- Published on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 13:58
A legend of Chicago radio and television died this past weekend. Jerry G. Bishop, best known as a DJ on WCFL-AM in the mid- to late 1960s and the original "Svengoolie" on WFLD-TV in the early 1970s, passed away on Sunday in San Diego, where he has lived since 1978. Just last month, Jerry G. Bishop had celebrated his 77th birthday.
Jerry G. Bishop was born Jerry Ghan in Chicago in 1936. He began in radio working at WNMP-AM (now WCGO-AM) in Evanston in 1961. A Columbia College Chicago graduate, he heard the music on that station one day, just drove to it, and asked for a job there. He was hired as an announcer the next day, and quickly went on to host the morning show.
Around that same time, he also worked part-time at radio stations in Springfield and Rockford, IL. Within a year, he was hired at WPGC-AM in Washington, D.C. At all those stations, he used his real name on the air.
In 1963, he was hired to be a DJ at Cleveland's KYW/WKYC-AM. There, Program Director Ken Draper asked him to change his on-air name to simply Jerry G. He worked in Cleveland for over three years. During this period, Jerry G. also was picked to be a reporter touring with The Beatles in 1964 and 1965, covering their nationwide concerts and the Beatlemania surrounding them for NBC Radio and Group W radio stations.
Not only was he heard on Cleveland's radio as a DJ, but he also had a large local hit in 1966 with "She's Gone" by Jerry G & Co. That pop song, which also received some airplay in Chicago after Jerry G. arrived here, can be heard on the CRM Audio section HERE
Ken Draper was hired to be the Program Director for Chicago hit radio station WCFL-AM in the mid-1960s. One of the first moves Draper made was to hire Chicago native Jerry Ghan to came back home and take over as the new morning show host at 'CFL. Draper asked Ghan to pick a last name to go with the "Jerry G." name he had been using. A quick flip through the Cleveland phone book landed on the last name of Bishop. The rest is history.
For three years, Jerry G. Bishop enjoyed great success at WCFL-AM and was considered one of Chicago's top personalities. In 1969, a change in station management prompted Bishop to walk away from WCFL-AM and over to up and coming UHF station WFLD-TV. There, he became a staff announcer and host of the weekday "Dialing For Dollars" movie. He also went on to host "Chicago Voices," do some news anchoring, and host the local segments for national telethons.
However, there was one particular job that Jerry G. Bishop did at WFLD-TV that was his most memorable...
In 1970, WFLD-TV decided to air old horror movies on a show they titled "Screaming Yellow Theater." When the show started, Bishop was merely the announcer saying the name of the Friday night movie in the beginning and after coming out of commercial breaks. Not making much of a dent in the ratings, Jerry G. Bishop went to WFLD-TV management with an idea to add a comedic live host for the show. The concept of the famous "Svengoolie" character was then born.
Svengoolie was the host of "Screaming Yellow Theater" from 1970-1973. He was a pale-faced, long green-haired, western European-accented, guitar-playing, un-dead hippie. He was witty, unique, and unlike anything seen on Chicago television ever before. It wasn't an instant hit, but Svengoolie's popularity quickly rose, as word spread about this off-beat character and show. Celebrities, both local and national, began begging to be seen on the show. Some were "mystery guests" who would open Svengoolie's loudly-painted coffin, while some appeared to just take part in one of the show's many musical numbers or comedy skits.
The early Svengoolie songs and bits were entirely written and produced by Jerry G. Bishop. Eventually, a college student who was a huge fan of the show, Rich Koz, would send in ideas for bits. That led to Koz being hired as a writer and performer. (In 1979, Koz would go on to take over the Svengoolie role, first as the "Son of Svengoolie," and eventually using just the original name with Jerry G. Bishop's blessing.)
Field Enterprises sold WFLD-TV in 1973 to Kaiser Broadcasting. Despite the show's ever-increasing popularity, the station's new ownership replaced "Screaming Yellow Theater" and the local host with one syndicated from Cleveland, called The Ghoul. While popular in Ohio, The Ghoul flopped in Chicago. By the Kaiser Broadcasting realized they made a big mistake, it was too late. Jerry G. Bishop had already moved on.
In 1973, soon after exiting WFLD-TV, Jerry G. Bishop returned to radio at WMAQ-AM. He also worked as a TV announcer and host at television sister-station, WMAQ-TV. A couple of years later, WMAQ-AM flipped to a Country format and Bishop was gone.
In 1978, he was offered the opportunity to move to San Diego, CA to host "Sun Up San Diego," a weekday morning show on KFMB-TV. He did that role for 13 years, winning three Emmy Awards for his work. In the 1990's he did some radio work in San Diego. He was heard on Chicago radio once again (via voice-tracking from San Diego) on WRLL-AM from 2003-2006.
For the most part, Jerry G. Bishop was retired from radio and television for a great many years. Instead, he went into the restaurant business. With his wife and children, he owned and operated two popular eateries in San Diego's Seaport Village: the Greek Islands Cafe and Asaggio Pizza & Pasta (which served Chicago-style deep-dish pizza to southern Californians).
Jerry G. Bishop's longtime friend and former co-worker, Rich Koz said today
: "Still stunned by the sad news that my friend - and the man who helped me get into the business - Jerry G. Bishop has passed away. He was a good man, an amazing talent, and a great big heart. Love and strength to his family and his many friends. No one could ever replace him."