Vickroy: Clark Weber, seniors revisit radio’s heyday
Clark Weber rocks this retirement thing.
The former 1960s-70s radio disc jockey and talk show host, among the most popular on the Chicago airwaves at his peak, continues to entertain audiences, only nowadays he’s preaching to an older choir.
“For people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, aging can be a very fearful time,” Weber said, before taking the stage at the Smith Crossing Continuing Care Retirement Community in Orland Park. “Many haven’t planned for retirement and suddenly, it’s here.”
Among the first things Weber tells people is that he lives in a retirement community in Evanston.
“Joan and I are thrilled to be there,” he said. “We weren’t in there a week and Joan had a slipcover made for the stove.”
And then, perhaps to prove that old age and fogeyness are not one and the same, he tears into anecdotes about hookers, toilet paper and off-air pranks gone awry.
Weber — who worked for WLS, WCFL and WIND in Chicago — has sold about 6,000 copies of his book, “Clark Weber’s Rock and Roll Radio: The Fun Years, 1955-1975,” which is filled with stories about rock-and-roll legends and life during rock radio’s heyday (available at amazon.com and chicagosbooks.com).
He uses some of the material in his live presentation — remembering his good friends and fellow Chicago legends Wally Phillips and Howard Miller, both of whom have died — as well as the first time he met Sonny and Cher.
Weber had been asked to tour with the couple, who were starring in a teenage film called “Good Times.” He was to introduce them on stage.
“She was a grouch who sat at the back of the bus and just smoked,” he recalled. “Finally, I asked what was wrong with her. And (Sonny) said, ‘We just found out we owe the IRS $250,000 in back taxes, and she doesn’t like the movie.’ ”
Weber said that film, once discovered by a CBS executive, catapulted the couple to their own TV show and a lifetime of fame.
He also told the audience about an “unfortunate” incident at Brother Rice High School years ago. Paul Revere and the Raiders were playing on stage when a teenage girl in the front row reached up and grabbed lead singer Mark Lindsay.
“Do you know where she grabbed him?” he asked, drawing laughter from the audience. “You’re right.”
Weber, who turns 83 next month, has four daughters, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. In addition to promoting his book, he speaks on behalf of retirement community living at senior citizen homes across the Chicago area and in three other states, including Florida. Earlier this day, he spoke at the Smith Village in Chicago’s Beverly community.
Weber doesn’t see radio lasting the decade, not unless it gets a huge infusion of young listeners. But for a 20-year period or so, beginning in the mid 1950s, it was the be-all, end-all.
He was a morning deejay in Milwaukee in 1960 when WLS called and offered him $34,000 to move to Chicago. Back then a new Chevrolet cost about $6,000.
“There are still skid marks on I-94 from when I got in the car and headed south,” he said, adding that he was also able to earn $600 to $900 more a week for live appearances at concerts and other events.
Weber went on to become a program director, a job that he said was not that impressive.
“It’s like running a cemetery. All kinds of people underneath you, but nobody’s listening.”
On his 44th birthday, columnist Irv Kupcinet gave him a mention in his Chicago Sun-Times column.
“Howard Miller noticed it and wished me a happy birthday,” Weber said. “Then he asked me why I was so down. I told him I was 44 and still a DJ.”
That’s when Miller told him about the next big thing in radio.
“Talk,” he said. “I said, ‘Get outta here.’ Talk?’ ”
Sure enough, Weber’s next gig was at WIND, then an all-talk station.
Back then, he said, Wally Phillips could command a salary of up to $1 million. But these days, he said, stations no longer have that kind of revenue, or a DJ that wide a reach.
Weber frequently visited Phillips, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease before he died.
“Even though he couldn’t remember me, he would hug me because he could remember that I was a part of his past,” Weber said.
And that was a past filled with practical jokes. Weber recalled the time that he flew then-newcomer Larry Lujack to a downstate gig in his Piper Aztec twin-engine airplane, which he used to park next to Bob Collins’ plane at Palwaukee Airport.
On the flight back, Weber pulled out the cumbersome aircraft operating manual and began flipping through the pages. Lujack nervously asked what was wrong.
“I told him, ‘Oh nothing, just trying to figure out how to land this damn thing,’ ” Weber said.
After encouraging the Smith Crossing seniors to make the most of their golden years and citing Bob Hope, Tony Bennett and Howard Miller as examples of people who aged gracefully, Weber gave his signature farewell: “This is Mother Weber’s oldest son, Clark, signing off.”