William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Vicar Of Vintage Vinyl Vanquished: Danny Stiles Dead At 87

It finally happened, though we thought, we hoped, he would go on forever. Danny Stiles, radio personality in the New York metro area for over 60 years, died on Friday, 11 March 2011 at age 87. Twenty-plus years, each Saturday night from 8 pm to 10 pm, Stiles broadcast the Music Museum, featuring the Great American Songbook on WNYC (820 AM), live from the “the east wing of the Art Deco penthouse” (as he described his quarters overlooking the picturesque Holland tunnel).

Stiles “on your dials” ranged over many stations in his long career; in recent month hosting a show—sponsored by John’s Pizzeria—on WPAT (930 AM). In the old style of radio, he would intersperse songs with laudatory comments about how savory, unique, and delicious the pizza was. He integrated the commercials so well that you didn’t always know you were hearing an ad.

Regular listeners knew something was wrong when Danny missed his broadcasts on WYNC for the past month. The station ran recordings of previous shows. They did so again on 12 March, in tribute (and it might have been the last). Even though he was ill, he continued to record his WPAT show with a voice cracked and tired. The week before he died, he sounded better and even boasted he would return to WYNC. Alas, he never made it.

 

WYNC tribute:

 

For many years, Stiles would host a Friday night get together at New York restaurants, starting at Meli Melo on Madison, and then at Seppi’s in the Parker Meridian Hotel. Seppi’s, a warm bistro chefed by the friendly Claude Solliard, unexpectedly closed over a year ago, and Stiles’s Friday nights ended soon after (he was briefly at another restaurant downtown).

People would come from all over to dine and have a chance to meet Mr Stiles. Cocktails to start (martinis, of course), then dinner, then music featuring Rick Bogart’s New Orleans trio. Danny would introduce the band with familiar, comfortable jokes. Bogart would play the clarinet and sing in an acquired-taste style. Danny would often spin records from Bogart on his Saturday night show, too.

It was at Seppi’s where I was introduced to the great-great-great (I’ve forgotten how many) grandson of John Quincy Adams who shared his relative’s name. I met many radio personalities. I even shook hands with the Kenilworth crooner. And was I busting with pride when, on the WNYC show after one Friday night, Mr Stiles mentioned that he met the “world-class statistician” and his “blond bombshell” companion?

Danny StilesHis life was devoted to preserving and playing the best of 20th century music. He played mostly original recordings on the original media. The sometimes scratchy recordings transported you back in time.

Stiles began each Music Museum with Cherokee from Charlie Barnet, followed closely by Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, or some other big band piece. In third place was always an early recording of Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey band. Many casual Sinatra fans would do well to look these recordings up: many are a treat.

Right around 8:30 to 8:40 pm, Danny would slip into “mob music”, singers from the last 1950s with a distinct Italian bias. He would often spin a favorite record, week on week. Some of his choices—let’s face it—were a little schmaltzy, others were quirky. But you couldn’t hold it against him. And you didn’t just get the music, but you heard the stories behind the songs, the rich history.

Every show ended with Shirley Temple singing—and Danny signing—”Goodnight, My Love.” A goofy, playful exit.

Until this last year when, right before Shirley, Danny took to playing (and talking over) the very melancholy Acker Blik instrumental “Stranger on the Shore.” It wasn’t a good omen. He is now relieved of his having to carry those “excruciatingly heavy” 78s home from the studio.

We heard the door close for the last time tonight. Goodbye, Danny, we will miss you.

More:

Obituary from the New York Times. Nostalgia Alley interview with Danny. Danny Stiles had a website (currently still up) featuring continuous loops of his Friday night shows (they aren’t there now and are unlikely to return).

The Lady Tasting Tea will begin Monday.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this with those of us who never had the experience of listening to Danny Stiles. I would hope there would be a collection of his shows, somewhere, on the internet. I would like to hear a few.

    Thanks.

  2. Sweet dreams, Danny.

  3. Is it possible that 50 years from now, people will go to dinner on Friday night and sit around listening to an aging, scratched but original iPod?

  4. I never heard his program but your description reminds of an all jazz station (now defunct) back in the early seventies that used Frank Sinatra singing “In the Wee Small Hours” just before their 2-3 AM sign off. Sad to hear about his passing. I suppose all good things must end or we would take them for granted. Sara put it quite succinctly.

    Speed,

    I don’t know of anyone who wants to sit around just to hear what a 78 vinyl sounds like after 70 years. If a nostalgic iPod session ever arises it will be to hear Lady Gaga instead of the iPod. It’s what’s on those 78′s that’s precious and the 78′s are the only way to get at it. the Red Hot Jazz site contains a lot of digitized old 78′s because there is no other source.

  5. Thanks for the link, Sera. That was good stuff. I am reminded of my old friend, John Van Son who in his younger years was a radio station engineer in Rochester, NY.

    John was one of the engineers who produced a weekly big band concert from the roof of a local hotel in Rochester. He collected records of big band music his whole life, and in his later years, hosted a radio show on a local Dallas, Texas FM radio station playing nothing but big band music from his personal collection.

  6. @Bob

    In the early 80′s (I was still a teenager), I was reading the concert report in the local paper and saw Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd were playing at the Dunwoody High School auditorium. Knowing that my dad would love to see this, I asked if he would like to go. Yes, of course, so we went. The sad part was that there were more members of the band than the audience. The good part was that we had the whole place to ourselves, and after the show we spoke to everybody in the band (including Woody). We bought t-shirts and had everyone sign them. As a musician, I appreciate all types from rock to Bach. But I was in heaven, sitting there with my dad, listening to the big band sounds in a small echoing auditorium.

    Priceless memories. But what I like most in the music of that era is that it is always a happy sound. Always lively, entertaining and fun.

  7. I first heard Danny Stiles when he was on WEVD-FM back in the late 1980′s. I was tuning across the FM Band and was rather surprised to hear someone playing 78 RPM Reocrds on a New York FM Station. From that point on I became a regular listener and fan of Danny Stiles.

    The way Danny would talk about his ” Sponsors ” you would think he was talking about his own personal friends and I’d bet a lot of them were. It was a kind of advertizing you just didn’t hear any where else and if he did a 2 minute spot for a sponsor you really didn’t mind. Danny always sounded as if he were talking to you, personally and not to the mass audience he attracted over many years.

    While he was on WEVD-FM ( New Yorks Great 98 as he called it ) about once a month he would have a Big Band Dinner dance party in the Grand Ballroom of the Holiday Inn North near Newark Intl. Airport. These events had a rather lavish buffet and featured Don Michaels Big Band Orchastra which was made up of some of the original Big band Era musicians who played with the famous Big bands. Guest Celebrities often made appearances at these get togethers which attracted a full house of about 500 people. All at the cost of just 16.95 per person !

    I went to about 15 of these partys hosted by Danny Stiles and after meeting him in person for the first time and having a brief conversation with him at all of the partys after that he would always greet me on a first name basis ! Out of all of the people he knew I was really amazed he would always remember me and say ” Hello Bob ” .

    Danny Stiles was a one of a kind true professional broadcaster, emcee and disc jockey who I feel should be recognized by some kind of hall of fame somewhere. Yes, Danny would not even be out of Style in the Rock & Roll hall of fame as he played some of the first rock and roll music in the early 1950′s !

    God Bless you Danny Stiles, thanks for the many hours of entertainment. Wherever you are , I am sure it will always be ” Stiles On Your Dials ! “

  8. What is lost is not only Danny himself but his entire “Style” of dee-jaying:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/2011/03/18/2011-03-18_hard_to_replace_vintage_stiles.html

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