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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Porky Chedwick, 92, is one cool cat,

Dave Delanie,
Thanks for sharing, Porky definitely made us all feel pretty "Cool" back when he pushed those platters at the dances held at the Armory.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Porky Chedwick, 92, is one cool cat, and that's a fact
Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pat McArdle read a PG story last week about Pittsburgh characters, and noticed one name conspicuous in its absence.

Porky Chedwick, the "Daddio of the Raddio," the "Platter Pushin' Papa" who brought rhythm and blues to Pittsburgh from his perch at WAMO, is turning 92 on Thursday. And Porky is still sharper than a phonograph needle, Mr. McArdle said.

After getting Porky's home phone number from Mr. McArdle, I met the legend and his wife, Jeanie, for lunch at the Eat'n Park on Route 51 in Whitehall on Monday. When I asked his secret for eternal youth, Jeanie's hand rose.


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Brian O'Neill's book, "The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-first Century," is available in the PG store.

He smiled and agreed she's part of his secret, but added it's also "attitude."

She told how they moved to Tarpon Springs near Florida's Gulf Coast in the summer of 2008, figuring they'd stay. But they went to the pool one day and he turned to her and said, "Did we just walk into the cemetery?"

She tried to shush him but he said, "These people are old." So when they came back to Pittsburgh that December, and he had to deal with some health issues, they decided to stay put. It's hard to leave a place where, as his wife puts it, "Porky walks in and the waters part."

If that's an exaggeration, it's slight. The word "legend" is overused, but Porky was playing what they called "race records" here in 1948, years before fellow disc jockey Alan Freed coined the phrase "rock 'n' roll."

"What radio personality today could be transported to that period of time and have the guts to play black music in a white country? Nobody," says Jim Merkel, longtime DJ at the oldies station 3WS.

"Porky never looked at skin color," Mr. Merkel said, "only the quality of their music. His ear was unmatched, with an ability to know what could ultimately be a hit record."

At his peak, he shut down the Golden Triangle simply by doing a remote broadcast outside the old Stanley Theater (now the Benedum) in the summer of 1961. Somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 fans showed up, mostly teenagers. No cars could move until Mayor Joseph Barr sent someone to get that DJ out of there.

Pat McArdle, who grew up in Ford City but now lives in Edgewood, started listening in 1961 when he was in the seventh grade. An eighth-grader, Freno Lenzi, instructed him: "You got to listen to Porky. He's the coolest."

The man took his calling seriously. Porky said he'd often go to the Cathedral of Learning to sit in an empty classroom and rehearse. "I was my professor."

Then he'd go on the air, find an overlooked song on a record's B side, and say, "I'm going to shatter this platter and make your liver quiver."

Jack Hunt grew up in Manchester and remembers being drawn to Porky's show because the rest of the radio dial was a mishmash of styles while "this was just the stuff we weren't supposed to listen to."

If you went to one of Porky's dance parties, "you were cool," Mr. Hunt said. He saw his first one at a VFW hall north of the city, and when Mr. Hunt grew up to be the oldies singer "Johnny Angel," he and Porky became good friends.

Mrs. Chedwick, 28 years Porky's junior, grew up in Baldwin and also counts herself among "Porky's kids." She finally met him when he did a show at Linden Grove in Castle Shannon in 1990. He asked what songs she liked, and she rattled off six including "For Your Precious Love" by Jerry Butler.

Porky played all six. After the show, she gave him a ride home. Seven months later they were married. The following month he endured a seven-hour operation to remove a brain tumor. She wept as she recalled how she feared she'd lost him.

But years later she'd see James Brown, backstage in curlers, telling her husband, "My man, Pork," and Smokey Robinson hugging him and saying, "Thank you" for playing his records when nobody else did.

There is clear comfort in longevity. Mr. Merkel says when Porky heard Mr. Merkel had passed the 30-year mark on the radio, he told him, "Oh, you're the new guy."

The birthday party at Spencer's Down Under in West Mifflin will go from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday. There is no cover charge for the oldies that will be played -- or the old stories that will be retold.

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947. More articles by this author