The job description of a drive-time DJ on local radio back in 1976 was fairly straightforward: take some phone calls, be funny between records, give the call sign several times an hour and greet the public every so often at a local sporting event or auto-dealership opening. But as satisfying as that routine might have been to the average radio jock back in 1976, it left one ambitious young man named Rick Dees wanting something more. And so it was that Rick Dees created a novelty record called “Disco Duck,” a song that hit the pop universe with such impeccable timing that it rocketed up the Billboard Hot 100 in the nation’s Bicentennial year, hitting the #1 spot on October 16, 1976.
Rick Dees was working at station WMPS in Memphis, Tennessee, when he decided that the budding disco movement was ripe for a parody record. “One of the guys who worked out in [my] gym did a great duck voice,” Dees later recalled, “so I said, how about a ‘Disco Duck’?” From that rather modest moment of inspiration, Dees went home one afternoon and wrote the song that would end up transforming his career. Recorded on a local Memphis-area label, “Disco Duck” caught on first in Alabama, then across the South and eventually across the country after Dees convinced the label RSO to lease the song and release it nationally. On this day in 1976, Dees’ little side project took over the #1 spot on the U.S. pop charts from “A Fifth of Beethoven”—a disco version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
One place where “Disco Duck” did not receive major airplay, however, was in Memphis itself. Competing stations hesitated to play the record, believing that it would indirectly promote their rival. And as for WMPS itself, Rick Dees was actually barred from playing his record as it was considered to be a conflict of interest. In fact, so different was the radio industry of 1976 from today’s that Dees was ultimately fired from his post simply for discussing his record on the air. Though he never had another pop hit, Rick Dees nevertheless landed very much on his feet. Quickly hired by a local competitor whose parent company later promoted him to their Los Angeles flagship station, KIIS-FM, Dees went on to become the host of the internationally syndicated Rick Dees’ Top 40 Countdown and an inductee into the Radio Hall of Fame.