Words By Seltzerboy .::. Photographs By Adam K. .::. Just when you thought pizza parties were restricted to young people and young weblogs, in walks Danny Stiles, surely one of America’s oldest deejays. As he has done for the past few years or so, Mr. Stiles will be having his annual anniversary/birthday “surprise” party at John’s Pizzeria in Times Square. On December 6, Mr. Stiles will welcome an odd mix of celebrities (Uncle Floyd, Bob Grant, and Kitty Kallen will all be there) and pizza connoisseurs alike from 6 to 11 p.m., marking 81 years since his birth and 57 years since the birth of his radio career.
Mr. Stiles has been known to tout the virtues of John’s (and pretty much every other advertiser) every chance he gets. He still reads live commercials, so the line between shtick and substance is never clear. That’s where we come in.
Despite Mr. Stiles’s claims to the contrary (“the greatest pizza anywhere”), Slice has had some difficulty with John’s recently. Several months ago, the Slice Pizza Club congregated at the Bleecker Street location. We left a little disappointed, to say the least.
John’s, named after founder John Sasso, comes from an established pizza pedigree. With its coveted oven (see photo, top right), pristine locale, and patriarchal heritage, it’s regarded as a must-see in countless tourist guides and self-important foodie tomes. Enticing as it may seem to the naked eye, John’s produces pizza that’s downright depressing: sauce without spice, cheese without charm, even a coal-fired crust without char. Each pie was so dry, all of us wondered if they had run out of olive oil that night. In fact, a few of us have had several lunchtime deliveries from the Times Square branch that tasted a little better. Greatest pizza anywhere, Mr. Stiles? As Slice devotee Tien Mao noted at the time, “This may not even be the best pizza on the block.” Although with the closing of Joe’s of Bleecker Street, John’s may move to the top of that narrow list by default.
After 75 years in business, John’s has not aged nearly as well as Mr. Stiles (left), who still champions the crooners and composers, big-band leaders, and swingers and singers from the first half of the twentieth century“the records every other station forgot about,” he often laments. Even more appealing than the music is the personality Mr. Stiles brings to the stage, peppering plays from his vast library of 78s and 45s with flamboyant phrasings, reminiscences, and narishkeit.
Still stamping his sentences with dozens of alliterative phrasings for himself ("the dean of dusty discs," "the vector of the Victrola," and "the guru of the golden Gramophone" are a few favorites that come to mind), Stiles On Your Dials has had 24 radio homes throughout the years, including three today. The clearest signal to reach him is via WNYC-AM on Saturdays. Since this conflicts with other programming, you will probably want to surf around the far reaches of the AM band late at night; he can be heard on a couple of low-bandwidth New Jersey stations, including WNSW, weeknights at 10 p.m.
Turn to Mr. Stiles for some Benny Goodman and bubbe meises. Just tune out his pizza advice.