ELDORADO -- What is Dick Siegel, once part of the most recognizable radio team in Dallas-Fort Worth, doing out here in West Texas?
Siegel teamed with Hal Jay on WBAP/820 AM from 1981 to 2003 for the top-rated morning radio show in the Metroplex. Hal and Dick, as they were commonly known, had 3 million listeners within 100 miles of their Fort Worth-licensed station. They had countless other listeners across the nation, as WBAP's clear-channel signal reached pretty much from coast to coast and border to border.
With Hal in the studio and Dick in his helicopter providing traffic reports, the duo shared an uncanny camaraderie. Besides news, weather and traffic, Hal and Dick supplied listeners with an endless stream of jokes and hilarious fictional characters. They even had their own comic strip in the Star-Telegram called "The Adventures of Hal 'n Dick."
Years removed from those days of entertaining millions, Siegel now plays oldies music for a few thousand listeners in rural West Texas.
Eldorado is a community of about 1,900 residents located 50 miles south of San Angelo. Here, Siegel hosts "The Dick Siegel Morning Show" from 6 to 11 a.m. Monday-Friday on KLDE/104.9 FM, which reaches a 70-mile radius around Eldorado -- from Sonora to Ozona to Big Lake to San Angelo.
"Working here and doing this show have added 10 years to my life," said Siegel, now 73 and silver-haired. "I had retired. I was living in Granbury, and I got bored. I'd go meet some other retired friends for coffee, and we'd see these guys come in and get something to go and be off to work. I realized we didn't have any place to be. Nobody gave a damn whether we showed up or not.
"With this job at KLDE, they depend on me, and I depend on them."
"They" are station owners Danny and Paula Boyer. Danny, an Eldorado native, purchased the rights for his hometown's first radio station and went on the air in the fall of 2007. Siegel and Danny Boyer knew each other because Boyer's business in Irving -- Central Communications & Electronics -- did work for WBAP, including installation of radios in Siegel's Jetcopter 820. A mutual friend at WBAP told the retired Siegel of Boyer's new radio venture in West Texas.
"Dick called me in December ," Danny Boyer said. "My first thought was, 'Why in the hell do you want to come to Eldorado, Texas?' He said he was retired, had sold his helicopter and couldn't fix anything around the house. He didn't hunt or fish or golf. He had no hobbies other than radio.
"I told Dick I was building a new studio here, and when I finished it, I'd call him back."
Boyer called back, and Siegel debuted on KLDE on June 30, 2008.
Local radio legacy
Siegel retired from WBAP in 2003, primarily because he'd had open heart surgery the previous year.
"Heart surgery changes the way you think," Siegel said. "A lot of things you thought were important aren't anymore. You don't care about keeping your vehicle spotless or what your clothes look like. You just want to do something that makes you happy. I wanted to DJ."
Although his radio reputation was built as a helicopter pilot, traffic reporter and comic, Siegel had been a weekend disc jockey at KLIF radio in Dallas before moving to WBAP.
At WBAP, Siegel's office was the sky above the Metroplex and its 6 million residents. At KLDE, his office is a 10-by-6-foot control room.
Siegel likes the coziness of the tiny room and says it has everything he needs. Four computer screens include files of digitized music, commercials and jokes; the weather forecast and weather radar are also part of the setup.
Almost 2,000 CDs belonging to Siegel and the Boyers are stored along two walls. Despite the massive collection, Siegel can find whatever he wants in a matter of seconds.
Of course, the control room includes a microphone, but Siegel's show is more about the music than his words. KLDE plays oldies from the '50s, '60s and '70s, but there are no boundaries when it comes to genre. Siegel plays country, Top 40, rock, Cajun and Tejano. There's even a gospel song each hour.
"Before we got started, I asked Danny what he wanted me to play. He said, 'Whatever you want.' I told him that was unheard of," Siegel said. "They let me play what I want. It's like a dream job. I love what I'm doing."
