Voice of the City

After premiering on radio in 1949 and airing on TV from 1951 to 1959, Dragnet came back for a four-year TV run beginning in 1967. The late 60s was a fertile time for the stalwart Joe Friday to make a comeback, as much of what his generation assumed was settled about American life turned out not to be. The rebooted Dragnet set out to assure its target audience—greatest-generation adults who had built the postwar world now under siege by the counterculture—that they had been right, were right, and would continue to be right. The show’s hamfisted portrayals of youth culture are legendary (everybody remembers Blue Boy), as if the kids were from another planet—which to the Dragnet audience, they were.

So if Dragnet was ever going to intersect with local radio in Los Angeles, it wouldn’t be with KHJ or KPPC or any station the kids listened to. And when that unlikely event actually happened, it wasn’t. In an episode of Dragnet 1970 (the show’s final season), Dick Whittinghill is credited as himself. By 1970, he had been one of the city’s top DJs for two decades, holding down mornings on KMPC.

There’s a 1968 Whittinghill aircheck here, and it’s pretty interesting. Most of the airchecks that have survived from this period are from Top 40 stations, but KMPC was an MOR station, programmed squarely at adults, heavy on news, sports, and traffic, and billing itself as “the station of the stars,” a reference as much to its jocks as its other on-air content. Other famous LA personalities who worked there over the years included Wink Martindale, Geoff Edwards, Jim Lange, Gary Owens, and Robert W. Morgan.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of KMPC to the same audience that liked Dragnet–this aircheck contains a remarkably calm half-hour of radio. Whittinghill doesn’t seem to be doing much except playing light, non-rock pop music (Bert Kaempfert, Ray Charles Singers, Patti Page, etc.) and occasionally delivering a mild wisecrack after the songs before moving on to the commercials. (Not heard: Whittinghill’s occasionally risqué subject matter, by the standards of his time.) The aircheck was recorded between 9:30 and 10AM on Monday, June 10, 1968, and in that entire time, Whittinghill never once gives the call letters. Quite a contrast from Top 40 stations of the era, and radio stations today. Listeners that morning were finally reminded of what they were listening to during the introduction to a newscast (which is voiced by Owens, then KMPC’s afternoon guy).

Dick Whittinghill had acted on TV and in the movies since the 50s. He and Jack Webb were old friends, and Webb cast him in Adam-12 and Emergency! in addition to both the rebooted Dragnet and the 50s original. He also appeared as a local TV host in Los Angeles in addition to the radio gig during the 1950s and early 60s. He retired from KMPC in 1979 after 29 years (and was replaced by Robert W. Morgan), but old radio guys do radio, and so he came back a couple of different times. Whittinghill died in 2001 at age 87. His Los Angeles Times obituary is here.

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