With the recent passing of radio personality, Dick Biondi (June 26, 2023), the memory of many top-40 songs from the 60's come rushing back. Biondi, aka ‘The Wild I-Tralian’, was hired from Buffalo, NY, in 1960 and was an instant success in Chicago. In 1961, he received the Gavin Top 40 Disc Jockey of the Year Award. Biondi is credited as the first American DJ to play a Beatles song, "Please Please Me" in February, 1963, a year before the group actually set foot in this country! Even though he left WLS after only 3 years, success followed him everywhere. He was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Frame in 1995 and the Radio Hall of Fame in 1998!
Prior to 1959, ABC and Prairie Farmer each own 50% of WLS radio (890 AM). At that time, WLS radio programming was primarily aimed at rural Americans in the Midwest. It included agricultural news and information as well as shows to entertain people, like the National Barn Dance. By this time, competing stations in Chicago, WCFL, WJJD, and others, were already attracting a younger audience by playing the music post war kids wanted to hear. WLS had been #1 in ratings for years but its audience was changing from rural to suburban and its ratings were dropping. Obviously, this decline caused a decrease in advertising revenue and the station was operating in the red.
In November 1959, ABC bought out Prairie Farmer and began changing the broadcast format to all contemporary music. Several radio personalities were brought in from around the country including: Jim Dunbar (Detroit), Ed Grennan (the old Prairie Farmer WLS), Mort Crowley (WIL in St. Louis), Gene Taylor (WOKY in Milwaukee), Sam Holman, Dick Biondi (WEBR in Buffalo), and Bob Hale (Peoria). These DJ's were given the freedom to do whatever they wanted between songs, within FCC regulations. It's what they did with that freedom that drove the station's popularity.
On May 2, 1960, Mort Crowley started broadcasting the new format by playing “Ally-Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles and WLS quickly became the most listened to station in the greater Chicago area. With its 50,000 watt Clear Channel transmitters, located near Tinley Park, Illinois, the new WLS was received in as many as 38 states. Today, its reach is even further because its broadcasts are available via i-Heart Radio, Sirius Radio and other outlets. At the time of our graduation Bill Nolan’s father was the station's Chief Engineer.
On October 14, 1960, the station introduced the Silver Dollar Survey, a weekly list of the top 40 songs during the previous week. Gene Taylor kicked off the survey on his evening show by playing the week’s number one song, "Shortnin' Bread" by Paul Chaplain. These survey lists were available FREE anywhere records were sold, including Simmons TV in West Chicago where your favorite 45 RPM hit records were readily available.
A few 'Silver Dollar Surveys' from our SENIOR year
To view a more legible list, click on one of the above images. Your browser will open a typewritten version in a new window or tab. Simply close that tab to return here.
Art Roberts joined the DJ team in October 1960, Joe Kelley and Bernie Allen in 1963, Dex Card in 1964, Larry Lujack in 1967.
In the middle of December, 1967, the Silver Dollar Survey changed to the WLS Hit Parade, and took on several new looks into the early seventies.
By the end of the 1960's, even though the station maintained the highest market share in the Chicago market, ABC started changing upper management and its management style. This lead to several on-air personnel changes. Several DJ's were fired or decided to move on and were replaced by Joel Sabastian, Gary Gears, J.J. Jefferies, Bill Bailey, Bob Sirott, John Records Landecker, Yvonne Daniels and Jeff Davis. While all these changes were occurring in the early 70's, WCFL won the market share ratings for the Chicago area. But WLS bounced right back in the next ratings period.
At present WLS 890 labels itself "News-Talk" and features NASCAR, Fighting Illini and Chicago Fire FC events. Talk show hosts include Steve Chocran, Chris Plante, Dan Bongino and others delivering topical commentary with interviews interspersed with news and weather.