For anyone like myself living in Southern California, who happens to be a fan of Big Band music – Saturdays (and often Sundays) meant listening in to Chuck Cecil and his iconic show, “The Swingin’ Years”. The show has been on the air continuously since 1956 (it debuted on KFI) – making Chuck the host of one of the longest running shows in radio history. I’ve been listening in on the program myself, since arriving in Los Angeles over 20 years ago. In fact, I have an app for my computer that I bought specifically to record the show each weekend (since it’s 6am start time was often a bit early). Every weekend, I actually look forward to waking up and listening in on Chuck’s show.
That is – until this weekend. This Saturday morning was sadly different. No more “Swingin’ Years” on the air in So. Cal. And I can say that even though it’s just the first day – I already miss it. I knew Chuck was getting up in years, and that the show wouldn’t go on forever – but I was not looking forward to this day at all.
Now, I know that there are other Big Band shows out there. (In fact, KJazz is trying out it’s own replacement with Johnny Magnus – listened to it today… it’s ok, but he’s no Chuck Cecil!) And with the plethora of sources to listen to music from on the internet, you would think that there would be plenty of other options to fill that hole. But the singular difference is Chuck Cecil. There was something about the way he crafts the show – the bits of history intertwined with the music, the countdowns from years and days long gone, and those interviews! The library of music and the interviews that Chuck did with the musicians who made that music over the years – that’s something that no Pandora or iTunes Radio can replace.
The Los Angeles Times did a really nice feature piece on Chuck Cecil and the show just recently this past December. Definitely check it out, if you want to read more about a fascinating career in radio, and some other nice tidbits (like the fact that he double-dated Jane Russell and the future Marilyn Monroe while in high school at Van Nuys High!).
And I realize that at 91, I’m sure Mr. Cecil would prefer to live out his Golden Years, dancing with his wife Edna – and just taking it a bit more easy, rather than churning out a weekly radio show. I’m sure the day will be coming when he will cease to produce the show at all. So, for now – I’ll be happy to tune in to the one remaining station which carries the show, WPPB in Long Island, on Sunday nights at 5PM PST (8PM on the East Coast).
But it won’t seem quite the same – not waking up weekend mornings to a local broadcast. So, for all of his years of service on the Los Angeles airwaves, and for his enduring program – I sincerely thank Chuck Cecil for all of those years of entertainment. And I hope that someone picks up the mantle – and at least preserves all of those wonderful 78 recordings and the interviews. It’s a treasure trove of musical history from a past era, and it will be truly missed once it is gone.
Chuck Cecil and ‘Swingin’ Years’ to leave KJazz
Venerable jazz DJ Chuck Cecil and his long-running show “Swingin’ Years” are leaving their Southern California radio home.
As of Feb. 9, Cecil’s famed big band music show will no longer be part of KKJZ-FM (88.1), or KJazz.
Cecil broke off relations with the station, he said, because of repeated technical difficulties producing the show — and because he feels it’s time to start winding down the show he’s produced, each week, for more than 50 years.
“It really hurts me to stop, but I feel I can’t continue and do justice to the musicians who made the music,” Cecil said Monday.
Cecil’s big band show has been on the air continuously since 1956, when the then-radio-newsman was asked to create Saturday morning filler for Los Angeles’ KFI-AM (640).
It was later syndicated to more than 300 stations nationwide and broadcast internationally, on 240 ships and 170 military bases, by Armed Forces Radio Network.
Though the show is now heard only on Long Beach’s KKJZ and Long Island’s WPPB, it reaches an average of 46,000 listeners a week.
The show will continue to be available online, streaming via WPPB.
Confirming the end of the radio era, KJazz’s Stephanie Levine said the station plans to continue its big band programming, during the same Saturday and Sunday morning 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. time slot, but under a different format and with a different host.
“We will continue to present this programming and find someone else to do the show,” she said. “Chuck is not replaceable, but there are people who are knowledgeable about the swing era.”
Levine declined to name the replacement candidates, but said: “We have several people in mind who have been around a long time in the industry. They’re anxious to do a show like this.”
Cecil was pleased to hear the music would play on.
“I wish them great success,” he said. “It was a difficult decision to make, and an emotional one. But the time has come.”
A photo from a different era shows Chuck Cecil, center, with his wife, Edna, and crooner Tony Bennett, who has called Cecil “a great jazz historian.”