Johnny Rabbitt Day – March 13, 1966

Johnny Rabbitt petition drive

This caption ran under this photo in The Southeast Missourian’s Youth Page on March 2, 1966:

Five members of Cape Girardeau’s Teen-Age Club hold a petition containing the signatures of more than 1,000 high school pupils asking Johnny Rabbit, KXOK disc jockey, to come here March 13 to emcee a dance at the Arena Building. Money from the dance will be used to pay Teen Town operating expenses previously underwritten by the United Fund. A TAC spokesman said that the teens would like to pay their own expenses so that United Fund money could be used for “underprivileged families.” The youths above are, from left, Bruce Ashby, son of Alfred Ashby, 1502 New Madrid; Steve Robert, son of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Robert, 1608 Perryville Rd.; Alan Hecht, son of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Hecht, 2416 Terry Hill; Miss Mary Wright, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Earnis Wright, 811 Perry, and Miss Jane McGinty, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Charles McGinty, 2435 Brookwood.

I was editor of the Youth Page at this time, and I used this photo as a four-column masthead for the page from time to time.

T or TT?

One thing that’s interesting is that both The Missourian and the photos show Johnny Rabbitt spelled with one T. All of the references I can find on the web show Rabbitt spelled with two Ts. I’ll stick with the two-T version.

Rabbitt’s real name was Don Pietromonaco. He was on the air at KXOK AM630, a 5,000-watt radio station, from 1963 to 1969, He died in 1997. Here’s a fairly good tribute site with more info.

I was a WLS Dick Biondi fan, myself

Dick Biondi (whose name I had never seen in print before writing this) came booming out of Chicago on 50,000-watt WLS. Go here to hear a clip of him. He is credited with being the first U.S. disc jockey to play the Beatles after he cranked up Love Me Do in February 1963. His signature song was On Top of a Pizza.

I had one of the first transistor radios to hit the market. It was a little bigger than a pack of cigarettes and used an earplug for a speaker. I can recall sitting at Camp Lewallen Boy Scout Camp listening to Biondi many a night. (I wore the radio when I was delivering newspapers, too. One day I walked up to a house to collect for the paper and the elderly woman looked at me, shook her head sadly, and said, “It’s a shame that a boy your age has lost his hearing.” She gave me a larger than usual tip, so I didn’t tell her it wasn’t a hearing aid.)

31 Replies to “Johnny Rabbitt Day – March 13, 1966”

  1. You are partly correct, see link to below.

    Ron Elz was the original Johnny Rabbit. By the way, the house I live in is the house Ron Elz grew up in. He and his wife have been back to tour the house and were able to give me insight on how the house had and not changed since he lived in it.

  2. Mark,

    I read that controversy last night and decided that “first” was less important than “lasting” Rabbitt.

    Since my loyalty was to WLS and not KXOK, I’m not sure I ever heard the Rabbit.

    I’m not even sure if he showed up in Cape to do the emcee gig. I haven’t seen any pictures in my files of it. I did a Google News Archive search for a story and came up dry. That could be because their OCR indexing is a little funky, not because there wasn’t one.

    Biondi was the jock my buddies and I would talk about the next morning. As I recall, he was suspended for a brief period because of a joke he made about how short a skirt was. It might have been urban legend or it might have been hype, I’m not sure.

    1. Cape Central had about 1,200 students, if I remember right. SEMO had a “laboratory” school for teaching teaching. I’m not sure how many students Notre Dame, the Catholic school, had, but I’m guessing several hundred. Jackson was only seven miles away, so we probably picked up a few kids from there.

      I’ll have to do some more research to see how many signers they really got.

      Yeah, yeah, I can hear you now: you’re going to want to know if 1,000 Cape students could WRITE.

  3. I remember trying to tune in “Johnny Rabbitt” on my car radio and it was a hard thing to do since Cape was in a valley and KXOK’s signal went over us and so we couldn’t hear much due to fading out as some AM stations do but when i was close to St Louis I did get to listen to him and I remember hearing Bruno’s vvoice on his show. KXOK usually came in best at night but then it was not the best signal in my opinion but in the 70’s when WLS was in its heyday, their signal though far away came in fantastin and lately I had heard John “Records” Landecker on 97.3 FM in the past months but WLS had some great advertisements for Drag Racing and other concerts but St Louis made the real mark with KXOK and Johnny Rabbitt. I wish I could’ve heard them better than i did but it is great memories.
    On another note I once had a job cleaning up the Teenage Club back in 67 and 68. It’s a lot of good memories.

    1. Cape was right in the middle of two clear channel stations: WWL (AM 870) in New Orleans and WLS (AM 890) in Chicago. KMOX (AM 1120) in St. Louis was a Clear Channel Station, too, but I don’t recall spending much time listening to it.

      Clear channel in this case refers to a type of station, not the Clear Channel Communications company that has bought up almost a thousand radio stations, including more than a dozen clear channel stations. Clear Channel (with a capital C) has done much to kill off the kind of local news and programming that we Boomers grew up listening to.

      You can read a lot more about the concept of clear channel stations here.

      In a nutshell, clear channel Stations were required to run more than 50K watts of power and not overlap other clear channel stations. “Daytime” stations either had to go dark at night or reduce their power so they wouldn’t interfere with the blowtorches.

      The argument was that a lot of rural areas wouldn’t have had radio coverage at all if it wasn’t for the clear channel stations.

      I’m not sure when WWL, New Orleans, switched formats, but they became a truckers’ channel in the 80s, broadcasting traffic reports and programming that would appeal to 18-wheeler drivers.

