Sam Riddle, a mainstay of the LA airwaves at a time when disc jockeys were close to rock stars themselves who could promote emerging musicians just by spinning their records, has died at his home in Palm Desert.
Riddle was a high-end DJ on KHJ-93 radio when the station unveiled its “Boss Radio” format, a break from the fast-paced chatter of most Top 40 stations in the mid-1960s. It was an era where musical tastes evolved rapidly with the emergence of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and James Brown funk.
In poor health in recent years, Riddle died on Monday after a long battle with Lewy body dementia, said Willard Tressel, a longtime friend and former KHJ colleague. Riddle was 83 years old.
Riddle used his fame as a Los Angeles disc jockey to launch a long television career as the host of youth-focused variety shows such as “9th Street West” and “Hollywood A-Go- Go “and went on to produce” Star Search, “a long-running talent competition that was a precursor to” American Idol “and other musical competition series.
Along with “Humble Harve” Miller, Robert W. Morgan, the real Don Steele, Charlie Tuna, Bobby Tripp and Johnny Mitchell, Riddle dominated pop radio; they often functioned as the palace guards who could decide which musicians and rock bands would achieve fame. KHJ’s focus on more music, less chatter, and a tighter playlist has changed the Top 40 radio stations across the country.
KHJ and his stable of DJs were so ubiquitous that Quentin Tarantino sampled the station’s old scales in his most recent film, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”.
“When the music was hot, so were we,” Miller told The Times in 2003. “We were right in the middle of the hottest place in the world, musically. It was the center of everything – all of the stuff. Recording studios operated 24 hours a day. We were at the center of all that energy.
Riddle and the other DJs broke the tradition of playing only three-minute singles by adding longer songs, such as Richard Harris ‘”MacArthur Park” or classics such as the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to their rotation. and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel.
Bands such as the Byrds and Monkees would show up at the station begging the DJs to play their records.
Born December 12, 1937, Riddle grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and made his debut as a DJ at the age of 16 when his stepfather tapped into a local radio station where he played. spent large sums of money advertising his dairy farm. Riddle went to stations in Arizona, San Diego and then Los Angeles. He worked at KRLA then KFWB before arriving at KHJ.
In addition to producing “Star Search”, Riddle was behind the camera for a long list of variety shows, including “The Lou Rawls Parade of Stars” and “The Songwriters Hall of Fame Special”. Such was his fame that he was drafted to play the role of race announcer in Elvis Presley’s 1967 film “Clambake”.
Before retiring to the wilderness, he produced the first syndicated poker television series, “The Ultimate Poker Challenge,” and later, “The Vegas Open,” recorded at Caesars Palace.
Riddle is survived by his wife Adrienne for 54 years; the children Scott and Courtney; and two grandchildren, Miracle and Garin.