A documentary on legendary DJ Dick Biondi is currently in post production, the fruition of a dream of one of his biggest fans-turned-filmmaker, Pamela Pulice.
Pulice, who first met Biondi when she was 13, has been a super-fan of Biondi since he first came to Chicago in 1960. Growing up in Villa Park, Pulice was like thousands of other Baby Boomers, big fans of both Biondi and the music he would introduce them to, Rock and Roll. But Pulice was also the president of this fan club, starting a newsletter as a young teenager and following him from sock hops to toy drives and anywhere else he was making appearances.
Now, decades later, Pulice has spent the last few years making a documentary about the man she admired and knew most of her life, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Biondi, now 85, was still on the air until last spring, when he took leave because of a leg ailment. It’s been reported that WLS has recently cut ties with him, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Biondi’s history if he ends up back on the air sometime soon. After all, he was fired 25 times in his long, hall of fame career.
Known as “The Wild I-Tralian,” Biondi introduced many bands to America during his long tenure, most of which was at WLS in Chicago. Known for his high energy style, and high positivity, Biondi may have angered bosses but he always had the hearts of his fans.
Simply entitled The Dick Biondi Film, Pulice recently spoke to The Chicago Ambassador’s Bob Chiarito about her project and the legendary Biondi.
CA) When were you first exposed to Dick Biondi?
PULICE) The first time I heard him on the radio was May 2, 1960, when he came to Chicago. WLS had switched over from the Prairie Farmers Station and overnight the farmers were going crazy, but the kids were digging it and I was one of them. Then, in the summer of 1961 was when I first met him.
CA) Where did you meet him?
PULICE) I was listening to the radio one afternoon with my best friend Joan and we heard Biondi was at Hillside Shopping Center. My dad drove us and my sister happened to be there with some of her friends, who didn’t really care about Biondi. We got there and he was just wrapping things up. Joan and I were frantic, wanting to meet him. We ran over to him and he was just so kind. I thought to myself, ‘This guy is really a nice human being.’ There was a carnival going on and he asked, “Who wants to go on the Tilt-A-Whirl with me?’ Guess who who he took?
PULICE) My sister and her friends! [Laughter] Joan and I were watching and were like ‘Oh, no, are you serious?’
I’ve always teased Dick about that and told him that he owes me a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. He always said, ‘Ok, we’re gonna do it.’ I guess it’s a little late now, but I have a secret plan that he doesn’t know about. I have a little animation in the film and one of them is going to be Dick and I on the ride at the end of the film.
CA) You were the president of a Dick Biondi fan club at one time?
PULICE) Yeah, I was. I started a fan club. I used to write a little newsletter and I’d leave the suburbs and go into the city for sock hops. I’d also go to WLS Studios and meet other disc jockeys and fans of Biondi. I’d write about it in the newsletter and pass it out to kids at school.
CA) How old were you when you were doing this?
CA) And how long did you keep it up?
PULICE) Until he got fired on May 2, 1963. He disappeared and us kids were just devastated. We heard he went to California but in those days without the Internet or anything, you couldn’t listen. We were lost without him, nobody could replace Biondi.
CA) Were you a filmmaker before you started this project?
PULICE) No. But I did get into video in 2001. Up until then I worked in the restaurant industry. I was always doing creative things. For example, I always wanted to be a drummer and began taking lessons when I found out that I was going to be a grandmother. My life flashed before me and I realized that I hadn’t done this and that, so that’s how that happened. In 2001 I got my first video camera and just loved it. As soon as I got it, something just clicked in me. I started taking classes and then started a small video production business. I’ve done weddings and all sorts of events but the ones I loved the most were the video memoirs where people would tell their stories.
I had lived in Villa Park and Lombard most of my life but moved to LaPorte, Indiana in 2009 to be near my sister and our mom. Then our mom passed away in 2013 and at that point, I had a lot of time on my hands and in a meantime I made a friend named Pat Wisniewski, who is a documentary filmmaker. At one point I told her that it was my dream to make a film about Dick Biondi. She encouraged me, and that’s why I’ve done it. I’ve done a lot of videos but a film is a different animal. I’ve had to learn a lot since I’ve started. It’s been great.
