Jimmy O'Neill, ex-'Burgh DJ & ABC "Shindig!" Host: 1940-2013 (Updated)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 06:13 AM Written by 

Jimmy O'Neill, the onetime disc jockey who hosted ABC's rock show "Shindig!" for its entire run, from 1964 to 1966, and got his professional start at Pittsburgh's WCAE in 1958, died in Los Angeles last Friday of cardiac and diabetes problems. He was 73.  

O'Neill, an Oklahoma native, was 18 and just out of broadcasting school when he came to WCAE in 1958 from WKY in Oklahoma City.  WCAE was AM predecessor to WTAE radio, now WDDZ-AM (Radio Disney).  During his brief time here, billed as "Jim" O'Neill, he worked the early morning shift from 5:45 AM to 10:30 AM according to the March 16, 1959 issue of Billboard.

The young personality was here a year before being hired by KRLA in Los Angeles. A former country station known as KXLA (Tennessee Ernie Ford worked there as a morning disc jockey) the station now had a new callsign and a rock format.

Almost overnight O'Neill was LA's # 1 rock disc jockey, leading him directly to TV in '64.

It may not seem much in an age when even MTV and music videos seem passe', but Shindig! a show created as the British Invasion washed over America, was infinitely superior to canned programs like American Bandstand, where the focus was mainly on dancers, host Dick Clark and the musical guests almost always lip-synched their hit record.

O' Neill was the show's always-amiable host who knew when to jump in and when to stay out of the way, and while dancers were prominent on Shindig! throughout its two-season run, unlike Bandstand, their musical guests almost always sang LIVE, as you can see in these videos.

O' Neill intros the Righteous Brothers with his trademark "Howdy-hi, Shindiggers!"

This is a great clip the LA Times cited in their comprehensive O'Neill obituary, which shows the program's s kickoff followed by some kick-ass Righteous Brothers music.  Damn if I knew the American Dairy Farmers Association had "swinging cows."

The Brothers' kick-ass (if copycat) performance of the Don & Dewey R&B tune "Justine" speaks for itself

O'Neill is seen at 1:35 here.

This clip, from 1965 shows O'Neill hosting when the guests wer Jackie Wilson, Billy Joe Royal, the Strangeloves, Fontella Bass, and the Rolling Stones, who sing a bit of Sam Cooke's "Let the Good Times Roll," a song they never recorded, followed by Bass, who died last year, singing "Rescue Me" live and the Strangeloves doing "Cara-Lin."

Note how good these live performances sound in a time when the very idea of Autotune would have been considered something straight out of Star Trek.

While to me at least, Shindig! was a better musical show than Bandstand, O'Neill never matched Dick Clark's level of achievements in broadcasting or business.  He had alcohol problems after the show ended and recovered enough to return to local broadcasting in LA, along with owning local nightclubs. 

He might be a footnote today, but he got his start here, and for a brief time, at least, made a mark.  Howdy-hi, indeed.




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