Former 'Shindig' host honed his craft at Pittsburgh's KQV
LOS ANGELES — Jimmy O'Neill, an Oklahoman barely out of his teens when he became Los Angeles' top-rated radio deejay and only 24 when he catapulted to national celebrity as the host of “Shindig!,” one of the earliest rock ‘n' roll shows on prime-time television, died on Friday in his home in West Hollywood, Calif. He was 73.
He had diabetes and heart problems, said his son, James O'Neill.
In 1959, O'Neill made radio history as the first voice heard on KRBC-AM when it dropped its country-western format for rock music. It became a powerhouse in rock radio and spiraled O'Neill into television in 1964 as the winsome emcee of “Shindig!”
Compared with “American Bandstand,” the afternoon music-and-dance show for teenagers helmed by Dick Clark, “Shindig!” was a blast of hot air that featured frenetic dancers (including a young Teri Garr) and mingled black and white musicians in an era when much of the country was still segregated. Each episode showcased a dozen of the biggest names in pop music, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones. Bobby Sherman, Leon Russell, Darlene Love and Billy Preston were among the regulars.
O'Neill opened every show with the same rousing welcome:
“Howdy-hi, Shindiggers ... we've got a ‘Shindig!' for you that's so far in it's out of sight!”
O'Neill was born Jan. 8, 1940, in Enid, Okla. At 15, he won a chance to have his own two-hour show on the local radio station. “The program director hired him on the spot,” his son said. After he graduated from high school, the director helped him land a deejay job at KQV in Pittsburgh.
He stayed in Pittsburgh for only a year before he moved to Los Angeles.