May 14, 2024

Dick Summer — Radio Pioneer Featured

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One of the very best radio air personalities of all time has died. Dick Summer was a true pioneer. He was the master of mixing music, humor and storytelling. If you listened to Dick Summer, you felt like you were listening to a friend. He was that same person off the air. He loved helping people.

No matter what your vocation is, there’s always someone in that business that you learn from and look up to as you launch your career. For me there was more than one, but the DJ who had THE MOST influence on me was Dick Summer. In my book “Confessions of a Teenage Disc Jockey” I relate how much his all night radio show on WBZ in Boston was such a major reason for me to decide to get into radio. I was convinced that radio was not only something that I wanted to do, but could do by learning from his delivery.

Unlike almost all the DJs of the 50’s and early to late 60’s, Dick Summer was not a screamer. He was rather conversational on the air even though he was on a top forty station. He just talked to his audience-especially if you sent him an interesting letter. Often Dick would have silly bits on the air-like his campaign to get the name of a sandwich to a Shewsbury. The reason (as he explained on the air several times) was because the Earl of Sandwich stole the idea for making a sandwich from the Earl of Shewsbury. This and other pressing issues of the day were discussed at length.

Much more importantly, Dick Summer was a step ahead of most in discovering and introducing new artists to his rather surprisingly large late night audience. The audience wasn’t confined to the Boston Area. His station, WBZ, was a clear channel station with 50,000 watts. That meant at night almost half the country could hear his show. In Scranton, PA I listened for hours to him and often went to school the next day in a semi coma state from lack of sleep. It was more than worth it. It was the first place I heard Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and even The Beatles. Long before a format was created that played these artists on a regular basis, Dick Summer was filling the airwaves with the music that eventually would dominate radio.

I searched the internet and found an old air check from his days at WBZ. Check it out.

While it may not be the best sample of his work, it gives you the idea that Dick wasn’t the typical screaming DJ of the period.

Another thing that Dick always did was link the songs together with his introduction or back sell (talk after the song). He would often tell a story and the punch line would be the first line of a song. OK, he could be corny, but he still made you laugh. He was never off color or critical of other people or artists.

The voice of Dick Summer is very friendly and comforting. It gives the listener the feeling that you can trust what he has to say. For that reason Dick not only got a job with NBC in New York City, but many sponsors wanted his voice on their commercials. So much so, that the voice of Dick Summer was soon heard on many national spots giving him a great source of income. Much more than he earned doing overnights in Boston.

In preparing for the writing of my book, I reached out to Dick. I was very surprised to learn that Since Dick retired from radio he is living in the Philadelphia area. I wasn’t surprised that he was very friendly to me. When I was a young fan I had written him a letter and he wrote back to me along with an autographed picture (as seen).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thought so much of Dick Summer that they have a display honoring him. He was always a great story teller, so later in life he wrote a couple of books including “Staying Happy, Heathy and Hot”.

Best of all, he was a fantastic person and friend. He will be missed more than mere words can express.


  • Comment Link Barbra Friday, July 21, 2023 posted by Barbra

    Introduced me to Barbara Streisand, Tom Rush and Joni Mitchell. Also the earl of Sandwich controversy
    Also I know the pronunciation of Quinsey, Worcester, Braintree cause Dock loved the weird pronunciations and words in general. He kept me company when I was a lonely freshman in high school. Remember him fondly

  • Comment Link Dan Hughes Thursday, November 4, 2021 posted by Dan Hughes

    Before WBZ, Dick was at two radio stations in Indianapolis. First WIBC, the local powerhouse when he was still a teenager. He was fired because the owner thought he sounded too young to do live remotes from car dealerships!
    But while at WIBC, the kids absolutely loved him. He did his show every night from a local drive-in restaurant, and he played a game every night.
    The game was called Make It or Break It.
    Merrill's Hi-Decker was the restaurant, and Dick was in a broadcast booth up on top of the restaurant.
    He'd play a new record, and the kids in cars parked in a big circle around the restaurant would blink their headlights to vote on whether to make the record, or break the record. If the "make it" votes won, the record was added to Dick's playlist. If the "break it" votes won, Dick would break the record on the air. I can still remember the sound of a 45 being broken in two.
    Here's Dick himself, talking about those days:

  • Comment Link Robert Pailler Thursday, September 2, 2021 posted by Robert Pailler

    I remember listening to the Dick Summer Subway show on WBZ AM on Sunday nights from 6:30 till 8:00. As far as I know it was the first show ever on radio that featured bands like Cream etc. that weren't top 40. It was the best era in music. He was a real pioneer. Wish I taped some. What happened to his Venus fly trap Irving II? Also Theopolus Q Waterhouse?

  • Comment Link Mark Palermo Thursday, September 24, 2020 posted by Mark Palermo

    He was a DJ at a high school dance i went to back in the 1960' s. I was a shy, nerdy kid with glasses at the time, and he was a star, but I got up the nerve to go and speak with him. He was sincere, kind and a very fine person.

  • Comment Link Tom K Tuesday, March 26, 2019 posted by Tom K

    In US Navy 63-66 in Maryland. Listened to WBZ and Dick Summer at night. Great fun and memories.

  • Comment Link Dick Summer Monday, January 30, 2017 posted by Dick Summer

    Thanks for this. I think most people get to a place in life when you look back and wonder if you made any difference. This article is a thumb on the "Yeah maybe I did" side of the scale.

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