internet radio and on some AM and FM stations, making it the longest-running radio serial of all time. At WCFL Orkin also produced more than 300 episodes of another popular serial, The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy.

Inspired by the commercial parodies on Stan Freberg’s and Bob & Ray’s radio shows, Orkin created the Famous Radio Ranch in 1973 to produce his own comedic radio spots. Stationed in California since 1978, the Radio Ranch has produced hundreds of memorable ads for a variety of clients, ranging from Time magazine to First American Bank to the Gap, and has collected more than 200 awards in the process.

Orkin’s daughter Lisa posted the sad news on Facebook this weekend. “This is hard to post on this beautiful morning, but I have some very sad news to report. Our father, Dick Orkin, passed away yesterday. He had been struggling with health issues for a while and lately was on the mend, but Saturday night he had a stroke and Sunday evening he passed away. The whole family was there at his bedside — sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and his wife, Diane. He was an incredible father and we all feel blessed that we had him in our lives as long as we did. We will be saying goodbye at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills Memorial Park on Thursday, December 28th, at 10 a.m. It’s located at 5950 Forest Lawn Drive. Please spread the word to those you think would like to be there.”

Eric Rhoads and Dick Orkin

Radio Ink Chairman Eric Rhoads called Orkin a mentor. “Dick Orkin was an icon in radio.Though his voice has been heard by millions on so many national accounts, those of us in radio knew him for Chickenman and Tooth Fairy. Yet Dick was so much more. He traveled America teaching radio how to do creative, and he was the one who told me about this new thing the Internet that radio should be using. He was always five steps ahead of everyone else and very tuned into the future. I owe so much of my career to Dick because of his generosity in so many ways. I saw him recently and he was always a joy to be around.”

38 COMMENTS

  1. Not only was Dick a giant, he was also one of the kindest, most generous people you’d ever meet. He’s THE reason my partner and I started our radio advertising business in Chicago in 1990. He was my idol (and I’m not one to have idols). I was thinking of starting a radio advertising business back in 1989, so I sent him a letter asking if he had any advice. He suggested I rip ads out of magazines and write radio scripts about the ads and send them to him. I started doing this and he would critique my scripts and send them back. This went on for several months, all via mail (pre-email). My wife and I were going out to visit her father in LA and I called Dick and asked him if I could stop by the Radio Ranch. He said, “Sure, come on over!” So I did, he proceeded to walk me though the office and studios, and, more importantly, the Radio Ranch creative process. It was inspiring and lovely. He then encouraged me to start my own business back in Chicago, which I promptly did with my business partner of now 27 years, Rick Marzec. I’m retiring in a few days. Thank you, Dick. A hero in the truest sense of the word, creatively and, more importantly, in how to treat our fellow human beings. Plus, bringing joy to others every day. What a life!

  2. Everyone has such good memories of Dick and his ability to communicate and entertain at the same time. I had lunch with him about 2 years ago and he still “had it”. The Chickenman” album cover hangs proudly in my home office for over 40 years. I will never forget him and am so happy to have been his friend. He made everything he did so unique and special.

  3. loved the recurring bit on Tooth Fairy when he would ask Raoul (who played the mammoth dental organ), if he knew (inject anything here…) so it would come out as, “Rauol, do you know which tooth is dead?” and Raoul would say, “Well alright! Which tooth is dead, i can’t say now, I think it’s name if Fred….” and fade out … totally made up, but that was Dick Orkin’s effect on me. Just loved everything he did. Funny, gut-renching funny-made-your-day-funny. He’s keeping the Lord in stitches even as I write this.

  4. In 1969, I was the Production Director of WLS and Dick came to us with a new series he had developed called The Tooth Fairy. I had a chance to work with him on customizing it for the Larry Lujack show. Dick was even a legend back then. Later when I went to work with Ken Draper and Chuck Blore at Programing db in LA, we syndicated Pilgrim’s Progress, some of Dick’s lesser known work but equally wonderful. He got little kids to tell how the pilgrims came to America and how they celebrated the first Thanksgiving. Amazing work. He probably has more awards for his work than anyone before him. I know that Ken Draper, who brought him from Harrisburg to Chicago, always marveled at Dick’s genius, and is very sad to hear this news…like so many others who knew him. My condolences to his family.

  5. Is impact can be measured by the fact of after 50+ years after hearing my first Chicken Man episode I can still recall it.
    He leaves a standard and void that will be tough to fill.

  6. His impact is measured by the fact that 50+ years after hearing my first Chicken Man episode I can still recall it. He left a standard and a void that will be hard to fill.

  7. I was introduced to “Chickenman” while serving in Vietnam in 1968-‘69. Chickenman was regularly featured on Armed Forces Radio Vietnam (AFVN).

    A big piece of Vietnam Veterans’ shared history is gone.

    R.I.P.

  8. I grew up listening to, and absolutely loving Mr. Orkin starting all the way back from his early Chicken Man days on WCFL here in Chicago. For nearly 50 years now, I have always stopped whatever I was doing to listen when one of his new commercials would come on the radio. No one could make me laugh or brighten up my day like him. The world is going to be so much emptier and sadder without him… there will never be another one like him. God bless Mr. Orkin’s family in this time of loss.

