Bill Diehl was born in February 1926 and began his career
in the media as a paperboy for the St. Paul Pioneer Press
and Dispatch in 1941. A phenomenal increase in
subscriptions parlayed him into the job of
copy boy when he graduated from High School in 1943 at the age of 17. In 1944, while
taking evening classes at
Macalester College, he became a copy editor (he also took
film classes at
the U of M). In 1948 he became a Sunday movie columnist.
In 1950 he was promoted to movie editor with his column “Look and Listen.”
He remained movie editor until 1985, and continued writing
his column until he retired on May 31, 1996.
His radio career started in 1948 at WMIN in the Hamm
Building in St. Paul. He left WMIN in January 1950, and in
the summer of 1950 he did a movie gossip show on KSTP-TV
called "Screen Stories," which he wrote, produced, and
presented. KSTP wanted him to stay but he wanted to
keep his Pioneer Press job. He went back to
WMIN in the fall of 1950 and stayed until early 1955.
There he had shows called "It's Your Diehl" and "Diehl's
Caravan," where he played pop tunes, Broadway hits, and the
songs of the day. From late 1955 to 56 he was at WTCN,
mostly doing radio but also some TV.
The following interview with Bill Diehl came from an article “The a’ Go Go Spotlight” by Jim Karnstedt in the October 1965 issue of Twin City a’ Go Go.
The Rajah of the records, the Deacon of the discs, the Purveyor of the platters and the Wizard of the wax with all the musical facts. That’s only part of the story of WDGY personality, Bill Diehl. He also handles a successful booking agency, writes in the St. Paul Dispatch and coordinates special events. Last week, I managed to catch him in one of his spare moments.
T.C. a’ Go Go: How did you get started in your radio career?
Bill: I was writing an entertainment column in the St. Paul Dispatch which caught the attention of Sev Widman of WMIN. He thought it was wild and asked me to fill in on a radio show for the vacationing announcer. Soon after, I had my own show on WMIN.
T.C. a’ Go Go: Did you have any radio training at the time?
Bill: No, as a matter of fact, I used to read the newspaper out loud in order to get the proper pronunciation and phrasing.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What made you take up radio announcing?
Bill: I used to sit in the John, of all people, and I thought it would be great to be on the air.
T.C. a’ Go Go: Where did you go from WMIN?
Bill: KSTP asked me to do a TV show called “Sunday Screen Story.” So, I wrote it, produced it, and starred in it with no experience along those lines at all. After that, I declined a full time job at KSTP because the station said I’d have to leave the St. Paul Dispatch. Then I returned to WMIN for awhile and later joined WTCN TV where I did news, weather, movies, and other numerous announcing.
T.C. a’ Go Go: How did you land the job at WDGY?
Bill: Jack Thayer, who then managed the station hired me to do a Top 40 show, which achieved the highest ratings in the station’s history. I did a request show, “Nightbeat,” and now on Sunday, “Your Opinion Please”. Now my announcing is more confined to the weekends. I also coordinate WDGY’s special events like the WDGY AquaTEENIAL Spectacular and the WDGY Winter Carnival Spectacular of 1964, which attracted 20,000 people: 16,000 inside and 4,000 outside the St. Paul Auditorium. It was the largest crowd in the auditorium’s history.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What is the most memorable event in your radio career?
Bill: The one I always remember is the time I fluffed a commercial at WMIN. I mean real bad! Stuart A. Lindman consoled me and said everything would come out alright and I guess it did.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What do you feel is the most exciting part of radio announcing?
Bill: It’s the thought that at a 50,000 watt station like WDGY, your voice reaches out hundreds and hundreds of miles to thousands and thousands of people.
T.C. a’ Go Go: Where have your travels taken you?
Bill: I’ve been behind the Iron Curtain three times in nine years. My secondary purpose in traveling throughout Europe was to polish up on my German and French and taking 16mm color films.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What other public speaking do you do?
Bill: I’ve made many speeches for both public and private organizations. They include the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, Optimist Club and many others. More than anything, I suppose, is the regular MC work which includes more than I can possibly name. The biggest event recently, of course, was the Beatle Concert.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What are your reactions on the bad publicity the Beatles received?
Bill: The story was blown completely out of proportion. I thought it was extremely unfair for that cloud of bad publicity to be pushed over the name of the Beatles. I got over sixty calls in my home that night.
T.C. a’ Go Go: I understand that you have a lot to do with the bands. Could you briefly explain this?
Bill: I have been booking bands in the Midwest for quite awhile now. Recently, I auditioned ten of them. I’m now, in addition to my regular bands, booking five of those ten. I’m especially proud of Suzie Q. and the Originals which I feel is going to be a very popular group.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What are some of the bands that you book?
Bill: Let’s see, there are the Accents, the Underbeats, Avanties, Chancellors, High Spirits, Del Counts, Gestures, Coronados, Froggy and His Friends, T.C. Atlantic, the Deacons, Suzie Q and the Originals, the Expressmen, and quite a few more. I’m in the process of consolidating with Dick Shapiro of Path musical Productions into the Central Booking Agency. We’ll handle a good part of the dance dates in the upper Midwest.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What is your opinion on the long hair issue?
Bill: I believe it’s purely a matter of personal taste. The arguments in schools seem a little hard to believe. However, it does depend on the age bracket. Ten and twelve year olds are bound by their parents to do as they’re told. When they reach sixteen to twenty-one, they’re more sophisticated and should be able to decide for themselves. It’s just a passing fad and you can see it diminishing already.
T.C. a’ Go Go: Could you give me a brief rundown of your daily activities?
Bill: It starts with my day at the newspaper. As entertainment editor I check clubs, theatres, call Hollywood and New York and usually attend a movie screening in the morning. In the afternoon I write my six-day-a-week entertainment column, “Look ‘N’ Listen,” along with my Saturday record column, “Platter Poll.” I do band bookings in the late afternoon. From about six to eight PM I get in a movie screening and afterwards a personal appearance or two. Lastly, I run out to the station to tape dance commercials. Sometimes I’ll go twenty-four hours without a wink, but eventually I’ll catch u p.
T.C. a’ Go Go: How can you afford to give away the prizes at dances?
Bill: Well, I’m unmarried, don’t smoke, and I’m certainly not a drinker, so it doesn’t put a big dent in my pocketbook.
T.C. a’ Go Go: With what top stars have you been associated in your past?
Bill: Just about any of them. Grace Kelly and I had to share out of the same lemonade glass. I’ve stayed at Robert Mitchum’s house numerous times and I’ve hob-knobbed with Bing Crosby. Also, my work necessitates interviews with a great many stars both in the movie and recording industry.
T.C. a’ Go Go: Being a personality, do people bother you much?
Bill: They don’t really bother me, but I do get calls twenty-four hours a day from people asking all kinds of wild questions. Girls will call me with their personal problems, but I don’t mind that because it’s quite flattering if I can help someone who really needs it.
T.C. a’ Go Go: What general advice can you give to someone following a career like yours?
Bill: They should have an appreciation for the arts and a solid background in English. We don’t communicate by smoke signals anymore, so it is very important to be knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. Most important, you shouldn’t worry about what people say about you. Just believe in yourself and what you are doing and you’ll be on the road to success.