Dick Whittinghill; Longtime Morning Radio Disc Jockey in L.A.
Did you Whittinghill this morning?
For three decades, that was the rallying cry for one of Southern California’s most popular gurus of morning radio drive time.
It was also the title of the 1976 autobiography of the big band singer, sometime actor, restaurateur, disc jockey extraordinaire and dead-serious duffer who reigned over Los Angeles’ KMPC, “The Station of the Stars,” from 1950 to 1979.
His name was Dick Whittinghill, and on Wednesday he fulfilled his daily sign-off: “Now if you’ll excuse me . . . I’m walking out the door.”
Whittinghill died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87 and had suffered from a variety of problems associated with old age.
Lauded for his wit and on-air fearlessness, kidded for his chain-smoking and martini-swilling, Whittinghill apprised a couple of generations of the time, temperature, traffic and current tunes as they started their day.
To the delight and sometimes dismay of his fans, he offered side-splitting double entendres and brash, unabashedly liberal and conservative views, as interwoven as a pretzel. His favorite targets seemed to be hippies, pornographers, Vietnam War protesters and homosexuals.
And he spun pop records, inevitably sharing his considerable musical knowledge with listeners. Although he developed a reputation for disparaging rock ‘n’ roll in its infancy, Whittinghill insisted that he was only interested in playing good music--including rock when it met his high standards.
Even more memorably, he offered a “story record,” sometimes racy--a narration submitted by a listener or concocted by him--telling a preposterous tale that led into a certain record. A 1975 monologue, for example, described a businessman who visited a house of ill repute and contracted a social disease. Next heard was the recorded lyric: “No Oz never did give nothin’ to the Tin Man, that he didn’t, didn’t already have. . . .”
One of Whittinghill’s most popular shticks was satirizing soap operas, most notably with “The Romance of Helen Trump.” The daily episodes were peopled with such characters as Steve Studstacker, who was such a loser that he fell off the Santa Monica Pier and saw somebody else’s life pass before his eyes, and Ma Crunchknuckle, who was so ugly that when she walked into a room, mice jumped up on chairs.
Whittinghill was the top-rated and highest-paid disc jockey in Southern California for years. He earned his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was immortalized in the Hollywood Wax Museum. None of that fazed him.
“The disc jockey,” he liked to say, “is the lowest rung on the show business ladder. There’s no talent required for this whatsoever. Believe me. I should know, I’ve been doing it long enough.”
“It’s a job,” he once told The Times--a job he liked because it paid well and gave him lots of time to play golf.
When Whittinghill, universally known as “Whit,” walked out the studio door each morning, he simply moved his show to the Lakeside Country Club, where he golfed and joked with the likes of Bob Hope and his boss at KMPC and Golden West Broadcasting, Gene Autry.
With a golf handicap of 14--sometimes 12--Whit was a respectable golfer, if no champion. He liked the game so much that he started his own charity fund-raising tournament at Los Alamitos Race Course.
The avid sports fan, in addition to playing golf and bowling, owned racehorses, most of which fared poorly on the track.
Richard Doral Whittinghill was an athlete, actor and musician. Born in Montana on March 5, 1913, he became a featherweight boxing champion at the University of Montana, where he played trumpet with his own band, majored in journalism and wrote a gossip column often featuring his future wife, Willamet Matson.
He studied speech and music at the Dixon School of the Theater, and went on to sing with the original Pied Pipers, a group that toured and recorded with the Tommy Dorsey band. And he won singing and character roles in such films as “All-American Sweetheart,” “Top of the Town” and “Old Man Rhythm.”
Career Begins in His Native Montana
Whittinghill began his radio career in Helena, Mont., and moved on to Denver. He was an Army lieutenant during World War II, serving in New Guinea and eventually spinning records for the Armed Forces Radio Network in Japan.
After the war, he joined Los Angeles radio station KIEV, moving to KMPC and the Autry empire in 1950.
Whittinghill kept his hand in acting with bit parts in films and on television, particularly series by his old friend Jack Webb, including “Dragnet” and “The D.A.”
Beginning in 1958 on KTTV Channel 11, Whittinghill also hosted a daily program of Universal serial movies, stockpiled from the 1930s and ‘40s, when such hokey spellbinders were shown weekly in movie theaters to lure customers back again and again.
Years before digital photography and computerization enabled filmmakers to insert a current star’s face anachronistically into historic footage, Whittinghill comically put himself in each of the serials--as a hood, a crook, a lawman, a cowboy with an arrow through his head. The trick photography was accomplished, he told The Times, by superimposing a live camera shot of him over the film, using a perforated Dixie cup shielding the lens to focus on his face.
Kids--for whom the program was designed--loved it. Only adults, Whittinghill said, wrote angrily, saying: “Get your fat face outta there; we wanna watch the story.”
Whittinghill’s KMPC radio show was so popular that celebrities--from Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty to actor Ted Knight, the fictional newscaster Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”--wanted to substitute for Whit when he went on vacation.
Rock music, changing radio formats and shifting public taste lessened Whittinghill’s following but never entirely passed him by. When he retired from his KMPC morning show in 1979 at age 66, he said it was simply time to sleep past 4:15 each morning.
Whittinghill joined KPRZ-AM, later KIIS-FM, for an afternoon show in the early 1980s, but he never again reached the zenith of his years at KMPC.
A widower, Whittinghill is survived by two daughters, Willy and Nora, and two grandchildren.
There will be no services. The family asked that any memorial donations be made to the Wildlife Waystation, 14831 Little Tujunga Canyon Road, Angeles National Forest, CA 91342.
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