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Bay Area Radio Museum

KNBR 68, San Francisco
"Meet Frank Dill" News Article
From Pacific Sun, July 14-20, 1978

This article on Frank Dill by Hut Landon, which appeared in the Marin County newsweekly Pacific Sun in July 1978, was reprinted by the KNBR promotions department for inclusion in the station's press package.


Meet Frank Dill, the most popular voice on Morning Radio

Pacific Sun July 14-20, 1978

By Hut Landon

Morning radio in the Bay Area has long been blessed with unique personalities, from the days of Don Sherwood and Dave McElhatton to the likes of Jim Dunbar, Terry McGovern and even Dr. Don Rose. Through it all, one man has survived it better and longer than them all.

Every weekday morning, the alarm goes off at 4 am in Frank Dill's Peacock Gap home. Two hours later, he begins his four-hour program on KNBR-68. He has been a fixture in that 6 to 10 am slot for 13-1/2 years. In the nomadic world of disc jockeys, it's a longevity record that should be the envy of the industry. To top it off, the latest ratings released two weeks ago show that in the all-important 25-49 age group, more people listen to Frank Dill in the morning than to anyone else in radio.

So what's the secret of Dill's success? Loyal listeners will tell you it's the spontaneous exuberance that emanates from his show. Unlike most non-news stations, music is not the prime ingredient on KNBR. The songs are contemporary, middle-of-the road, familiar pop tunes that serve to frame the station's three principal air personalities, Dill, Mike Cleary and Carter B. Smith.

On Dill's program, music comprises no more than 50% of the time; much of the rest is taken up with what Dill calls "interesting talk." Whether it's trading quips with traffic reporter Hap Harper, soliciting movie reviews from listeners or accepting ad-libbed phone calls from characters created by the multi-talented Cleary, Dill manages to keep his audience informed, amused and usually unsure about exactly what to expect next. As he sees it, "I think that principally people who listen to us listen because they get to know us and they feel we're friends of theirs."

Much of the program's spontaneity and humor come from Dill's repartee with good friend Cleary. With his excellent ear for voices and nimble wit, Cleary has developed over the years a stock of characters and impersonations that he delights in showcasing on Dill's show. And although the two occasionally discuss what they will do, more often than not Dill is just as surprised as the listener by whichever character Cleary chooses to be. "It could be Jack Benny calling collect from heaven, Richard Nixon from San Clemente, Joey Garbanzo [a wonderful spoof of greengrocer Joe Carcione] - I just never know. But whoever it is, we go with it on the air."

As it is with many aspects of the format, the Cleary call-ins were initiated on the spur of the moment; the first one was nothing more than a Cleary whim. Similarly, when Dill began discussing the practical jokes that have become a part of their relationship, the audience loved every minute of it. Listeners now delight in hearing the two plot elaborate schemes over the air and the protestations of innocence that follow each incident.

Dill still can't suppress a giggle as he recalls Cleary's initial prank. "Mike stuck a whistle up my exhaust pipe, and there was a screeching sound you wouldn't believe. I thought the whole car was going to blow up. So of course I had to pay him back and that's how the whole thing started."

Although sticking a whistle in an exhaust pipe may sound a bit childish to some, they continue to provoke positive audience reaction. "I think they get vicarious pleasure out of hearing about them," Dill says.

Sometimes, they even let the listeners help them out with their silliness. Last year the Morning Mayor (Dill's radio "title") solicited balloons from people without telling them what their purpose was. All he had to mention was that Cleary was on vacation and he wanted balloons. Literally thousands poured in, enabling Dill to fill Cleary's apartment nearly to the ceiling with inflated balloons and leaving the latter with the unenviable problem is disposing of them.

"I was a little worried about how to get into Mike's apartment," Dill remembers, "but the apartment manager turned out to be a KNBR listener. I told him what I wanted and he was only too anxious to help. 'I'll bet it has something to do with all those balloons you're collecting,' was all he said."

FRANK DILL BROKE INTO the broadcasting business in singular fashion back in high school. He appeared on a sports trivia panel show on a Washington D.C. television station, and his tremendous storehouse of sports knowledge made him a regular on the program. Since he was also a high school athlete of some repute, the station recruited him to play on their softball team. Unfortunately, when Dill graduated from high school in 1949, he was no longer eligible to play on the station softball team. Dill must have been a pretty fair hitter, because the station decided they wanted him for their starting nine and hired Dill as an office boy at $22.50 per week. Three months later, he was promoted to floor man ("I worked with Dwight Hemion, now a well-known TV producer, and a guy who wrote news but who couldn't get on the air because of his funny voice David Brinkley"), and he was on his way.

Dill went on to work in both radio and television, developing both skill and confidence in his abilities. He developed so much confidence, in fact, that when KNBR hired him in 1964, Dill insisted that he also be allowed to do freelance television work if he could get it. KNBR agreed, probably thinking nothing would ever come of it. Obviously they did not know Frank Dill very well; six months later, he decided to become a TV sportscaster.

Dill knew that Van Amburg had recently left Channel 5 and that the new sports announcer was very weak. In an impressive display of moxie (or youthful egocentricity), he contacted the top brass at 5 and told them, "You need me, and if you don't see me you'll never know what you're missing." He cajoled his way into an on-the-spot, unrehearsed audition, where with no preparation he rattled five minutes of sports news off the top of his head and was hired on the spot.

Now that his radio work is so successful, Dill no longer works on TV, except to co-host locally the 22-hour Jerry Lewis telethon every Labor Day. He is content to work his five days (Dill's Saturday show is pre-taped during the week) and appear at various luncheons, charity functions and station promotions. He also plays golf and has a voracious appetite for reading that is aided by the cartons of paperbacks he receives each week from publishers anxious to get an on-the-air plug. He says he still enjoys his work, even after 15 years, and gives much of the credit to general manager Bill Dwyer.

"Dwyer's attitude is that what makes this station work is Frank, Mike and Carter, so let them do their own thing," says Dill. Often their "own thing" involves one of the three barging into the studio in the middle of another's show and sitting down for a few minutes to needle, joke or comment on something that was said. It's an unheard-of freedom that is granted the three (the studio even has an extra microphone and chair set up for such cameo appearances), and it's another example of Dwyer's faith in their talent and judgment.


SOURCE: Bay Area Radio Digest Collection.

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