Friday, July 22, 2016

To Absent Friends - Bill Cardille

Bill Cardille
1928 - 2016

I suppose that every city has a personality that can be called a "legend" in the community, and yesterday, Pittsburgh lost one of its local legends when Bill Cardille died at the age of 87.  How much of an institution was Cardille?  Here's one way to measure.  I will turn 65 years old in a couple of weeks, and I can never remember a time when Bill Cardille was NOT a part of the Pittsburgh broadcasting zeitgeist.

Cardille was a native of Sharon, PA, went to what is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and began a broadcasting career at a TV station in Erie.  In 1957, he became one of the original employees of WIIC-TV (now WPXI), Channel 11, when that station first went on the air.  He began as a staff announcer and sometime newsman, but he became a legend when he hosted two of Channel 11's best known and most popular local shows....

Studio Wrestling

and Chiller Theater.

The Saturday late night Chiller Theater horror movie, which included campy introductions and in-movie commercial break pieces by Cardille and his regular cast of characters, was so popular, that it took at least one season before Channel 11 gave in to NBC network pressure and began to air Saturday Night Live at 11:30 in the Pittsburgh market. Chiller Theater can also be credited with the popularity of the Pittsburgh made movie, "Night of the Living Dead", and plays a big part in boosting the career of director George Romero (this according to Romero himself in the Post-Gazette's obit for Cardille this morning).  The show also gave rise to one of the most iconic nicknames in all of Pittsburgh, "Chilly Billy Cardilley".

Sports fans may also remember Cardille doing play-by-play of WPIAL high school basketball playoff games on Channel 13 back in the 1960's.  In the later part of his life, Cardille served as a mid-day disc jockey on WJAS, the Music of Your Life station, until a format change forced him out, amid much public outcry, a few years ago.  When his daughter went on Facebook in recent weeks to announce that her dad was not doing well, and to ask the public to send him some notes of encouragement, the family was overwhelmed with the thousands of cards and letters that they received.  It was final testimony to the enduring popularity of Bill Cardille.

In an era where all local on-air personalities seem to have the same blow-dried look, and where the only "personalities" are the weather forecasters, it is unlikely that Pittsburgh will see the likes of a Bill Cardille ever again.

RIP Chilly Billy.

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