Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Rick Dees

Posted February 13, 2006

One of my best friends in college was Rigdon Osmond Dees III of Greensboro. You know him as Rick Dees of radio and music fame. I first heard Rig on the radio in Greensboro while traveling from Morganton to Chapel Hill where we both went to school at UNC. His radio name in Greensboro was Jay Howard. I thought he was the funniest guy I had ever heard on the radio. I called him and told him that. We met and became great friends. He helped me get my first news job. I anchored the weekend news at WTOB radio in Winston-Salem while Rick played the music. That was our junior year in college. We both moved to WKIX radio in Raleigh for our senior year. Dees would get in trouble with the general manager for saying funny but slightly outrageous things on the air late at night. The format in those days was strict: time, temperature and title of the song for all air personalities except the morning man. Dees has always broken the rules and made a fortune doing it. The WKIX GM manipulated a move for Dees to get him out of Raleigh and out of his hair. Southern Broadcasting Company owned WTOB and WKIX as well as WSGN radio in Birmingham. That was Dees’ next stop on his broadcasting journey. He got his first break when the popular morning man in Birmingham suddenly left for a new job with a ratings period bearing down on the station. Southern’s national program director George Williams decided to take a chance with Dees. He became a huge hit with his hilarious character voices and on-air pranks. Dees scored a major pay raise at a station in Memphis. The same year I invited him to be an usher in my wedding. I had sung in his wedding a couple of years earlier. Dees brought a 45 RPM to my rehearsal dinner and played it for friends. We all laughed and told him how ridiculous it was. Later that summer Dees’ Disco Duck would top the charts and generate six million sales. So much for my business sense! A few years later I visited Rig after he moved to the Los Angeles area and worked at KIIS FM radio. While working on a radio documentary on microelectronics I spent a couple of nights in Rig’s home whose previous owner was Kenny Rogers. Dees owned the LA radio market for years until he was forced out in a corporate political move in 2004. Rig began his weekly Top 40 show in 1983 and it currently is heard on more than 350 radio stations in the United States, as well as in 125 other countries. Dees was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1999 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has appeared a number of movies and made guest appearances of several television shows. He hosted two TV shows in Solid Gold and Into the Night with Rick Dees. Rig is married to voice actress Julie McWhirter. They have a son Kevin. Rig’s sweet mom Ann and I corresponded regularly until her death a few years ago. Rig’s Aunt Sara lives in Goldsboro and corresponds with me frequently. Rig and I remain very good friends. I deeply appreciate his support of my music. I remember him as the type of guy who could come into a party and within minutes have everyone rolling on the floor with laughter. You could throw out a scenario and he would launch into a creative dialogue of character voices. I have some old tapes. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

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Bill Leslie