Dick Summer, Radio DJ Par Excellence, RIP

May 31, 2024 | Life Experiences, Memoirs, Music, Radio, Remembrance, Uncategorized | 0 comments

I wrote to Dick Summer several years ago, telling him how much his broadcasts on WBZ radio in Boston meant to me. 

I wasn’t in radio back then. I was in high school. He was an all-night DJ on clear channel (not the same thing as Clear Channel) WBZ. He was creative, funny, and debuted some of the best new music I’d ever heard. For example, one of my musical idols, Tom Rush, who’s still touring at age 83, introduced Dick’s listeners to the works of an unknown Canadian singer/songwriter—Joni Mitchell.

Tom Rush (photo by Wanda Fischer)

In 1963, Dick played tapes of Tom singing “Circle Game” and “Urge for Going” for his listeners on WBZ, when WBZ broadcast to half of the country through a powerful signal. I was fifteen. (In an interview in today’s Nippertown section of The Daily Gazette newspaper in Schenectady, New York, Tom mentions Dick and how Dick played those tapes—probably reel-to-reel recordings, if anyone besides me remembers those—and how grateful he was for that exposure. When Tom did that interview, he probably was unaware that Dick had died at age 89.)

Dick did all sorts of crazy things. It was, after all, AM radio in the 1960s. He did a “campaign” to rename the sandwich “the Shrewsbury,” because he contended that it was not the Earl of Sandwich who invented the sandwich, but rather, the Duke of Shrewsbury. He had so many things like that to keep his listeners entertained. 

When I listened to Dick Summer, I had no idea that one day, I, too, would be on the radio. When I had the opportunity to join WCUW, a small community radio station in Worcester, Massachusetts, as a folk music DJ in 1979, I had no ideaI would still be a folk DJ in 2024. I often remembered listening to Dick late into the night during my high school years and all the wonderful times I had listening to his show. 

My other mentor was also named Dick—Dick Pleasants—who had a folk show on WCAS, a daytime-only station located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as a specialty show on public radio station WGBH in Boston. When I was given the opportunity to have my own show, I called Dick Pleasants and ask him what he thought. “Go for it,” he said. “Don’t pass up this chance.”

I followed his advice. I did four years on the air on WCUW and now almost forty-two years at WAMC, the National Public Radio affiliate in Albany, New York. I’m aiming for fifty years in broadcasting. I never would have thought it possible the first time I turned on a microphone and began talking into it. 

I never would have had the confidence to sit in front of a microphone if I hadn’t had role models of Dick Summer and Dick Pleasants. 

Because of their inspiration, Folk Alliance International inducted me (and my friend Matt Watroba) into its Folk Radio Hall of Fame in 2019, at their annual meeting in Montreal. Last year, the Proctors Collaborative in New York’s Capital District included me in their Thomas Edison Hall of Fame, to recognizing contributions to music and arts in New York’s Capital Region. Neither of these would have been possible without Dick Summer and Dick Pleasants.

Dick Pleasants died a few years ago in a Massachusetts nursing home. His death was difficult for me. Now it’s Dick Summer who’s gone to that radio station in the great beyond. I’m convinced they’re together now, trading stories of the people whose music they love, whose music they debuted, and of the listeners who contacted them on the other end of the airwaves. 

I was one of them. I wrote letters and made phone calls to the radio station to tell them how much I admired their work.

Now I’m writing this. To tell them how much they meant to me. And how much I miss them. 


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