  4. You must also remember a big sponsor of the Dick Biondi show. Mr Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge-home of the hemi. I dreamed of owning one but never quite got there-

    1. Yes!!! A great point about one of the greatest and well known names to get Musclecars. Ihave a color picture of Mr. Norm’s Funny Car in a pictorial magazine (ifI remember right, I’ll have to make sure) but I do remember the lead in to different drag racing tracks i.e. Sunday at world famous St Louis International Raceway and some from Alton Illinois. I did get to see some famous cars at St. Louis International Raceway i.e. The Ramchargers, White bear Dodge,Don Garlits, Mickey thompson, The Mongoose and The Snake, Dyno Don Nicholson, grumpy Jenkins etc… But getting back to Greg saying he wanted to always own a HEMI. I used to street race bak in the early 70’s to 77 and mostly we saw Chevrolets here on the street and some Mopars mostly 383’s and 440’s but to the best of my knowledge there was only one HEMI Roadrunner in cape.
      I was supposed to be a black Roadrunner (I think) and the owner was aguy by the last name of Pealock. I never saw the car but I heard it was FAST. We did have some fast Big Block Chevy’s too. A 68 Vette 427-435 HP, Charlie haupt had a 66 396-425 HP Vette, Davidhaupt had a 55 Chevy with a Big block 427 Chevy with a Tunnel Ram and some others. we raced when gas was cheap and performancewas high. There was a lotofcars I dreamed of owning but nevergot the chance. I remembergoing to the chevrolet dealership in cape and seing the 68 Vette I mentioned earlier and I asked the salesman howmuch it cost and he told me it cost 5400.00 dollars. I should’ve bought one. Those are some great memories for me and I always look forward to your column. One more thing and this is a story I believe happened in cape. Someof us will remember a old TV show called Route 66 and I believe their was a story in the Missourian about when the production crew for Route 66 came through Cape and I believe their was a story about it. You’ll have to check butRoute 66 was only on for 2 years but if I remember rightthey had a picture of them hauling the “Corvette that Martin milner and George Maharris used in the show. I hope i’m not wrong about this butmaybe you can check into it. Keep the good memories rollin’!!!

  5. I remember the first picture quite well and may even have the newspaper copy of it. Steve Robert is my brother in law and he is married to Mary Wright also in the picture. Thanks for the memory!

  6. Johnny Rabbitt Day – March 13, 1966 did happen at the Arena Building – I was there and that was my birthday.

  7. Happy belated birthday, Tim.

    Do you remember if The Missourian covered it? I’ve looked through a few editions and haven’t found anything. That’s not unusual, though, because Youth Page news frequently lagged behind because a lot of it was written by high school correspondents.

  8. Mr. Spokesrider, sir,

    When I was a street photographer, I wore Redwing work boots. They had several advantages:
    you could work a fire, walk through water, step on nails, do just about anything and nothing would hurt them or your feet.

    They also came up high enough that it didn’t matter what kind of socks you wore or even whether they matched.

    Now that I’m retired, my socks are white. I am NOT so retired that I’ve taken to wearing a white belt and white shoes and mounting a compass on my dashboard.

    (True confession time: I guess my walking shoes (they’re sold as running shoes, but I don’t run unless someone is chasing me) are white and I have a GPS on my dash. Maybe that’s enough to put me on the slippery slope.)

  9. I remember the Johnny Rabbitt Show at the Arena Building very well. He had a maroon tux and a top-hat with rabbit ears sticking out the top. I believe Fred Horrell and the Flames played the show…not sure who else was on stage. I remember a big crowd, though, and Johnny was late arriving.

  10. In image 3 I recognize Bill Withers standing behind Bruce Ashby. Also, the girl with glasses and the white headband is one of the McKeown girls I think, Jane maybe. I am in touch with some of the McKeown family. I will send them the link.
    In image 2, I recognize 2 of the girls but can’t remember their last names. The girl in the center is Bonita and the girl on the right in the plaid dress is Sandy I think. Sandy had red hair I remember.

  11. A friend of mine just told me a few weeks ago that Dick Biondi is still on WLS. You might want to check it out!!

    1. Janet,

      I hate to break it to you, but the only ones who are older than us are the ones whose stories start one of two ways:

      1. “Joe Jones drinks a bottle of whiskey every day and has been smoking cigars since he was eight years old can’t see why he shouldn’t celebrate his 110th birthday the same way.”

      2. “Mary Brown, says she has never let demon rum cross her lips and thinks cigarettes are tools of the devil. She has remained chaste her whole life. She will celebrate her 110th birthday today, but, truth be told, nobody in the nursing home knows how she’s gonna do it.”

  12. We all tuned into Johnny Rabbit when he came on but not so much for the music as to listen to the latest Bruno J. Grunion antics. And we all knew what it meant when Bruno would say “In your ear, Rab, In your ear”.

  13. Johnny Rabbitt was my father, and we laid him to rest in 1997. (Elz was a wannabe and tries to steal a lot of stuff, including Bruno.)

    Anyway, thank you all for the warm memories.

  14. Ron Elz was the first Johnny Rabbit then came Don P.Elz had Harvey the Hare but Bruno was better.I hated Kx-OK until WIL changed in April 1966.Nowdays I listen on-line to 1430 KZQZ.Good-bye from Chicago.(They got me out of Saint Louis,but can’t get Saint Louis out of me}

  15. The Groupe played as one of the “warm-up” bands that day, Chuck McGinty, Phil Wagner, Jay Sheets and Jeff Baker. I have a picture (poor quality polaroid) from that day.

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