  9. Very sad to learn of Dick Orkin’s passing. Along with Stan Freberg among others, Orkin truly exploited Radio’s ability to create “theater of the mind,” a dynamic that ignited the passion that lured many of us into the business.
    A couple of local Cleveland connections: Jim Runyon, who was the voice of Chickenman, was a role model for me when did the morning show on Cleveland’s KYW, 1100, before moving on to WCFL, Chicago. And a distant cousin of Orkin’s, Laura Orkin is the business partner and wife of Danno Wolkoff, president of Envision Radio Networks.

    Radio surely could use more like Dick Orkin Today.

  10. He was the one that taught us no matter how small your community – that two simple declarative connecting sentences made all the difference in producing good commercials.

    “He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!” and will remain so.

  11. Dick was a stellar creative, broadcaster, and humanitarian. He freely contributed his spot scripts to several of my Copywriting texts and just as freely shared his insights with our students on his visits to Central Michigan University. It was a great privilege to know Dick and a high honor to be his friend.

  12. Dick Orkin and the Famous Radio Ranch team set the standard for compelling radio commercials.
    In honor of this legend, let’s all dedicate 2018 as our year to perform better for our audience and advertisers!

  13. Dick Orkin was probably one of the most creative radio people I ever heard write or voice a radio commercial. You looked forward to those ads rather than push the button to another station. That was what was so powerful about his work and his understanding of the medium of radio. Compelling and entertaining content in 30 or 60 second form that did its job for the client and ultimately the audience. Mr. Orkin thank you for making me proud of the industry that we along with thousands of others made our livings in.

  14. In 1997 I was the manager of the ABC cluster in Minneapolis. Radio Ink published a commentary that I wrote titled “Where’s the Value in Added Value?” I was challenging the industry to stop caving in to the demands of media buyers who were treating Radio as the doormat of the advertising industry. After that column ran I received a personal note of congratulations and thanks from Dick Orkin. Indeed, he touched a lot of lives, mine included.

  15. Very sad to hear the news about Dick. He and I spent many hours discussing the need for personality radio and the role that creativity played to entertain and inspire our audiences. There goes one more part of a radio era that I was proud to be a part of along with Dick, Joel Sebastian, Ken Draper, Jim Stagg, Barney Pip, Dick Williamson, Jim Runyon and myself when as a combined group, WCFL in Chicago took off. Those were the days. By deepest condolences to Dick’s family. Ron Britain.

    • Great to see Ron Britain commenting along with the others. I didn’t know Dick or even Ron, but listening to WCFL, especially to its skywave while I was at Wabash College, made me believe that I knew both and got me hooked on radio as a career. Thank you, Dick and Ron–I think.

    • I think it was Jane Roberts who provided the female voices as in Miss Helfinger. As well as traffic woman 36-24-36. A bit risqué for the era but she was great

  16. Stan Freeburg lit the match. Dick Orkin provided the fuel and guidance. I based my company on the Ranch’s exploits and always strove to hit that wry note that made his work so distinctive and fun to listen to. Indeed, he would pale at what passes for radio ‘advertising’ these days, which is not much more than bullet points and hot mixed music. From Chicken Man to Skippy at the Honda dealer, his touch was unmistakable, his deadpan read, spot on. Thanks for the inspiration Dick, and condolences to his family.

  17. So sad. Dick was not only an incredibly talented person, he was a beacon of inspiration and creativity to
    the folks who thought radio was supposed to be more than just background noise. Dick must have been horrified to hear what radio today has turned into.

    Rest in peace.

    • (From Wikipedia) At the beginning and end of the kid’s science program, “Beakman’s World”, as well as before or after commercial breaks, the show featured short scenes with puppet penguins, Don (voiced by Bert Berdis) and Herb (voiced by Alan Barzman), at the South Pole watching Beakman’s World on television. (The names Don and Herb are in tribute to “Mr. Wizard” host Don Herbert.)

  18. Mr. Orkin and his work are the reasons I became interested in radio, and radio advertising in particular while growing up in the 1970s. There is nothing else I’ve ever wanted to do.

    There is more than a bit of him in everything I’ve ever written, voiced, or produced.

    Character, timing, ad-structure — it’s all Dick Orkin.

    So sad that he, and an entire era in radio and radio advertising, are gone.

    Dick Orkin — R.I.P.

    “Closed today, bird fell off.”

    😉

  19. Dick Orkin had the type of voice where everything he said had a wry humor attached to it without having to try. He sounded that way talking in person. When I knew him he had done several Time magazine ads, one in particular playing an airline pilot helping a stewardess retrieve a Time magazine from a passenger (Burt Bertis) who wouldn’t give it up. Just their voices made it hilarious. A college professor did a study of humorous commercials using this ad but having his students re-record it. The results of the study was that humorous ads didn’t sell. The professor wouldn’t admit his study was flawed because he didn’t use the REAL ad which WAS effective. I gave Orkin a copy of that paper, and that was one of the reasons I stopped going to the Broadcast Education Association conventions. Shoddy research papers were being accepted over well done projects — there were cliques.

  20. It really is too bad that more radio executives didn’t hear what came out of the Radio Ranch and say to each other, “We need to do that – and lots of it.”

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