Siegel reports to work each weekday at 1:30 a.m. to line up his songs and jokes for the 6 a.m. show. He goes to bed at 6 p.m. He lives in a trailer the Boyers purchased that sits behind the station.
Every other Thursday, Siegel takes off at noon for the 220-mile drive to his permanent home in Granbury for a three-day weekend with his wife, Jeanne.
When on the air, Siegel's No. 1 rule is to give the station's call letters every time he opens his mic. He offers occasional comments, jokes and daily 8 a.m. recorded rerun skits of "Sam from Sales," the fictitious character who used to visit Hal and Dick at WBAP. Siegel said WBAP sold 1.1 million CDs of "Sam from Sales" comedy bits.
"I've had 15 to 20 ranchers and farmers from all over West Texas tell me that they drive up to the top of the nearest hill at 8 in the morning to hear 'Sam from Sales,'" Danny Boyer said.
Persona bigger than real life
Siegel seems surprised that anyone in Eldorado remembers him from WBAP. He doesn't see himself as a celebrity, despite being routinely asked -- along with Hal Jay during the height of their popularity -- to introduce country music stars at Billy Bob's Texas on Friday and Saturday nights. He counts as friends Willie Nelson and George Jones (whom Siegel revealed has an ugly, gray tour bus but Jones doesn't know it because he's colorblind).
The Boyers said Siegel, despite once being a popular personality at a big radio station, is often a shy person.
"We'll go into one of the cafes here and see guys with hats or shirts with helicopters or airplanes on them," Danny Boyer said. "I'll tell Dick, 'Go give them one of your business cards.' He'll say, 'No, no, no.' I'll go over and give them one of his cards and they'll say, 'Hey, Dick Siegel, I remember him.' They'll ask Dick a question, and they'll get to talking to him for 45 minutes.
"One night Paula and I were eating up at Logan's in San Angelo. An older couple sat down next to us. I gave the man a card. They had lived in North Dakota 35 years and recently retired in Texas. We got to talking, and they told us they used to listen to Hal and Dick in the mornings on WBAP all the way up in North Dakota."
Siegel doesn't completely fit the personality most imagined from listening to him on WBAP. Because he told jokes, rode a motorcycle and appeared at Billy Bob's, listeners assumed Siegel was a party animal. Siegel likes having a good time, and he admits to having been a smoker -- he quit after the open heart surgery -- and being married five times. But he insists he has never taken a drink of alcohol.
"I flew that helicopter by myself," Siegel said of his DFW radio days. "I had the stick between my knees, I was writing down traffic notes on a clipboard, and I had another clipboard mounted to the instrument panel with all my jokes on it. Five radio and TV stations had helicopters flying around [giving traffic updates], plus the police and EMS helicopters. I had a radio going back to my control tower at Meacham Field, plus all the other radio chatter from the other stations.
"If you lose a part or something else goes wrong with your engine, you've got eight seconds to land before you crash. You've got to know where all the other helicopters are, where the electrical high line wires are and which direction the wind's blowing. There's no way you can do all that if you drink."
One close call Siegel remembers came when his helicopter lost a part, forcing him to land at the Interstate 30/Interstate 35W mixmaster in Fort Worth.
"I got down through the wires and landed on one of those grassy areas next to an overpass," Siegel said. "A police helicopter landed, and they came running over to see if I was OK. I had just quit smoking a week earlier, but the first thing I said to the police officer was to ask him for a cigarette."
Siegel could handle the helicopter, the radio noise and the traffic -- on the ground and in the air -- while giving reports or telling jokes because of his vast piloting experience. Growing up in Ohio, Siegel had a pilot's license at 16 -- before he had a driver's license. His dad, who had flown in the Air Force, taught Siegel to fly.
An uncle who lived in Cleveland and owned a concrete company taught Siegel the value of making people laugh.
