R.I.P. Dick Sutliff

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.

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27 Responses to R.I.P. Dick Sutliff

  1. Rick Morrison says:

    That was very nice. I am sure he appreciated it. Ride em Dick!

  2. Lee Overstreet says:

    So awesome. I’m so glad we met him and gave him a laugh with the “We Love Dick” song.
    https://dl.dropbox.com/u/55426555/LAW/1998/dick/Dick_Song_w_Clips.mp3

  3. i am so sorry to hear this news. i spent many, many a happy hour listening to you folks on the radio. (in fact i was a pwp on the air once)
    he was a nice man and a first rate broadcaster

  4. Kathy Cline says:

    I’m still in shock …. I only met him once, but I never forgot him. RIP Dick …. and to all of you at WGN, I’m sorry for your loss. Dick was truly one-of-a-kind.

  5. Greg says:

    Rip DIck,Steve and Johnnie I’ve been driving a truck for 19 years.Listening to your show and Mr.Sutliff ,got me through many a night.thank you.

  6. Peter (Decatur) says:

    A very fitting tribute. Thank you very much!

  7. Ray Vegter says:

    Thanks for the memories Her and Him. I don’t know if you remember me or not, I plowed snow at Oak Brook Center and called in a few times. Dick actually plowed snow a couple nights when he was off at the mall with me. Always a warm and congenial person to talk with. You all kept me company during those nights and made them go a lot faster. Sorry for the loss and my condolences to the WGN family.

  8. Todd Manley says:

    Heaven is in for a treat. Thanks for this S&J. One of my most treasured pieces of sound is a CD Dick gave me from one of his ‘appearances’ on the Grand Ole Opry. Mostly, because of the twinkle in his eye when he handed it to me. He practiced searing honesty and child-like joy like nobody else!

  9. Karlene Holleman says:

    I loved Dick & you guys and the way you got along! He added a lot of spice to life!
    Karlene Holleman

  10. What a great group of stories and memories about Dick. Thank you for this, and also for paying tribute to Bob Kessler. I was so glad to read that part. How special.

  11. Sharron says:

    A fitting tribute. The first thing I thought of when I heard the news this morning was “ohhh, the sweet curmudgeon”. I really liked him and missed him on the radio. I had not heard the story about the paramedic…thanks for sharing.

  12. J. Perron says:

    RIP Dick and prayers for his family and friends.

  13. Karen Schulz says:

    Dick was a great favorite of mine, and I so enjoyed the back-and-forth with the two of you. I missed him when he left, and I will miss him even more now. He will be welcomed up there, and those who never knew him will enjoy him immensely. Thanks for sharing these memories…

  14. Marianne says:

    I’ve never met Dick or you two, but through the years felt like you were friends, listening to you all on WGN. I really enjoy the blogs you send out, they keep me up to speed with what’s going on even tho I don’t hear you on the radio anymore, thanks, and keep doing it. Dick is looking down on us all now. WGN’s loss when you both left.

  15. DigitalCzar says:

    A wonderful group of stories about a man you truly loved just for what he was and how he gave to those he worked with.

  16. Howard Peters says:

    Dick was one of the people who made S&J overnights so much fun.

    When I heard of his passing I immediately thought of the Dick Sutliff Song, and hoped that it would be posted. Thanks so much!

    I remember another cart that you made, Steve, about 15 seconds of Dick just making various noises and almost-words and sounding very curmudgeonly! I wish you would post that as well.

    • Howard Peters says:

      Now that I have thought about this some more, I think this was PART of a longer Dick Sutliff cart that was so absolutely hilarious that I had to pull the truck to the side of the road while I stopped laughing. Right now, I cannot remember much more about its content.

      The last time I heard this was when you played it on one of the rare nights Dick subbed on the news desk after his official retirement. Steve, PLEASE, please, post this!

      • Howard, we know what you are talking about. However, we don’t have access to all of the audio from our 27 years of shows. Some of the audio, if it still exists, is probably somewhere in the WGN Radio archives.

      • Howard Peters says:

        I was hoping you would have saved a copy on minidisk or CD.

        I remember that Dick would start on one of his patented rants about something and you would eventually reply with this audio clip. Then, I would just lose it. So funny.

        This Dick Sutliff “remix” was a minor masterpiece of yours, and it would be a shame if it was lost. Oh well, maybe somebody has a tape of this somewhere, and maybe it will surface.

      • Howard Peters says:

        Memory returned a little more while I was still half asleep tonight, prior to waking up and hitting the road once again.

        The clip opened with a sound effect (probably a siren or submarine dive horn) and then Steve’s voice repeating “Curmudgeon Alert!” several times. This was followed by a long series of “Sutliff Syllables” that collectively sounded like one long “bleah”.

        Logically it would probably have been filed with the words “Curmudgeon Alert” as title or part of the title.

        I have tried Friend Google but no love there. Now I am going to email Dan Sugrue and beg him to help by searching WGN’s archives.

        Perhaps this sounds like obsessing over a triviality, but you just don’t know how hard I would laugh upon hearing the words “Curmudgeon Alert!” It was laughter of “Naked Gun” or “Grumpy Old Men” quality.

        Some days I would really need a good laugh and this audio supplied it.

  17. Karyl Bruketa says:

    So sorry for your loss. He sounds like he was a wonderful man!

  18. DOROTHY2906 says:

    Thank you so much, Steve and Johnnie

  19. Joann Crowe says:

    I’m very sorry to read of Mr. Sutliff’s passing. I always enjoyed his presentations, back when radio was radio…and intelligence, smart humor, and good writing was everything. Thanks for sharing the warm memories.

  20. Steve Dale says:

    What a beautiful tribute….and indeed he would sometimes contact me with dog questions….He loved his Boston Terriers very much….hoaky, about people helping people – but what can be better? It’s what WGN can be all about, and your story is one of many, I bet. . .

  21. Bob Kessler says:

    We are asking that donations in honor of Dick Sutliff be sent to
    Kendall County Pet HAVEN
    88 Riverwood Dr.
    Oswego, IL 60543

    Dick loved his dogs (just about any dog, but he had a special bond with his own) and this will help carry out his legacy.
    Bob Kessler

  22. Milton Jenkins says:

    I knew Dick from the night we were on your show in 1994. I also remember you always messing with him to get him to laugh-some of the best ‘bloopers’ on radio. Rest in Peace.

    Milton, Dos Boys

  23. Carolyn says:

    Dick & I are from the same part of Central PA and he knew some of my family. Our common interest was the love of the Bloomsburg Fair. We only met once but I enjoyed our visit together. He seemed like a great professional broadcaster and interesting to visit with.

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