Chickenman was an American radio series created by Dick Orkin that spoofs comic book heroes, inspired by the mid-1960s Batman TV series. The series was created in 1966 on a Chicago radio station WCFL, and was then syndicated widely, notably on Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War. According to public radio show, This American Life, "Chickenman first soared the radio airwaves from 1966 to 1969; nearly every day there would be a new episode. The episodes are each about one or two minutes in duration. The program’s distribution spread to over 1,500 radio stations. According to the people who syndicate Chickenman, it has been translated into German, Dutch, and Swedish."
In the series, Benton Harbor, a shoe salesman at a large downtown Midland City department store, spends his weekends striking terrific terror into the hearts of criminals everywhere as that fantastic fowl, Chickenman. Or, at least, that's what he tells everyone. In reality, he mostly hangs around the Police Commissioner's office and irritates the Commissioner's secretary, Miss Helfinger.
Each episode begins with an overly-dramatic theme, a four-note trumpet sound echoed with Benton Harbor's "Buck-buck-buck-buuuuuck" chicken call, which is followed by a rousing cry of "Chicken-mannnn!" and voices shouting, "He's everywhere! He's everywhere!" This tagline became a memorable catchphrase, especially because it's repeated again at the end of each episode, two and a half minutes later.
Midway through the series, in 1973, Orkin added special weekend episodes called Chickenman vs. the Earth Polluters. In 1976, a special LP was created by Orkin and Bert Berdis: Chickenman Returns, and an updated radio show in 1977, Chickenman Returns for the Last Time Again.
Chickenman was created in 1966 by Dick Orkin, at the time a production director at WCFL in Chicago. WCFL's Program Director, Ken Draper, was inspired by the success of the Batman TV show, and asked Orkin to put together a two-and-a-half-minute comedy feature with a similarly "camp" sensibility.
In a 1996 article, Orkin explained, "I was never clear about what 'camp' meant, except that I guess it had something to do with the sacredness of absolute values that, when extended to irrational limits, became just plain silly... Thank God I hadn't known 'camp' was later considered a literary technique, or that would have killed the doing of it for me."
Orkin's Chickenman series was part of the late morning show hosted by Jim Runyon. Orkin played the male characters, including Benton Harbor and Police Commissioner Benjamin Norton. In a 1992 interview, Orkin admitted that Benton's character was "a little cardboardy," and refuted the rumors that Benton roughly resembles Orkin's own character: "This is, of course, nonsense. The resemblance is not even close to rough. It's precise."
The female characters on the show were performed by Jane Roberts, a Chicago theater actress who worked at WCFL as the traffic reporter. "She would listen to municipal traffic channels and coordinate the information for airing on WCFL," Orkin recalls. "She would put on a rather husky, sexy voice and play herself off as Trooper 36-24-36. Jane was the only 'female' talent I had available to me. And she was the best at what she did." Roberts' characters included the almost-unflappable Miss Helfinger, Chickenman's mother Mildred Harbor, his mother's oldest friend Emma Leckner, and Emma's attractive-and-still-single daughter Sadye.
Runyon performed the narration, including a closing tag for each episode that memorably began with an astonished "Well-l-l-l-l." According to Orkin, "Jim was incredible, he would adlib an ending for each episode. Jim made the work enjoyable and fun — because we never knew what he was going to come up with. His big goal was to break us up at the ending and make us laugh."
Chickenman's rogues gallery includes the Choker, the Hummer, the Chicken-Plucker, the Dog Lady, Big Clyde Crushman, the Bear Lady, the Very Diabolical [sic], Rodney Farber (a childhood playmate who never forgave Benton Harbor for breaking his red wagon one Christmas Day), and the Couple From SHTICK (Secret Henchmen To Injure Crime Killers). Benton Harbor is prone to spoonerisms, such as "I shall not rest while rime runs crampant in the streets of Midland City."