CA) When you came up with the idea, did you approach Dick Biondi right away?
PULICE) I did. I called him up and said, ‘Dick, I’ve known you my whole life. I went to the sock hops, WLS, and all the toy drives. I really want to tell your story from the fans point of view because I’m a fan. He is really about all his fan, he really loves his fans so before I could finish my spiel, he said ‘Let’s do it.’
I had to do it justice. When I took this on, I said to myself, ‘Pam, you better be ready to go out of your comfort zone, cause I’ve never done anything on this scale. I had to do it justice because he is an icon, not only in Chicago but nationally. He’s known from coast to coast because he’s worked in every major market and he’s left his mark everywhere.
CA) Did he have any concerns about it?
PULICE) Dick is a worrier, he does worry about everything. But he never voiced any concerns to me. I felt like he trusted me and that made me feel very good. As I was going along I showed him what I was doing and he was always encouraging.
CA) You said he’s known from coast to coast and that he’s worked in every market, but I think a lot of Chicagoans think he’s been here forever. He first came here in 1960 and left in 1963, then came back in 1967 only to be gone by 1972. Then Bob Sirott did a “Where Are They Now” story in the early 1980s and a year later he was back. But I think a lot of people assume that he’s always been here.
PULICE) Absolutely. Or they think he’s a local guy.
CA) Yeah, because he’s from New York.
PULICE) Yes, Endicott, New York.
CA) He’s been on the air for a long time but there were periods where he wasn’t.
PULICE) Well, he spent most of his career was in Chicago and he’s synonymous with Chicago and especially WLS.
CA) Is it true that he was fired 25 times?
PULICE) It really is true. [Laughter]
CA) Maybe Alan Freed is the most famous DJ of all-time, but his career was cut short by the Payola scandal and he died at 43 in 1965. Aside from him, does any DJ come close to Biondi as far as fame and recognition?
PULICE) Wolfman Jack is up there. That’s really the three. Biondi is put up there with Dick Clark, even though Dick Clark wasn’t a DJ. He’s up on that level. He was so unique, he actually changed the way we listened to radio because before Biondi nobody acted like that. He was wild, he was a rebel, he was always talking about his boss. It’s what really kicked off the new generation of disc jockeys that were rebellious. They got more cynical where Dick was more positive and upbeat and supportive of everybody. Another thing about him that people don’t know is that he wanted to be a priest at one time, and I think he lives his life based on what he was taught as a child, treating everyone how he would like to be treated.
CA) Marv Nyren, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Chicago, recently confirmed to Robert Feeder that Biondi’s employment ended months ago. Do you know when it ended?
PULICE) No, I really don’t.
CA) Do you think this will be just one of the many other firings in his career or is this different?
PULICE) I don’t know if it’s a firing or what. I know he was off the air since last spring with a leg ailment. I haven’t talked to him in awhile but he’s very private these days.
CA) If he doesn’t come back, do you think it’s a fitting ending for such a legend?
PULICE) Dick always said he wanted to die with his headphones on. He never wanted to quit. So, no, it’s not a fitting ending.
CA) How close are you to finishing the film?
PULICE) We have a 21-minute screener right now but need to raise some money to finish the film and we want to do it while Dick’s still with us. He’s 86 in September.
CA) How long will the film be once it’s finished?
PULICE) It will be 56 minutes and it will be broadcast on WTTW in Chicago. My editor and I are spending the month of June editing because we just got a generous donation from Paul Shaffer. We want to get it done this year, that’s our goal.
The screener of The Dick Biondi Film will be shown July 1 at the Sulzer Library, 4455 N Lincoln Ave, 2 p.m. with special guest Ronnie Rice, formerly of the New Colony Six who will talk about Biondi’s impact on the music of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
Additionally, it will be shown August 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th Street, with special guest Hall of Fame rock jock John Records Landecker, who worked with Biondi.
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