July 12, 2004 by

Bill Randle

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Categories: Media

brandle.jpgTime Magazine once called Bill Randle the No. 1 disc jockey in America. At the height of his popularity in the mid-1950s, “The Pied Piper of Cleveland” commanded a 54 percent share of the listening audience. He used that power to turn Elvis Presley into a star.
Born William McKinley Randle Jr., the Detroit native was still a teenager when he launched his broadcasting career. He played small parts in radio dramas like “The Green Hornet” and “Hermit’s Cave,” then traveled across the Midwest, spinning records and promoting jazz acts. When he landed in Cleveland in 1949, Randle earned $100/week as a DJ for WERE-AM. Within six years, he was making more than $100,000/year, and owned part of the radio station.
In 1955, Randle arranged a concert in Cleveland featuring Pat Boone and Bill Haley and the Comets; Elvis Presley was the opening act. The show was filmed as a segment for a documentary on Randle, and became part of music history. The following year, he put Elvis on the radio in Ohio and New York, and introduced the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll to a national audience on the TV variety program, “Stage Show.” Randle also helped the careers of other musicians, including Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino and Johnnie Ray.
Randle left radio in the 1960s and went back to college. In addition to his undergraduate degree from Wayne State University and a law degree from Oklahoma City University, Randle earned a doctorate in American studies, a master’s degree in sociology from Western Reserve University, a master’s degree in journalism from Kent State University and a master’s degree in education from Cleveland State University. After passing the Ohio bar at 64, he opened a law firm in Lakewood, Ohio, and practiced for 16 years.
Randle later became an educator, teaching sociology and mass communication classes at Kent State, the University of Cincinnati, Columbia University and Phillips University. He was unable to walk away from broadcasting entirely, and hosted radio programs whenever a microphone was offered to him. His final show was aired over the weekend on WRMR, and will be rebroadcast on July 17.
Randle died on July 9 of cancer. He was 81.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

10 Responses to Bill Randle

  1. Fred Toft

    Bill Randle was a hero of mine. I became interested in radio while in junior high school in Cleveland Heights in 1950. WERE became an instant hit with me, and I was able to visit the station at times to watch Tommy Edwards and Phil Mclane. One afternoon I was able to sneek in and watch my hero Bill Randle do his show. He noticed me sitting in a corner of the studio and held out a record for me to run into the control room for the enginner to play, telling me to “make yourself useful if you’re going to hang around”. The rest of the afternoon I proudly “ran records” for Bill. After that, I was there every afternoon I could be to run the records for Bill. He paid me by giving me duplicates of popular records that he had. When I graduated from hih school I went on to study radio broadcasting at Ohio State and ended up with a career in radio. I am now retired, but still remember those wonderful afternoons I spent running records for Bill. God bless you Bill. I learned a lot about broadcasting from you. You were a very kind and loving person and are still my hero.

  2. Lee Munsick

    I listened to Bill Randle when he was broadcasting in New York City, in one of his times away from Cleveland. In the 1960s I was working in Cleveland, listened, called, and then stopped in to see Bill at WERE. We became friends instantly…he was like that.
    I visited or called to speak with him on several other occasions. I was always greeted like an old friend, at that moment the most important person he knew. I have known only a few people with that incredible personality characteristic.
    He was a true gentleman, and wanted to be (and was, quite a bit) helpful to me in researches for my book about Arthur Godfrey, still in the works. Randle had a huge respect for Mr. Godfrey. Not surprising; they were on competing stations at the same time, and Randle like anyone else in that time slot figured there was nothing they could do really to compete with Arthur Godfrey. I think he held his own fairly well. His personal fondness for Mr. Godfrey went beyond that of a competitor, and someone who was proud to be in the same business.
    Over the years I spoke with Bill every few years, and he was invariably kind, pleasant, and always most informed and informative. All those degrees weren’t for nothing, you know. A brilliant, highly educated student and teacher, yet a very down to earth guy with no pretensions, despite his incredible career.
    That career was unique, and he helped so many folk on their way in the entertainment business, just like Arthur Godfrey.
    I feel honored and proud to have known Bill Randle and been able to sit as his feet, so to speak, and bask in his sunshine.
    Lee Munsick
    Pamplin, Virginia 23958

  3. John Sellers

    Bill Randle was that rarity of history, a truly great man. Few people knew of the breadth and depth of his passion, his elquence, his drive and his itegrity. Bill was not only a great scholar, teacher, author, lawyer and radio personality; he was a great friend. Bill lived with me for six years from late fall of 1982 until the spring of 1988. During those years he taught full-time at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, was on the air at WBBG in Cleveland and was a full-time law student at Oklahoma City University, working on his 6th graduate degree.
    Bill was possessed of an undying interest in communitarian living, which I believe is what attracted him to our home. He did many things for which he never sought credit from script-writing for CBS to work for the US military for many years. While many people saw various sides of Bill’s work and being, I was blessed to have lived with true greatness for at least a few years. Anyone who is interested in knowing more please feel free to write me at jsellers58@sbcglobal.net. …with eternal gratefulness…
    –John Sellers

