Hats off to Porky
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Local radio legend Porky Chedwick doesn't remember the name of the first song he played on air.
But, like many of his fans, he does remember the date of the first time he spun a platter: Aug. 1, 1948. That is when he and radio station WHOD, which later changed its name to WAMO, started broadcasting from Homestead.Alyssa Cwanger, Post-Gazette
Porky Chedwick, 88, dances with his wife, Jeanie, of Brookline, at Royal Place, a nightclub-bar on Library Road in Castle Shannon last Wednesday evening.
Click photo for larger image.
"Porky's Golden Ear, Breaking hits from year to year" was one of his many early and rhymed popular sayings.
He was known for the distinctive type of music he played -- rhythm and blues and soul -- long before most other DJs did.
"My ear told me this music would be accepted," said Mr. Chedwick, 88, of Brookline.
Mr. Chedwick and WAMO will be recognized at Homestead's Community Day on Saturday at the town's Frick Park.
County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and other officials have been invited to greet and say some kind words about the Homestead-born Mr. Chedwick at 2 p.m. There will be a presentation involving a facsimile of a bronze plaque commemorating Mr. Chedwick and WAMO. The real 24-by-36-inch plaque will be placed on the side of the building that housed WAMO, 107 E. Eighth St., near the Homestead Grays Bridge.
The fun Saturday will include musical groups, an art exhibit, a petting zoo, moon walk and food, crafts and health screening booths. The Homestead Volunteer Firefighters will have a "battle of the [water] barrel."
Disc jockey "Uncle Al" Wanchik, of South Heights, Beaver County, spearheaded the drive to erect the plaque to honor Mr. Chedwick and has been holding fund-raisers to pay its $4,000 cost.
In his heyday, "all the bad boys listened to Porky," Mr. Wanchik recalled.
"I went with Porky back in 1992 when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and received a plaque. When we got home, I said, 'But there's nothing here in Pittsburgh for him, and this was where he was The Bossman.'"
"The man deserves it. There are no more innovators. All the old guys, such as Alan Freed, Wolfman Jack, are gone. If it wasn't for Porky and those guys, we might have ended up listening to Patti Page and Pat Boone."
The Homestead plaque will say "The Bossman." "The Daddio of the Radio," started playing his music at the [Homestead] site in 1948.
On air, Mr. Chedwick often referred to himself that way.
Mr. Chedwick was born George Jacob Chedwick in Homestead and graduated from Munhall High School. "Porky" wasn't an on-air persona -- his mother gave him the nickname, he said.
He had four children, two of whom died. Son Paul lives in Mount Washington and son Michael lives in Atlanta, Ga.
He and his wife, Jean Chedwick, 58, have been married since 1990.
Lloyd Cunningham owns Steel Valley Printers, housed in the former WAMO building where the Chedwick-WAMO plaque will be displayed.
"It's little that we're actually doing, letting them use the side of a building which has significance to the history of Homestead," Mr. Cunningham said.
More hops than a bunny
Mr. Chedwick still likes to say that he has seen "more hops than the Easter Bunny."
He made an appearance July 5, not at a record hop, but at Royal Place in Castle Shannon, where his buddy, Steve Maffei, of Baldwin Borough, played songs as Mr. Chedwick signed autographs and greeted fans who came to his table.
"There's only one Porky Chedwick. Let's welcome him," Mr. Maffei said.
"Keep on dancing and keep on being groovy," Mr. Chedwick said. "This is the place where you should have your face."
Mr. Chedwick will appear at the Royal Place every Wednesday this month.
Mickey Wroblewski, of Carrick, said he came to the Royal Place last week because he was attracted by Mr. Chedwick's name on the outdoor marquee. He said he was thrilled to meet his idol.
"They should change the name of the town of Cheswick to Chedwick." Mrs Chedwick said as she sat at a table on the sidelines last week.
The Five Satins, The Cadillacs, The Spaniels, The Doves and The Eldorados were some of the groups he showcased by playing their records on his show when she listened as a girl.
"I grew up in Baldwin Borough. The nuns at St. Wendelin's used to say, 'His music is the devil's work.' It was beautiful, romantic music you could listen to as you walked with your boyfriend," Mrs. Chedwick said.
She said she was always a fan. The couple met when she and a girlfriend went to the Grove in Castle Shannon to see him DJ. He asked what her favorite song was and later played, "Since I Don't Have You.''
When he started spinning records, "everything I did was unheard of, unknown and unaccepted. I had to break down barriers," Mr. Chedwick recalled.
He had changed his first name from George to the more melodious Craig Chedwick when he got his first job as a sports freelancer for the Daily Messenger in Homestead and as an announcer on local public address systems at athletic events. Then he heard about an opportunity to broadcast on the new Homestead radio station, WHOD.
In the early days, Mr. Chedwick opted to play records that were sold either under the counter or in the back of the record stores.
His most requested song in the early days and through his quasi-retirement is "In the Still of the Night" by Freddie Paris and the Five Satins.
A 'hot' platter
As his music began to catch on with local teens, he adapted gimmicks such as the frequent use of rhymes and creating excitement on air.
One particularly hot performance from a recording artist caused him to say, "This record is on fire. We're burning." He was surprised by the Homestead volunteer fire department knocking on his door.
The police department used to park his car all the time when he arrived at the station, his wife said, chuckling. He had a pink Cadillac but couldn't parallel park, so a helpful policeman would park it for him.
He was prone to doing crazy things, such as asking teens to honk their horns or to get out of their cars and dance.
"Senior citizens dining at Eat'n Park would ask, 'What's going on?' " Mrs. Chedwick said.
A promoter from Sun Records asked him to play Elvis Presley in the 1950s, when "The King" was getting started, but Mr. Chedwick respectfully declined.
"I told him, 'I'm an R&B purist. I'd rather stick with what I invented,' " he said.Alyssa Cwanger, Post-Gazette
"Mickey" Wroblewski, of Carrick, left, greets Porky Chedwick, 88, at Royal Place. Mr. Wroblewski has known Mr. Chedwick since 1968.
Click photo for larger image.
"He wouldn't take money back when DJs' taking payola was a common practice," Mr. Wanchik commented.
Instead, Mr. Chedwick startled record companies by playing the B side of the hit they wanted to promote.
"Porky was the cool one. You wanted to follow him around," Mr. Wanchik said.
Mr. Wanchik said Mr. Chedwick earned his national reputation and entry into the Hall of Fame because of his devotion to R&B and to fairness. Mr. Wanchik said black singers and groups sometimes didn't get a lot of air time, but heard that "this DJ in Pittsburgh" was playing their records without being asked. Mr. Wanchik said Mr. Chedwick quickly became known nationally as a man who was bucking the trend, and then the trend began to catch on,
These days, Mr. Chedwick said, he owes his good health to never drinking, never smoking and taking many walks. During his daily half hour walk in Brookline, he sometimes visits his friend, District Judge Charles McLaughlin.
The Chedwicks are not big rap or hip hop fans.
"The music Porky played left memories. How can you slow dance to a song called 'I Want to Kill My Father?' " Mrs. Chedwick asked.
But Mr. Chedwick is not surprised by the changes he has seen in the music industry.
"The music changes in segments from generation to generation," he said. "The music manufacturers can't keep playing the same music over and over. They change to a new sound for the next generation," he said.
"Back when I decided to publicly play the records I played on my antiquated record player, I realized that the music had harmony and range. The teenagers were overwhelmed by its appeal. They had never heard such a good romantic sound before."
Porky Chedwick can be reached at 412-344-1234.
First Published July 13, 2006 12:00 am