Friday, July 21, 2017

R.I.P.: Iconic Twin Cities Radio Showman Bill Diehl

Bill Diehl - Early '80s
Back in the days when there were “showmen,” Twin Cities media personality Bill Diehl embodied the concept. In a career that spanned more than half a century, he was a radio disc jockey, a film critic, a newspaper columnist, an entertainment emcee and a star in his own right. Called “the last of his kind” by his newspaper colleague Rick Shefchik, Diehl passed away Wednesday while in hospice care at St. Paul’s Sholom Home East. He was 91.

Longtime Twin Cities personality Bill Diehl died Wednesday in hospice care.

He was 91-years-old age, according to The Star-Tribune.

Born in 1926, Diehl started working for the St. Paul Pioneer Press as a paperboy at age 15. From there, he managed to land a job in the newsroom, eventually becoming the paper’s lead movie critic and befriending many Hollywood stars. He also helped establish the Top 40 format for Twin Cities radio stations, moonlighting as an on-air personality for WMIN (now known as KMNV), WDGY and WCCO.

Steve Moravec, a radio station consultant in St. Paul, was 19 when he met a “glib and clever” Diehl at WDGY in the 1960s. Moravec remembers admiring the “commanding figure.”

“I don’t know how he did what he did,” Moravec said of Diehl’s varied professional pursuits. “I don’t think I have ever in my life had as much energy as Bill Diehl did for years and years.”

Diehl will be remembered as “the godfather” of the mid-century Twin Cities music scene, according to Moravec. For years, Diehl used his role as a radio personality to help Minnesota musicians book live shows and otherwise promote their work. He was a mentor and adviser to several local acts, introducing audiences to their music with airplay and by emceeing concerts.

Radio listeners knew him as “Bill Diehl, 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.” When he wasn’t ruling the AM airwaves, he appeared on local television, emceed teen dances and concerts, booked and mentored young rock bands, introduced local audiences to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, befriended Hollywood stars like Grace Kelly and Judy Garland, collected everything from records to World War II memorabilia, and traveled the world while documenting it all on 16mm film.

“I can’t believe there were enough hours in the day for him to do all the things he did,” marveled Rick Shefchik, a former Pioneer Press writer and columnist who devoted an entire chapter to Diehl in his 2015 book “Everybody’s Heard About the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll in Minnesota.”

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