Random thoughts on the passing of a wonderful, “one of a kind” friend….
We knew it was coming but, as prepared as you may think you are, the news still stunned. Dick Sutliff had not been well for some time. Bob Kessler, another friend and colleague from our time at WGN Radio, proved to be more than a good friend and was bedside when Dick passed away.
WGN Radio’s rememberance of Dick Sutliff can be found by clicking this link.
We first met Dick during our early days at WGN Radio. He was writing for WGN-TV’s newscasts along with writing and anchoring some of the newscasts during our show. When WGN Radio moved from the Bradley Place studios shared with WGN-TV down to it’s own space at the Tribune Tower Dick made the move with us.
To say that Dick had a strong old school news background and even stronger personality is putting it mildly. There were nights when we could feel that he was “testing” this new couple to see if we would take his bait. Some nights he was just looking for a lively debate. Somewhere along the line one of us jokingly refered to him as the station curmudgeon, a term he, surprisingly, embraced. One night when it was obvious that Dick was in a mood to go on an extended rant we surprised him by playing his “new” theme song (familiar to fans of Rush Limbaugh). In echo, over the instrumental, came the words “You are listening to the R. I. B. Radio Network! — RICHARD IS BABBLING!” He loved it. We created a monster. He lived for the nights when we played his theme.
As serious as he could be about some things, Dick had a wonderful sense of humor. He loved to laugh and had one of those great big contagious laughs that, we think, sometimes found him even tickling himself. When friends of ours, Lee Overstreet and Wolfe Kinkaid, who, at the time, were doing a college radio show, put together a song featuring humorously edited clips from Dick’s newscasts, no one laughed harder at “The Dick Sutliff Song (We Love Dick)” than the song’s namesake.
As we’re writing this, we can feel Dick’s presence looking over our shoulders and whispering corrections for words or phrases that are not correctly written. We can’t count the times during one of his newscasts, while the audio from some network correspondent was playing, Dick’s voice would come over the intercom critiquing the newsperson’s incorrect turn of a phrase, poor story content, sentence structure and more. And, Dick wasn’t just complaining to complain, he was complaining because he was right. We’re not sure, but we think Dick Sutliff may have been the founding member of the grammar police.
Dick never hid his passion for country music. Just how strong that passion was is probably best explained by a true story Dick told . One night we had one of Dick’s favorite performers, Waylon Jennings, in the studio as our guest. As professional a broadcaster as he was, Dick was like a kid in a candy store having the chance to get “up close and personal” with one of his idols. When the opportunity presented itself, Dick told Waylon the story of how he actually broke the steering wheel in the car he was driving because he was pounding so hard on it to the beat of one of Waylon’s songs.
Dick was never shy about telling us that some of his favorite nights on our show were when we had country music legend Bill Anderson as our guest. Subsequently, Bill and Dick became friends and many a night on the Grand Ole Opry Bill would make Dick’s night by mentioning that his dear friend from WGN Radio, Dick Sutliff, was either in the audience or listening at home.
Dick loved, what he called, REAL country music and performers. As sick as he was, just this weekend, when Bob Kessler visited Dick in the hospital, Dick couldn’t really talk so they listened to WSM radio and some Bill Anderson and Roy Acuff songs and some Minnie Pearl jokes on YouTube, which he reacted positively to.
A night we will never forget found a listener from Pennsylvania calling in, during the “wee” hours of the morning, to ask for help with a problem. The listener was a paramedic who just found out that he had contracted HIV/AIDS from an accident victim. The listener was distraught, Thanksgiving was just around the corner, he had just gotten engaged and didn’t know how to tell his fiance. How would she react? For several hours we took supportive calls from listeners. Dick asked if the listener wanted to talk off the air. He did. Weeks later, as Christmas approached, we found out that Dick had been talking almost daily to this young man. It was Christmas week when we heard from the young man who shared the news that he had finally found the strength to tell his fiance and she said that she would be by his side to work out THEIR problem. We think that the listener found the strength, in part, with the help of the support he got from Dick Sutliff.
Many of our personal Christmas celebrations were made even more merry because Dick joined us. He would usually be the first to arrive and the last to leave, often helping us to set the table and helping clean up after everyone else had left.
For years, he blamed Johnnie for the extra weight he was carrying because he loved her cooking – pineapple cake, in particular. In recent years we were very proud to see the success Dick had with getting his weight under control.
REAL Country music, cars, conversation, newspapers, women, good friends, a good joke, Matlock, comfortable jeans, his dog Sasha (and every dog he ever owned), good food, good writing, good writers, “Smutliff” (The nickname Max Armstrong gave him) — these are just some of the things Dick Sutliff loved.
We loved him, too.