Chickenman roams Midland City seeking criminals in his yellow crime-fighting car, appropriately known as the Chicken Coupe. He has a secret headquarters, the Chicken Cave, accessible through a trap door in his bedroom closet. His armaments include the Gestunkener Ray Gun, which is not lethal but makes the target "gestunkener" for 24 hours. When Chickenman is busy, his mother Mildred fills in as "the Maternal Marauder", sometimes known as "the Masked Mother".
As the popularity of the show grew, Orkin created a production company: "I only intended the Chickenman series to run for a period of two weeks — but obviously it lasted much longer — it went on for four or five months. Suddenly, a syndication company from Texas came in and asked if they could distribute the program nationally. Naturally, we said "yes." It was then that we formed an actual company, at the station, to continue producing the series. Chickenman was produced under the station's production banner for the next five years, then I bought the show just prior to leaving WCFL in the early 1970s. I continued to produce and syndicate it on my own."
There was a followup series named Amazon Ace produced under the name Camp Associates but also distributed by SPOT Productions which had distributed Chickenman.
In 1973, Orkin's production company revived the series as Chickenman vs. the Earth-Polluters, an ecology series in which the "Fearless Feathered Fighter" battles pollution in Midland City, organizing the BEAK (Beautiful Earth & Air Keepers) Patrol. A total of 52 episodes were recorded.
In 1977, Orkin produced Chickenman Returns for the Last Time Again. The "Wonderful White-Winged Warrior" feels that time had passed him by and he decides to open a crime-fighting school to carry on his crusade. However, there is only one student: Leon Cablemouth (played by Orkin's then-partner, Bert Berdis). Orkin and Rich Koz co-authored several of the episodes, which numbered 65.
In 1995, Orkin brought Chickenman out of retirement for a 30th anniversary tribute episode on Poultry Slam 1995, Episode 3 of the WBEZ public radio program This American Life (then called Your Radio Playhouse). In "Chickenman Challenges a Fate Named Frank," Benton Harbor realizes that he's getting older, and goes to the doctor, who tells him that his cholesterol is high and he should stop being a crime-fighting superhero. Chickenman goes to an employment agency, but all of the available jobs are even more physically strenuous than fighting crime, except for a napkin-folder in a nouveau Italian-Chinese restaurant. He tries a geriatric counselor, who recommends he move to a superhero retirement community. Faced with those disappointing options, Chickenman chances it all and challenges the fates. The story was repeated in the next year's Poultry Slam 1996, when This American Life was syndicated nationally.
Chickenman episodes are regularly played on the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), especially on stations broadcasting to service personnel outside the continental United States. It first appeared on AFRTS during the Vietnam War.
The show can be heard daily on 101.1 The River WVRE in Dubuque, Iowa, at 7:15 am, and 5:15 pm, XM Radio's Channel 151, Laugh USA, and was formerly played on XM Radio Channel 6 before it merged with Sirius Satellite Radio. It is also broadcast on WFJV 103.3 in Crystal River, Florida, on weekday mornings at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 AM. Also, WION-AM, I-1430 (kHz) in Ionia, Michigan, and their low-power FM translator station on 92.7(mHz) broadcasts episodes weekdays a few minutes after 8:00 AM and 12:00 noon (generally around 12 minutes after the hour). Several episodes have been used by This American Life. In 1979, the show aired on WCOD in Hyannis, Massachusetts on weekday afternoons.
Beginning September 30, 2013, Chickenman will be broadcast on Internet radio station Radio Bop 60s (http://www.RadioBop60s.com) every third hour at 20 minutes before the hour. Four episodes will be broadcast daily, two from the day before and two new episodes.
Chickenman is well known in Australia, and all of the episodes were broadcast in the 1990s on 5AD (now Mix 102.3 FM) and regional stations 5PI, 5MU and 5SE, South Australia. It is currently heard on weekdays on KLFM Bendigo, in Central Victoria, on Curtin FM 100.1. in Perth, Western Australia. Also Kalamunda Community radio 102.5fm ( Perth,Western Australia ) on Friday nights during the Time Capsule Program from 6pm - 8.00 pm weekly . It is also heard every Sunday night on 3AW in Melbourne, immediately prior to the 10:00 news. From 22 July it can be heard on GDR95.7fm (Golden Days Radio) each weekday morning at 7.30am.
