Thursday, January 4, 2024

The "Beep Line" from WLS (890 AM) radio, Chicago, explained.

The "Beep Line" on Chicago's WLS AM radio wasn't explicitly started by any one disc jockey. It was a phenomenon that emerged organically from the technological limitations of the telephone system at the time. However, Richard "Dick" Orlando Biondi's popularity and engagement with his young listeners contributed significantly to its rise and popularity. Chicago teens whispered secrets between the beep (on hold) tones.

Technical glitch: Beep lines arose from busy signals. When two or more callers reached the same busy number, they could hear each other over the "beep" tone, creating an impromptu conference (party line) call. This phenomenon existed before Biondi on WLS (890 AM) but wasn't widely known.
Richard "Dick" Orlando Biondi
Hired in 1960, Biondi left WLS over a dispute involving the number of commercials on his radio show in 1963. Rumors and urban legends still persist that Biondi told an obscene joke on the air, which resulted in his being fired. Biondi returned to Chicago on WCFL (1000 AM) in 1967. In 1972, after a short time at WMAQ (AM), he left Chicago once again.

Biondi's teen appeal: In the early 1960s, Biondi was WLS's most popular DJ, adored by Chicago teenagers. He frequently hosted interactive segments, inviting listeners nationwide to call collect, request songs, chat, and participate in contests.

Word-of-mouth: Teens discovered that calling popular numbers, especially during Biondi's show, sometimes landed them on a "beep line" with other callers. This created a thrill and fostered a sense of community.

As the years passed, people confessed to setting up a date with a stranger via the Beep Line.

Biondi's acknowledgment: Though he didn't actively promote beep lines, Biondi occasionally acknowledged them on air, further fueling their popularity. This unintentional endorsement cemented their association with WLS and Biondi's show.

So, while Dick Biondi wasn't the "inventor" of the beep line, his immense popularity and the interactive nature of his show undoubtedly amplified the phenomenon and made WLS the epicenter of beep line activity in Chicago during the early 1960s.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. "Beep Lines" were still popular deep into the late 70's. I remember my sister, aged 14 in 1977, (I was then 17), demonstrating to me this electronic phenomenon, exactly as described in the article. The call-in line she dialed was probably WLS-AM, (her favorite radio station at that time) but possibly WMET, which in '77 was also a Top 40 station. She was able to communicate with other girls of her age throughout the Chicagoland area, carefully timing what she wanted to say between the beeps of the busy signal. I recall her befriending a girl from the Edgebrook neighborhood of Chicago, (we were living in Deerfield then and still had a 312 area code), who she was friends with up until she left for college in '81, via a beep line. While I was intrigued by the idea and novelty of it, thinking it might be a way to meet girls from around Chicago, I never had the knack of timing my syllables just right. I could only manage perhaps two syllables total between beeps before being completely stepped on by the busy signal.


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