RADIO: Thank You, Ron

This month, after 45 years on the Dallas airwaves, Ron Chapman signs off. Our ears are in mourning.

BIG MOUTH: Chapman owned Dallas.

There will never be another run like his. Forty-five years in one market. Thirty-two of them at the same station. He was No. 1 forever. He killed the competition. And every morning he was there for us, standing at his mic, drinking Dr Pepper, talking to the city.

By now, everyone knows the story about how, in 1988, Chapman asked his KVIL listeners to send in $20 each, without ever saying why, and took in $240,000. (The money was later distributed to local charities.) They’ll still be telling that story when Chapman’s grandkids have carpool duty. Here are a few other stories about Chapman’s career, told by those who knew and worked with the legend.

Jack Woods partnered with Chapman in the early ’60s on Gordon McLendon’s KLIF. Chapman’s on-air name was Irving Harrigan. Woods’ was Charlie Brown. He’s now retired and owns a winery called Orangewoods near San Diego.

“In, I’m going to say ’62 or ’63, Jack Kennedy, I think, did a 50-mile hike. And it suddenly became a craze. The country was going to get in shape. Everyone’s going to do a 50-mile hike. So Charlie and Harrigan came on and said, ’We’re going to do our hike. Everybody bring your water. Put on your walking shoes. Bring walking sticks. Be sure to wear a hat. And we are going to walk all the way from the Sheraton Hotel to the so-and-so life building.’ They were on the same block, but nobody caught it. Nobody. Oh, Lord. Thousands showed up. They filmed it. And even then they didn’t get it. They thought we were going 50 miles. So we all lined up, and we said, ’Okay, hoooo!’ And we started to walk. And we walked around the corner and stopped. We said, ’Okay, that’s it! Thanks a lot, everybody!’ They were pissed off, and they loved it. We did that to our audience constantly. We put them on constantly.”

Bud Buschardt worked as the unit manager on Away We Go and Sump’n Else, two television shows that Chapman did for WFAA Channel 8 in the mid-’60s. He’s now a program director for ABC Dallas radio and an adjunct professor of TV production at the University of North Texas.

“We did Sump’n Else at NorthPark. It was a 45-minute show. In fact, the jingle was ’the fastest 45 in the West.’ It was based on Ron’s experience with Top 40 radio. The kids had to wear coats and ties on the show. In order for us to match the standard, the three of us guys on the floor crew went out and bought blazers. So I had just had my jacket cleaned.

“We had this little kinkajou honey bear. It was our mascot for the show. It was an itty-bitty bear. It almost looked like a squirrel. It would dance on kids’ shoulders. Anyway, I was holding this animal on my shoulder, on my freshly cleaned jacket, and it got a little excited. Chapman thought that was funny. You know, because I’d just paid to have the jacket cleaned.

FACE FOR RADIO: Chapman hosted a popular TV show. Its mascot was an incontinent kinkajou.

“So one of our sponsors was Coca-Cola. And the little guy loved Coca-Cola. He had this real, real long tongue, and it could get into the bottle. So when we cut away to commercial, we would turn off the lights so the studio would get cool. Okay, so we’re in a commercial break. But for the first 20 minutes of the show, I’d been loading this little guy up with Coca-Cola. And Ron has a brand-new sweater. I hand it to Ron, and the little guy hops on Ron’s shoulder, and when the lights come up, you know, animals react. So we hit the air, and Ron got it.

“We had a contest to name the honey bear. The winning name was Chief Rain in the Pants.”

Suzie Humphreys was Chapman’s on-air sidekick on KVIL from 1975 to 1995. She’s now a motivational speaker and lives in Fredericksburg, Texas.

“From the first moment we ever opened our mouths, we clicked. We just knew where the other one was headed. We were in the groove together. We just hit. One of his greatest talents is picking people, knowing where they fit, where they go.

“They gave me a little yellow van, and I drove it myself. And I did everything. I would carpool my son to school, pick up kids. I was off the wall, and he loved it. We used a two-way radio. We never worked in the studio together, for 20 years.

“And one morning, I was going to go do a speech for the Dallas Board of Realtors at 9 o’clock. And because I drove the yellow van, I could go wherever I wanted to go. So I went by my hairdresser’s, who lived in Oak Cliff. And we ran an electric cord out to the van, and while I’m on the air with Ron, I’m having my hair done. So he comes to me, and I open the mic. But you could hear this blow-dryer.

“He said, ’Suzie, what is that?’

“I went, ’Nothing.’

“He said, ’Well, it’s something. I hear it.’

“’Okay, I’m with Leonard.’

“He said, ’Is Leonard your hairdresser?’

