(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.”
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.”