Dick Summer's Subway Memories
Every Christmas, without fail, I watch Frank Capra’s iconic and cautionary tale, It’s a Wonderful Life. I watch it for its humor, nostalgia but also its central theme, that we all affect the lives we touch in ways you could never expect. I was reminded about this at the Star’s End 30th Anniversary Space Music Festival this past June 16th. I created Star’s End 30 years ago (exact date somewhat indeterminate at this point). You can read about that in a couple of earlier blogs (Roots of Echoes: Star’s End and Star’s End 30th Anniversary). But the point is how many listeners that show has affected, how many people have launched careers and lifelong passions based upon hearing me and the music I played. All of us touch lives in ways we can’t always ascertain, but as a broadcaster, I’m privileged to touch so many more, most of them people I’ll never actually know.
I had the reverse experience recently. I met a disc jockey who inadvertently flipped the switch that sent me on the path I’ve followed for most of my life.
In a brief moment before FM rock radio launched in the 1960s, a couple of AM disc jockeys started shows that were playing the new “underground” music of The Doors, The Jefferson Airplane and Vanilla Fudge. One of them was on WBZ in Boston. It was a Top 40 clear channel station in the days when Clear Channel didn’t mean a media conglomerate, but a clear frequency which allowed a station’s signal to travel across multiple state lines unimpeded. At night, WBZ began a show called Dick Summer’s Subway. Get it? “Underground,”….”Subway.” Summer played all the underground music and was a champion of the Bosstown Sound. The Bosstown Sound was quickly decried as a BS media hype, but there were a lot of genuine bands swept up in it including Ultimate Spinach, The Beacon Street Union, Earth Opera, Orpheus and Eden’s Children. Summer suggested everyone open a paperclip to make a “S” shape signifying the Bosstown “Sound,” and hang it on their shirt. I took it a step further and would draw psychedelic “S” posters with the names of Boston bands spiraling in day glo letters. I was 13, you know.
It wasn’t long before WBCN in Boston came on and took over the underground scene and Dick Summer moved off to other stations and ventures, including a stint as WNEW-FM’s first morning host when they switched to “underground” music. Summer kept on doing radio including his Lovin’ Touch” series, which were stories of relationships intoned in his impeccable voice, as if he were speaking in your ear in a secluded restaurant. I wasn’t going that way and lost touch with him as I listened to Charles Laquidara, JJ Jackson (R.I.P 2004) and other jocks from the early ‘BCN era. In the days of screaming disc jockey’s like Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsberg and Cousin Brucie, Dick Summer was one of the first DJ’s who talked to the listener rather than shouting at the faceless horde. He was a transitional figure from the old school to the new. He was a hipster, but never a hippy.
A recent query from an NPR journalist trying to locate original 60’s FM rock jocks got me thinking about Dick Summer and the inevitable Google search quickly located somebody that seemed like it could be him. I dropped him an email:
I am really sorry to bother you, but someone was making a query about early FM rock jocks and I stumbled upon you on-line and was wondering if you were the same Dick Summer who did Dick Summer’s Subway on WBZ sometime around 1966-67-68? I really loved that show and remember drawing my psychedelic “S” for the Bosstown Sound.
If this isn’t you, sorry. If it is, thanks!
Five minutes later, I got a response. He was indeed the same Dick Summer. It turns out he lives right around the corner from me. We’ve since met and had a lovely dinner together with his wife, Barbara.
Although he’s out of radio, Dick remains in communications and still has his pipes. You can hear them on his website. We didn’t talk nearly as much about the good old daze as I would have liked, but I suspect we’ll get there sometime soon. Dick blogged about the experience himself here. (You might have to crawl down a posting or two.) He accurately points out that while he was in radio for the radio, I was in radio for the music, and remain so, probably to my financial detriment. He called me a purist.
Meeting Dick Summer and greeting fans of Echoes and Star’s End at the festival, brings to mind how intimate the radio medium is. More so than TV, movies and certainly the internet, radio can provide that one-to-one experience, and Dick Summer was one of the guys who started that. He’s probably touched millions, I’ve touched a few less, I suspect, but some of those touches have been profound. I just hope I look as good as he does when some old fan digs me up 20 years down the road.
Comment posted by
at 6/18/2007 5:42:34 PM
Wow! There’s a response I wasn’t expecting. Since this is the Echoes Blog and I’m the host of the show, I just assume most readers know it’s me, John Diliberto, but now that you’ve pointed that out a I can see that was an erroneous assumption. I’ll fix it post-haste. So are you in Hawaii or California? or would you prefet “Impeach the President”
Comment posted by
at 6/18/2007 4:43:43 PM
Now you know two ex-famous DJs from Boston (three, counting Duane). And I look better than Summers (even though I’m a lot older.)
By the way, did anyone ever tell you that you use the word I all through this page, but there is no way to figure out who “I” is, unless I’m missing something. Who is writing this thing anyway?