In the 1960s, Chicago radio personality Art Hellyer just wasn’t on the radio. He was all over it, literally. Those were the heydays of live shows where studios and stations competed to have the best air personalities, and then once then they had them, WAR was in order. Hellyer was a general and led his troops to ratings records, wherever he was.
And he’s back one more time! Sunday, October 2nd from 1:00 to 2:00 pm CST, marks Art’s debut (déjà vu all over again) on radio, his first shows since 2001 where he was “announcer, record turner, engineer, writer, and producer.” Not all that long ago, savvy 1960s radio listeners knew what an Arbitron rating was, just as they knew the numbers of their favorite Chicago Bears player. And Art Hellyer was in the thick middle of some of the best days of radio, ever.
Radio wars were fun because audiences could participate in boosting their stations. Listeners and programmers alike anticipated with excitement to learn who was the best that quarter. Although Hellyer is a veritable Wikipedia of radio lore, with so many great stories, he is modest by nature. The numbers show, though: Hellyer was the number one rated on-air personality in Chicago four different times. That would be on four different stations. In four separate decades.
Lest you think he was some warm, charming, slightly hypnotic soothing voice of svelte comfort, no, no, no. Art’s ravings when he liked something, and rants when he didn’t, were the delight of morning show listeners, noon-day tune-ins, and evening drop-ins. His sense of humor, coupled with the very first sound effects genius, Dr. KTT, Lenny Kaye, made people laugh til tears came to their eyes.
His quick wit and sharp temper made him instantly recognizable. As those who listen to favorite classic rock jocks today feel a special kinship or familiarity, so do the legions of Hellyer fans feel connected with their choice of radio voice.
Hellyer was one of the first satellite broadcasters (but of course!) thank to Ralph Sherman hiring him for his Satellite Music Network. Today, he’s returning to the airwaves via cyberspace. Heller says, “Thanks to Scott McWilliams, founder, operations manager, and program director of Party 934, I find myself on the worldwide Internet.” When asked how he felt about that, he effuses that he is “lucky, amazed at the technology that has made this possible, and like ‘Lil Abner’…’Confoozed.’”
The confusion is why all the fuss over Art Hellyer now, when he thought he was long since forgotten, a radio afterthought. He first found out just how wrong he was about that with his release of “The Hellyer Say,” a collection of autobiographical essays he published in 2008 had him as a guest on every Chicagoland radio station.
Hellyer is regarded by so many wonderful people in the music industry and radio business. He has stories about Patti Page, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Perry Como, as some of those he interviewed to share. And then there’s stories about some of the radio advertisements he used to represent, if you can call it that. Sometimes his railing out against radio sponsors found the advertisers up in arms, but most of the time they concluded that if you were going to have someone talking about you, it should be Hellyer, no matter what he was saying. This was before they coined the term “product placement.”
Not that he didn’t get in hot water with his bosses now and again, either. He did, and enough times to sometimes lose his job over it, but it usually took about 5 seconds to get a new one. Hellyer had listeners, loyal ones, who followed him wherever and whenever he was on the dial. One time he lost his job in Chicago and moved his wife and family to Milwaukee, where he did well, but was not happy.
“I was born in Chicago and that’s where I wanted to raise my family,” says Hellyer. So he started a media campaign of his own idea and accord. Using penny postcards, he’d send a missive to program directors across Chicago stations with “Greetings from Milwaukee” on one side and something like ‘Help! Get me out of here” on the reverse. He mailed out 50 cards a day and finally one struck gold, and off they went back to Chicago where he settled in for the remainder of his days across the dial.
It’s a safe bet that the debut of his show Sunday, Oct. 2, will mark the return of a lot of people who still regard Art Hellyer as being “like family” to them.
Party 934 Radio is both independent and non-traditional, and broadcasts across your car and home at 94.9 FM for those listeners in the Hudson Valley, New York. From Albany and Troy, to the Catskills, and on to New York City, that’s a local signal. The rest of you can tune in at www.arthellyer.party934.com Sunday, Oct. 2, from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm CST.
Now, it’s free to listen, but because the station is a certified non-profit, they gratefully accept your (tax-deductible) contributions. When you click to tune in, you can also click to donate if you’re so inclined. Maybe donate in honor of Art Hellyer, if you enjoy what you hear.
Just to talk with Art by phone, you’re mesmerized to hear one of the truly great voices of radio discuss virtually anything. He could read the phone book on air and folks would tune in. But he’s playing music and sharing memories instead. Hellyer invites you to meet him online, every Sunday you’re near your computer, smartphone or GoogleTV. And remember, “don’t touch that dial!”