Chickenman is played in New Zealand on Mangawhai Heads FM 106.4 FM, to the bafflement of the listening public.
Chickenman will be played in 2012 on the UK-based Internet radio station www.uksounds.com, on Ian Chambers' fortnightly shows, which are available only through the website to hear "on demand".
In 1992, the Museum of Television & Radio (now The Paley Center for Media) acquired the complete collection of Chickenman episodes for their archive. A compilation of episodes is available for museum visitors to listen to.
Chickenman is broadcast multiple times every weekday on KPCH 99.3 FM in Ruston, Louisiana.
Chickenman is broadcast Wednesday-Friday at 9:25 AM on "The Morning Show", hosted by Jim Glover on Northumberland 89.7 FM, CFWN-FM Cobourg, Ontario, Canada and listen online at "www.northumberland897.ca"
Chickenman is broadcast daily, and in sequential order, online at Vietnam Vet Radio.
Chickenman is broadcast 4 times daily on WMNM-LP 105.1 FM in Mount Morris, Wisconsin.
Chickenman Began a run on May 31, 2021 on 102.5 The Vault in Binghamton, N.Y. twice daily.
In 2001, Dick Orkin's Radio Ranch released Chickenman Can't Fly!, 100 episodes on four CDs.
In 2003, Radio Ranch released The Original, Complete & Unexpurgated Story of Chickenman, 273 episodes in a 14-CD set. The set includes the original 1966 episodes and the 1973 Chickenman vs the Earth Polluters series, along with station promos and two CDs of behind-the-scenes interviews with Orkin and sound engineer Mike King. (The CD set does not include the 65 episodes of the 1977 Chickenman Returns for the Last Time Again series.)
In 2009, Orkin's syndication company, the Chicago Radio Syndicate, partnered with BFM Digital to release the 273 episodes for digital download on iTunes and Amazon.
In 2017, Earwolf podcast network started reairing the episodes.
- "Poultry Slam 2003 [updated and re-broadcast, December 1, 2019]". This American Life. 28 November 2003. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
- Schenold, Bill. "Interview with Dick Orkin - Chickenman & WCFL". Manteno.com (website of Manteno, Illinois), 1985.
- Orkin, Dick. "Is This Farewell, Fearless Fighter?" Printed in Chickenmania! pamphlet, Radio Ranch Studios, 1996.
- Henderson, Harold (March 5, 1992). "He's Everywhere! He's Everywhere!:The Ubiquitous Voice of Dick Orkin, Master of the 30-Second Radio Sell". The Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2012-04-15.
- Hoffman. "Chickenman". the Official 60's Site. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
- Hoffman. "Winner of WCFL "What Does Chickenman Look Like?" Contest". the Official 60's Site. Archived from the original on 4 June 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
- Poultry Slam 1995
- "Poultry Slam 1995", Your Radio Playhouse. Originally broadcast on December 1, 1995.
- Poultry Slam 1996
- "Poultry Slam 1996", This American Life. Originally broadcast on November 29, 1996.
- Curtin FM-Australia
- Paley Center for Media search results, "Chickenman".
- "Home". northumberland897.ca.
- "Home". vietnamvetradio.com.
- Bill Virgin (2001-03-08). "Radio Beat: Remember 'Chicken Man'? It's now on CD". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29.
- iTunes collection of Chickenman episodes
- Ira Glass presents the first new Chickenman episode since 1969 on This American Life.
- A couple episodes are sneaked into TAL #252 (Poultry Slam 2003, rebroadcast in 2010)
- Reel Radio-Windy City airchecks-page includes 10 audio files of Chickenman episodes
- Mr. Pop Culture Week of January 16, 1967-Chickenman story page 9
- Time-June 9, 1967-It's a Bird! It's a Plane! Whoops, It's a Bird