Obituary: ‘Porky’ Chedwick / Pittsburgh's beloved 'Daddio of the Raddio'
March 2, 2014 11:42 PM
Porky Chedwick in WKFB studio in 2008.
Mike Frazer, Porky Chedwick and Henry DeLuca at the farewell performance of the Roots of Rock and Roll series at the Benedum Center in February.
By Adrian McCoy and Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
He was the "Daddio of the Raddio" and the "Boss Man." And for generations of Pittsburghers, Porky Chedwick was a respected, unique and beloved radio personality.
Mr. Chedwick of Brookline died Sunday morning of cardiac arrest. He was 96.
Mr. Chedwick was a trailblazer in music and in radio. Starting in the late 1940s, he introduced music by black artists to young white radio listeners and gave early airplay to artists who later went on to be major stars, including Bo Diddley and Smokey Robinson.
Sports 'n 'at: Remembering Porky Chedwick
On this week's "Sports 'n 'at," Bob Dvorchak remembers the recently passed Porky Chedwick, whose work in Pittsburgh is notable not just for his pioneering work as a DJ, but for his charitable efforts as well. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 3/4/2014)
In his shows, he crafted a one-of-a-kind improvisational on-air patter: "This is Pork the Tork, your platter-pushin' papa." It sounded alien to some, but it was a language his young listeners understood.
George Chedwick -- he later informally changed his first name to Craig -- was born and raised in Homestead and attended Munhall High School. He credited his mother for nicknaming him Porky as a child. He wore distinctive glasses thanks to an errant slingshot to the eye as a child, said Mr. Chedwick's friend Ed Weigle of Venice, Fla.
In 1948, he joined WHOD-AM in Homestead as a sports announcer. The station gave him a slot to play music, and the rest was history.
WHOD became WAMO under new ownership in 1956, and Mr. Chedwick continued to work there, playing old R&B records, some of which he got for free from record stores because they weren't selling.
The station didn't have a powerful signal, but Mr. Chedwick made enough noise to attract a solid youthful audience, along with the attention of record labels, which started sending him more current material than his so-called "dusty discs."
He hosted thousands of well-attended record hops and dances over the years.
"Porky was part of the soundtrack of Pittsburgh," said retired Pittsburgh broadcaster Frank Gottlieb, who began his career at WAMO, where he worked with Mr. Chedwick. "It was just so radically different from what other people, other stations were playing.
"All the young people knew him, and the person on the air was the real Porky. Maybe that was part of his secret. He didn't put on airs. He wasn't someone I ever recall being in a down mood. He was always up, and that showed ... on the air."
He had enormous influence on listeners. When he would yell, "Blow your horn!" Pittsburgh would erupt into a cacophony of car horns, according to Mr. Weigle.
One event Mr. Chedwick hosted outside the Stanley Theater in Downtown drew so many fans it caused traffic problems and had to be canceled.
"Porky was such a pioneer. Radio was so different back then. It wasn't nearly as formatted. He played all the stuff white radio wouldn't play back then. He could get away with that," said Sean McDowell, WDVE-FM afternoon drive host.
In an era of segregation, he wasn't afraid to cross the line and play a record if he thought it sounded good. "He persevered, because he believed in the music ... he was that dedicated to it," said Mr. Weigle, a voice actor who considered Mr. Chedwick to be his mentor.
"I'm just glad that he was able to live to see people recognize what he had accomplished in radio and music, because for years he was denied that."
Chuck Brinkman, a former Pittsburgh radio personality, came to work at then-Top 40 KQV-AM in 1960. "When I would be invited to do record hops, I learned that I had to bring his music with me. The kids who listened to KQV liked Porky's music better than ours. I learned early on if you want to be a success in Pittsburgh on the air, you better know the Boss Man's music."
"I want to see a monument built in this city to honor him," said Pat DiCesare, a longtime Pittsburgh music promoter. "This guy did so much for the civil rights movement. He played records by black artists when no one knew who he was. I remember him helping me as a songwriter and playing my records when I had a group called the Penn Boys. He was always the first person I would go to and he played my records. He did the first rock concert at the Civic Arena and sold it out in 1961-62, and the artists came not expecting to be paid. They wanted to support him for all he did."
Many of the artists whose careers Mr. Chedwick helped to launch never forgot him. When he underwent surgery for a benign brain tumor in 1991, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, the Moonglows, Lou Christie, and Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners were among artists who performed at a benefit concert to help with his medical expenses. And in 1998, the music festival Porkstock celebrated Mr. Chedwick's 50th anniversary in radio at Three Rivers Stadium. It was headlined by Little Richard and Bo Diddley. "Any entertainer of my era who say they don't know who Porky Chedwick is -- they're damn lyin'," the late Bo Diddley famously said. "That's the cat that played the records."
"I always believed that Porky had a lot to do with my moving to and settling in Pittsburgh," said R&B/soul singer Billy Price. "When I came here playing horn-driven R&B with my band, the people here knew exactly what we were doing, thanks to Porky, because that's the stuff he played on the radio here. Recording 'Porkology' with the Boss Man was one of the biggest kicks of my music career."
Mr. Chedwick was among radio personalities included in the "Dedicated to the One I Love" exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland in 1996. The exhibit featured air checks from Mr. Chedwick and others.
Mr. Chedwick also started little league baseball teams and a basketball team called the Porky Chedwicks, Mr. Weigle said.
And Mr. Chedwick would always help out someone who needed money, Mr. Weigle recalled, even his bus fare.
Mr. Chedwick continued to work off and on into his 90s, hosting weekly programs on other stations and oldies dances. Although he sometimes appeared frail physically, his voice remain clear and strong, like the Porky his listeners remember from their youth.
Just last week, he was at the annual -- and final -- Roots of Rock 'n Roll show at the Benedum Center, where he was greeted with "thunderous" applause when he appeared onstage, said Henry DeLuca, creator of the Roots of Rock 'n Roll series. "He had 5,000 people here who adored him."
Mr. Chedwick is survived by his wife, Jean; stepsons Ben Sidon of Brookline and Christopher Mason of Somerset, Ky.; and sister-in-law Sue Boening of Phoenix.
Memorial donations can be made to: Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, 201 N. Bellefield Ave., Pittsburgh 15213.
Funeral details are incomplete. Arrangements are being handled by The Frank F. DeBor Funeral Home Inc., 1065 Brookline Blvd. in Brookline.
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