"Dick hung around his uncle in the summers and they'd drive a concrete truck out to job sites," Danny Boyer said. "Doing anything with concrete is a tough job, and Dick's uncle used to tell the workers jokes to take their mind off how hard their work was. Those guys told Dick they loved to see his uncle coming because he made them laugh.
"Dick decided to spend his life trying to make people laugh. That's where all his joke-telling comes from."
After a stint in the Air Force, Siegel flew a helicopter for Amarillo-based Southwestern Public Service, flying over 7,000 miles of high line wires in four states after storms in search of damaged wires. He also spent 13 months in the hills of Kentucky, flying for a coal operator in search of coal or on trips to Cincinnati for mining equipment parts.
He returned to Texas and provided traffic reports for KLIF radio in Dallas-Fort Worth before joining WBAP. He logged approximately 42,000 piloting hours before selling his copter after retiring.
"I had to get good at it or I was going to die," Siegel said of his flying jobs. "Most helicopter pilots are ambidextrous to start with; they can guide the stick with either hand. A lot of it is skill from doing it for so long."
Siegel's reputation with his helicopter landed him in some unusual spots. He once was called to fly Elvis Presley from a concert to his hotel after he was mobbed by fans after a Fort Worth performance. He also shot the flyovers of Southfork Ranch during the introduction of the TV show Dallas.
Once, while reporting on traffic, Siegel fetched a mom and two daughters from a car that was about to tip over a bridge railing during a flood.
"He balanced the helicopter on the trunk to steady the car," Paula Boyer said. "He told the two kids to climb out and get in with him, and they did. The mom was scared to get out of her car. Dick finally said, 'Lady, I've got your kids and that's all I need. But I'd like you to get in, too. I can't wait any longer.' She finally got in with Dick. As soon as he flew off, the car toppled over the rail."
For that rescue, Siegel received the Pilot of the Year Award in 1989 from Helicopter Association International. The award recognizes an outstanding single feat by an active civilian pilot.
"He's portrayed as a wild guy, but he's really a nice guy," Paula Boyer said. "He's lived one heck of a life. He's been a lot of places and done a lot of things."
Radio magic at WBAP
Jay and Siegel brought in millions of dollars in advertising revenue each month for WBAP. Their morning show was must-hear radio. Not only were listeners informed with news, weather and traffic reports, they were constantly entertained. The jokes were funny, but sometimes, Hal and Dick laughed as much as the listeners did.
Their on-air camaraderie was priceless.
"It just worked," Siegel said. "Hal is one of those guys who can get along with anybody. When you first meet him, you feel like you've known him all your life. He knew what I was going to say before I said it, and I knew what he was going to say.
"We laughed and got along the same off the air as we did telling jokes on the air," said Siegel, although he added the two no longer stay in touch.
Several fictional characters visited Hal and Dick during their shows, but "Sam from Sales" was the original WBAP character and the most popular, lasting 16 years. He was a high-pressure salesman with funny stories about his large family of cousins.
"Sam from Sales" was actually voiced by John Hanson, a former WBAP production manager.
"He'd walk up and down the hallways at WBAP, impersonating Eddie Murphy from that movie Beverly Hills Cop, and he was hilarious," Siegel said. "Hal and I both said, 'We've got to get that on the air.'"
Hal and Dick were so popular that, from 1981 to 1994, they were the only Metroplex radio team to do the afternoon drive-time show in addition to the morning show. They also kept their audience after WBAP switched its format from country music to news/talk in 1993. Jay still does the morning show after 30-plus years, and according to Arbitron Ratings, WBAP still is the top news/talk station in DFW.
"We were on so much, the audience thought they knew us personally," Siegel said. "They knew when I went through all my divorces, and all my ex-wives' names."
Jay was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2006. Siegel was nominated but not inducted for the same honor in 2010.
"If I hit the lottery," Siegel said, "I'd buy WBAP with Danny Boyer as my partner, and I'd put the country music format back on the air, and I'd hire back all those old DJs."
Until then, Dick Siegel is happy playing oldies in a tiny West Texas town.