March 11th, 2011

smokin'

R.I.P. Danny Stiles

I just heard on WNYC that one of my favorite radio personalities, Danny Stiles, has died.  Stiles, the "Vicar of Vintage Vinyl" had been on the radio for over six decades as a deejay and announcer and continued to broadcast just about up to his death -- he'd been in ill health for a while but returned recently to host his WNYC am show, explaining he'd been recovering from an operation. Unfortunately, after a couple of new shows, WNYC started re-running older broadcasts several weeks ago, and, like many other listeners I'm sure, I was worried about how he was doing. Danny was 87, and he was a cancer survivor, and would often kibbitz about how he was doing, health-wise. And, obviously, no one lives forever.

We stumbled onto a Danny Stiles ("On Your Dials") broadcast on a local leased-time station a number of years ago and continued to listen to his leased-time shows for years, he played mostly big-bands and standards from his huge record collection, Broadway recordings, film clips, a few novelty songs and some semi-contemporary (and often kinda lousy) pop songs. He loved schmaltzy stuff, Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, the Boswell Sisters, among many, many others. He cracked corny jokes, mentioned his long-time listeners and friends, did his own local ads, laughed over records and talked back to them, endlessly plugged his shows and appearances. He was old-time entertainment, old-time radio, a steady presence on local stations and on his weekly Big Band Broadcast on WNYC. We don't have a radio in the bedroom anymore and our schedule changed after Em was born, so we stopped listening to his late-night slots, although I kept up with his Saturday night 8 PM WNYC  broadcast.

Danny always closed his show the same way -- with Shirley Temple singing, "Good Night, My Love" (which he'd often sing along with), then he'd say good night to his "dear, sweet wife, Barbara" (who preceded him in death some time ago) as a Connee Boswell number played. He's then name-check a batch of mostly obscure silent movie stars, horror movie actors and entertainers, who were supposedly helping him with the closing of "the mahogany doors" as he walked out  of the studio (replete with sound effects), carrying a bevy of "excruciatingly heavy" 78s. His program assistant (Rodney) or his WNYC announcer (for some time the recently-departed veteran broadcaster Henry Lewis) would be asked to "hold the door" and then he'd sign off by saying, "good night, dear hearts" or something very close to it.  It always killed me. It was all incredibly endearing and whenever he'd leave the air I always felt a little wistful. You just wished Danny would be there forever. He clearly enjoyed what he did, and even if a lot of the music he played was cornball or awful (he loved Gilbert O'Sullivan's AM "gold", fer chrissakes), the show was wonderful.And it was wonderful, old school radio. I know a lot of my continuing love for old 30's and 40's music comes from Danny being on the radio and I'll always be grateful for his being there on the air, he kept me company during a lot of late nights and marathons working at the drawing table. I always wanted to write him, he always asked folks to drop him a line, he loved hearing from listeners who weren't his own age, he enjoyed hearing that there were younger, or semi-younger, people who enjoyed the big bands and old-entertainment nostalgia he dished out for decades while the music was considered mostly passe. I should have written him.

He will be missed.