“I said, ’Yes. I’ve got a speech at the Board of Realtors this morning, and I’m getting my hair done.’

“He said, ’What’s Leonard doing?’

“And I said, ’He’s giving me a real nice blow job.’

“Oh, Lord. And this is, like, in the ’80s. And this was totally not intended. Do you understand this? And I want you to know that Leonard jerked the plug out from the wall. I froze. I knew I was fired. Ron didn’t say a word. There was dead air for, like, 10 seconds. And I think he said, ’This would be a good time to go to commercial.’

“I just adore him. I just adore him.”

Steve Eberhart was a deejay at KVIL. He’s now an announcer and does several shows for ABC radio.

“I tell people this story, and they think it’s one of those urban legends. The man had to be on the air at 5:30 in the morning. I used to do the 11 to 2 a.m. shift, during college. Talk about a cush gig. Ron would fairly often show up while I was on the air to go in a studio and record a promo that might run overnight, only to plug something that was going to be on his show. Name another program director or air person of any type anywhere in the country who would come in at 11 o’clock and cut a promo that’s going to run overnight. No one would do that.”

Jody Dean was Chapman’s producer at KVIL from 1987 to 1994. He’s now a news anchor for CBS Channel 11 and will replace Chapman on KLUV’s morning show.

“The guy would give you the shirt off his back. About 20 years ago, I’d barely started working at KVIL and was the overnight deejay—the lowest life form in radio, with an equivalent lifestyle. I was driving an older beat-up Nissan, and my alternator went out one night while on the way to work. Into the breach jumped Ron, who offered to loan me his brand-new Cadillac Seville. I’d never been in a Cadillac Seville. I wouldn’t even park near one. Gratefully I accepted, and drove off in his North Dallas wheels while they towed my Fort Worth bomb away. It was also an opportunity, and that night Ron’s car found itself parked outside every cool bar and nightclub on Greenville Avenue. Of course, back in those days, I was also given to partaking in the pleasures of cannabis and had a couple of joints with me for the ride. Both of which I left, unconsumed, somewhere in Ron’s car. Didn’t think about it until after I handed the keys back to him. He never said anything to me about it. I never brought it up with him, either. But I’ve wondered ever since.”

Herb Kelleher has known Chapman for years. He is the chairman of Southwest Airlines.

“Ron Chapman is a dazzlingly entertaining intellect who has refreshed my life for 25 years with his insightful wit and unerring eye for the quixotic vagaries of the human kind. Because of my vast admiration and liking for this protean man, I was shocked beyond dismay when he publicly stated that inviting me to roast him was the worst mistake he’d ever made. Honestly, I thought everyone knew that he’d started out in radio with a program called ’Tips for Teenagers.’”

Dale Hansen broadcasted Cowboys games on KVIL. He’s the sports anchor on ABC Channel 8.

“When we first went to KVIL to do the Cowboys games, Ron brings Brad Sham and me into his office and starts giving us this big speech on how we should broadcast a football game. This was 1991. So Chapman is now going to teach Brad and me how we should broadcast a football game to appeal to his target audience— women. And, you know, I’m an easy-going guy. But telling Brad after 20-plus years how to broadcast—’Don’t be talking about blitzes and the nickel defense.’ And Chapman was being pretty emphatic about it.

“Ron actually holds up a picture that he’d cut out of a JCPenney catalog. And he says, ’This is your audience.’ I’ll never forget it. It was a woman who had a pink sweater wrapped around her neck. I swear to you. And the guy was the typical model. It was your classic, stereotypical young yuppie couple from Highland Park.

“And Ron says, ’When you’re doing your broadcast, I want you to think that these people here are your audience. Especially this woman right here.’

“And Brad says, ’Well, how about if we start the play and say, ’The quarterback comes up to the line of scrimmage. Incidentally, the quarterback is the guy behind the center. The center is the guy who is bending over with the football.’

“I’m sitting there, and I’m cracking up. Trust me, Chapman didn’t laugh at all. He did not see the humor in it.

“But I’m serious when I tell you that I learned a great deal from it. I’ve done this in many ways in my sportscast. I’ve always tried to make my sportscast understandable to the non-sports fan. But, quite frankly, we weren’t real excited about learning it at the time.”

Dick Clark is an old friend of Chapman’s.

“Knowing Ron over the years has been an adventure. A very happy one. Ron, how come my offer to buy KVIL never worked out?

“Happy retirement!”

* To hear some classic clips of Chapman from the old KLIF days, go to www.reelradio.com/se and www.historyofklif.com.

Photos: Chapman Today: Dan Sellers; Chapman on TV: Courtesy of ABC Radio Networks

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