  4. Tony Mastriani

    As a former student, and colleague, for just a few years, I have memories that far outweigh the brief time of we shared on this planet. Some of his “proteges” called him “Dollar Bill” with fondness. But, it was “Dr. Randle” who talked about the importance of “propinquity” in life.
    I will cherish my “Dollar Bill momentos and memories. Bill, you now have a new “propinquity”
    to explore. You’re my hero too.
    I “echo” the thanks for the wonderful obit and tribute here…….TM, Cincinnati

  5. Sim Jacobs

    As a former student who’s only reason for getting into UC was Bill Randle I learned that it wasn’t who you were but who you could be…there will always be a place in my heart for Dr. Randle

  6. Don Philabaum

    Bill Randle was my favorite college professor. As a student, you had to mentally run to keep up with him. Not only did he share practical experiences and reminded you what the “broadcast” world was really like, but he got you excited for the opportunities. I lost touch but would love to listen to his old broadcasts. Does anyone have any recordings we could share?

  7. paul steigerwald

    Here I am, four years after Bill Randle’s passing, and I am still googling his hame and listening to David C. Barnett’s touching tribute to my hero. Dr. Randle was a great teacher, and a great student. He was forevder exploring new horizons and his insatiable desire to pass along his newfound knowledge made him one of the most engaging characters one could ever meet.
    One of his favorite phrases still rings in my ears. ” Paul, there is nothing more exciting and dramatic than a fact.”
    Fact is, my education at Kent State University was enriched beyond my wildest dreams by Dr. Bill Randle. I loved him and I miss hearing him on the radio when I pass through the Cleveland area.
    PS

  8. Dennis Lebec

    I spent four years at Kent State getting my B.S. degree in telecommunications and another two earning my master’s there. During graduate school, I was privileged to be the graduate assistant to Bill Randle for one year. During my time at Kent, I was fortunate to be around so many talented and promising broadcasters, who went on to great success — Steve Albert, Bob Circosta, John Dennis, John and Paul Steigerwald, Greg Benedetti, Wayne Lynch, Bob Marrone, Dick Russ, Jack Corrigan, Molly McCoy, and many others, along with many talented production specialists (I humbly include myself) who made their mark in their respective careers. But of all the people with whom I crossed paths, Bill Randle certainly was the most interesting. At age 22 and being from Pennsylvania, I knew little about his storied career when I first met him in 1973. I quickly learned, however, that Dr. Randle was a true “Renaissance man.” Not only was he a seminal force in the early days of rock and roll music, but he had so many varied interests that it boggled the mind. He always treated me with the utmost respect and as an equal — even though I was just a young grad student trying to find my way in the world. I learned much from Bill Randle about the “real” world of broadcasting back then. And only after I left Kent State in 1975 did I begin to realize what a giant he was in the broadcasting industry.
    A fascinating man!

  9. Luca Fabris

    Dear Jennifer,
    My name is Fabris G.Luca,42 years old,Italy.I’m an Elvis Presley researcher expecially on the early days.
    At the mo all my researches are in relation to a book/CD project for the Elvis fan club network. It’s a 3/4 CD 200 pages book about Elvis stay at SUN
    records done by Ernst Jorgensen(BMG chief on Elvis music catalogue) which I’m now helping detailing the period from July of 1954 through the end of 1955.
    The book will consist of more than 400 early photos – half of them previously unpublished. It’s not an attempt of once again write the story of
    Elvis Presley, but more a collection of information, photos, memorabilia and stories shared by fans who
    where there at the time. The book will not deal in gossip or other unpleasant material,it’s all about the innocence of the time and the impact of Elvis’
    music.We are trying to document every single show Elvis did, and we have come fairly close.
    So I’m looking for photos,recordings from Louisiana Hayride (KWKH program transmitted also by KTHS) or Opry,or any live radio gigor interview ….
    ANYTHING IS WELCOME FROM THE 50s!!
    Elvis played Oklahoma City Auditirium for 2 shows (3.30 pm and 8 pm) on October 16th 1955.
    He was not top billing.Bill Haley and Hank Snow did.
    Do you have friends owning photos or recordings?
    Your help,anyone’s help is welcome!
    Write soon
    I hope this is not too much of an intrusion.
    Sincerely yours
    Fabris G.Luca
    Elvis Researcher

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