Rick Dees is set to be honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters January 23rd. PPB President Chuck Street -- who happens to be Dees’ longtime traffic reporter from his days at KIIS-FM (102.7) -- will present the Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award at the PPB luncheon at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City.
Now you may be thinking ... Dees a pioneer? He’s so young! How can a guy who just got started be a pioneer?
Easy. It was 1979 when Dees landed in Los Angeles, first at KHJ (930 AM) and then for almost a quarter century at KIIS-FM. 1979 is 36 years ago, even if it seems like yesterday to those of us who still live in the past.
Dees defined top-40 morning radio in Los Angeles for a generation of listeners, in an era when many thought the format was dead. His impact at KHJ was minimal due to owner RKO’s decision to change the format to country just when master programmer Chick Martin was hitting his stride (though ironically earning ratings the station would never see so high ever again).
But at KIIS, surrounded by a supportive General Manager Wally Clark, programmer Gerry DeFrancisco, a “Cast of idiots” that included the talented Liz Fultan, Dees’ own wife Julie, Danny Lemus and more, and an airstaff of talent seldom seen in the same building -- including Big Ron O’Brien, Paul Freeman, Bruce Vidal among others -- Dees helped lead a revolution.
Dees was the face of the station, literally, his face plastered on billboards and bus boards everywhere. The morning show would be the cornerstone of the entire format. And it worked: the “dead” top-40 format became so popular that like KHJ before it, KIIS-FM started setting ratings records and having copycat stations spring up across the nation.
Those ratings records, by the way, still stand: No FM station in Los Angeles has earned the ratings KIIS-FM had in the early to mid 1980s; only the AM stations of the 1960s and ‘70s commanded a higher rating than KIIS’s 10+ shares in the Arbitron ratings, and that was before the popularity -- and extra competition of FM.
In addition to radio, Dees could be found on television, and he has some music to his credit including the famous (infamous?) hit “Disco Duck” that sold more than six million copies. He received the Billboard Radio Personality of the Year award for ten consecutive years and has won numerous other prestigious awards including the Marconi Award and a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was even inducted into numerous Halls of Fame: The National Association of Broadcasters, National Radio, North Carolina Music, and Tennessee Radio. And this is just a partial list.
Dees still hosts syndicated countdown shows including the “Rick Dees Weekly Top-40” that can be heard throughout the United States and overseas. Just not here in Los Angeles, which I find quite strange considering his long history here. You can hear it online and through apps such as TuneIn, though. You can check out everything he’s up to at his website, www.rick.com.
Yes, I’d say he is most certainly a pioneer and absolutely deserving of this PPB honor. On the dais at the luncheon will be Channel 4 weatherman Fritz Coleman, David Sheehan, and Scott St. James. But my hunch is that he’ll have some catching up to do with his old friend Clark, who will be there as well.
Mark and (Not) Brian
The Sound’s (100.3 FM) Dave Beasing told me that Mark Thompson makes his return to the Los Angeles airwaves on February 2nd. I’ll have some more information on the show next week.