Dick Sheeran grew up on the 1800 block of South Hicks Street. At age 21, his father, a milkman, wanted to live on a “big” street, so the family moved to 17th Street and Passyunk Avenue.
“Those days in South Philly, the street was our theater; that’s where you played. Now you can’t move because everybody has three cars,” Sheeran, 73, said.
Sheeran decided to chronicle what he nostalgically refers to as “simpler” times spent in 1940s and 50s’ South Philly. Though originally intended as a memoir for friends and family, he was urged to publish his reminisces and has since done so in “News Hound: From Halfball in South Philly to TV News.”
“The name derives from something at my junior high school, Vare, at 24th and Snyder. There was a club,” he said. “I wanted to be in the news business way back in sixth grade. In sixth grade I went to Drexel School at 16th and Moore — it’s no longer there — but Ms. Seaman, a classroom teacher, had the Classroom Gazette. I wrote some articles in sixth grade and saw my byline and that’s it — that’s all it took.”
Sheeran went on to have a storied career in print and on-air journalism. It began as a copy boy for the Daily News and wound up in a retirement from an on-screen role with local television channels in 2003. His ascent through the media ranks is also chronicled in “News Hound.”
“It starts with television, because I figured that would be the highest interest, then radio and newspapers. Then I get into South Philadelphia reminiscing,” Sheeran, who makes his home in Atlantic City, N.J., said of the 150-page book.
Though he sets up shop in Jersey these days, he is often back on his block, meeting with fellow South Philadelphia High, 2101 S. Broad St., alums, or grabbing a bite at many of his favorite local restaurants.
“I get back there all the time — that’s one of the beauties of growing up in South Philly. I talk about a social club we had. There were a number of social clubs for people in their late teens, early 20s,” he said. “We rented a clubhouse. We would have live jazz shows on Sunday afternoons. Guys would come in and play their hearts out … Consequently I have South Philly friends I’ve known for 60 years or more and we get together.”
Though he never intended to turn a profit, Sheeran has derived a lot of joy out of the self-published work, which has allowed him to connect with those he knows, and even those he doesn’t, who have had a chance to pick up a copy.
“In Ocean City last week, having lunch, a guy came up to me who had bought the book at SunRose [bookstore]. He said, ‘I really enjoyed your book.’ He was just another diner, walking out of the restaurant,” Sheeran said. “That is really one of the reasons I did it. To have somebody come up to me and say something like that.”
In addition to the occasional stranger, there are a few closer to home that Sheeran has been surprised to see take an interest in his story.
“It’s really for the boomers, anybody that remembers the simpler times in South Philly. They would actually get the most out of it,” he said. “But my grandson — I have seven grandsons — thought it was interesting to read about the days before video games and stuff like that.”
In high school, Sheeran sold papers at 15th and Chestnut streets. At the suggestion of a colleague, he showed up at the Daily News to see about a job.
“The next thing I know I was hired as a copy boy. You don’t make any money but it’s wonderful experience. It’s almost like an apprenticeship, but I was going to school at the same time,” Sheeran said. “J. Ray Hunt, the managing editor, he’s the one that really gave me my break. He said, ‘I’m going to make you the police reporter.’ It was the biggest step in my news career.
“I’d work the midnight to 8 shift for the Daily News, and cover from the police headquarters. The experience was incredible. Then they brought you inside as a rewriter, then a deskman.”
During this time Sheeran also matriculated at Temple University. The demanding schedule only allowed him to finish two years of credits — though, in retirement, he has completed his degree at Thomas Edison State College — as his work life began to gain speed.
“It was very special to me. I spent five years in radio as a reporter,” Sheeran said. “When I told my colleagues at the paper I was going to work for a radio station that did all news all the time, they said I was crazy.
“It was KYW in Philly. This had just started — All News, All the Time. They said, ‘A radio station that doesn’t play records? That’ll never amount to anything.’”
Luckily, they were wrong, and radio — a department in which Sheeran teaches at Temple some semesters — was another steppingstone to television. Taking a stab at an on-air performance led to 30 years on screen in the Philadelphia area. All of these roles, however, have become an integral part of Sheeran’s current life and newest profession.
“I was on TV everyday in a major market for many years and I was never more excited than when I saw my book in the window of a bookstore. It’s still there,” Sheeran said of SunRose, an Ocean City, N.J.,-based bookseller. “We sold a few copies, sold 10 books.”
The $17.95 tome can be purchased through the publisher, ComteQ. The thrill for Sheeran, however, came from tackling the new task of novel writing.
“As a matter of fact, I enjoy writing. As a newsperson in television, I never wrote more than two minutes of copy. I point out in the book that half is show businesses, half journalism. Prior to that, of course, I had written long newspaper articles in the Daily News. But the book is something longer form. It is a whole different ballgame,” he said.
The catharsis of crystallizing his memories and sharing them has been rewarding enough, alongside his own edification of the publishing world, which he has found fascinating. As far as further works, Sheeran knows when to hold and when to go all in.
“I’ll wait for inspiration,” he said. “Then I’d like to do it.”
Contact the South Philly Review at firstname.lastname@example.org.