Fifty years after Chicago radio listeners were introduced to “the most fantastic crime-fighter the world has ever known,” a new generation is about to meet the legendary “Chickenman.”
Twenty episodes of the classic serial spoof about the winged warrior, created by Radio Hall of Famer Dick Orkin, will be presented by the Earwolf comedy podcast network, starting August 2. The full 273 episodes in the original series will be available through Stitcher Premium podcasts.
Orkin was production director at Chicago’s former WCFL in the 1960s when he hatched “Chickenman,” portraying the crime-fighting fowl (“He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!”) and his alter ego, mild-mannered shoe salesman Benton Harbor.
Among other characters, he also played the part of the police commissioner of Midland City. In a 1985 interview, Orkin revealed that the voice he used for the commissioner was a parody of William A. Lee, then president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
“Mr. Lee was a beautiful guy, but he never knew I was imitating him,” Orkin told me. “In fact, he wasn’t real clear on what ‘Chickenman’ even was. He used to call it ‘that duck thing of yours.’ ”
The Chicago Federation of Labor owned WCFL from its inception in 1926 until 1978. Earlier this month, the union coalition got back into media ownership with its participation on the acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader.
Orkin, 84, lives in California, where his radio production company, Dick Orkin’s Radio Ranch, has produced some of the funniest and most memorable commercials ever created.