Tuesday, March 01, 2016

R.I.P. Charlie Tuna

The radio industry lost another great. Charlie Tuna has passed away. He was 71. For generations growing up in Los Angeles, Charlie Tuna was a welcomed part of our lives.

He first came to town in 1967, working at legendary rocker KHJ. And stayed in Southern California for his entire career. He also did syndicated programs nationally, and was the announcer of numerous game shows as well as the MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW. In his spare time he recorded shows for the Armed Forces Radio Network so his voice was heard worldwide and he slept maybe two hours a week.

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I worked with him briefly at Ten-Q, but considering he did mornings at practically every station in Los Angeles at one time or another, he worked with everybody. In a town where weekend all-night guys think they’re bigger than Howard Stern, Charlie always remained humble, down-to-earth, and friendly. He worked in Hollywood but he never left Nebraska. In my experience, he was always helpful to young broadcasters, was happy to listen to audition tapes and mentor new talent. Oh, and he helped raise $2.5 million for Children’s Hospital LA, so there was that.

I first heard him when he came to KHJ Boss Radio on Thanksgiving day 1967. I was prepared not to like him because he replaced one of my favorite “Boss Jocks,” Tom Maule. And let’s face it – the guy was calling himself Charlie Tuna?  (His real name was Art Ferguson) But within ten minutes of hearing his rich deep voice and upbeat style I was a fan. The only thing is, based on his voice, I wondered why they hired some 40-year-old. Turns out he was only 23. Talk about a wunderkind. At that age I don’t think I knew how to boil water. And he had already climbed to the very peak of the radio mountain.

Charlie was the most prepared disc jockey I have ever known. If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t say he was funny per se, but he was very clever. And his show was loaded with one-liners, delivered with expert timing and super polish. He could talk right up to vocals with the best of them. This, believe it or not, is a real skill set.

Listeners loved him and radio people revered him. He was the disc jockey’s disc jockey. His shows were always so flawless you couldn’t believe they were done live. And they always contained content. He never just sloughed off on the weekends and let his voice carry him. He gave it his best every single show, and that continued throughout his career. And in the early ‘70s one of the radio industry trade sheets had a feature where they published ten or fifteen of Charlie’s lines from that week. There are quite a few airchecks of Charlie from his KHJ days since so many disc jockeys from around the country made special trips to LA just to tape him (and steal material). 

As much as I loved radio, I used it as a stepping-stone to other things. Charlie was a lifer. How much so? In 1972 when he left KHJ there was a no-compete clause in his contract that prevented him from working on the radio in Los Angeles for six months. So he took a job doing mornings at KCBQ, San Diego and COMMUTED every day from the San Fernando Valley. That’s about 280 miles a day. To play Osmond records. You gotta REALLY love it.

As I said, for most of his career he worked the morning shift. I did mornings for one month and practically collapsed. He worked numerous local stations and formats – from rock to country to sports talk. As good as he was, he was subject to the vagaries of radio – format changes, ownership changes, idiots.

But wherever he went his loyal listeners followed. And I was one of them. It’s hard to believe I won’t find Charlie Tuna on the dial… somewhere. I will miss him. Charlie Tuna was one of the Boss best.

21 comments:

DonR said...

Gary Owens, Bob Eliott, Charlie Tuna...the radio of my childhood is fading away. Late last year I was driving home from a family thing on a Sunday night, dialing around on the radio, and there he was -- Charlie Tuna, syndicated, playing 70s hits. Part of my Southern Cal childhood in the middle of Pennsylvania. His voice was still golden. I'll miss him.

Mike Barer said...

What a line up in LA radio heaven. Morgan, Owens, Steele, and Tuna!

suek2001 said...

Some of my SoCal friends were posting on Charlie's passing...and I knew you would write a brilliant piece
I grew up in Minnesota and Florida,so I wasn't familiar with his work but as someone who loved music, I still have a soft spot for quite a few DJ's back then..and when you're a shy kid who loves music, the DJ becomes your friend while you do homework or put off going to bed.

One of my favorites passed away a few years ago..and it still hurts..Dan Donovan..The Geezer in Minnesota radio...I wrote my tribute to him..nowhere near as informed as yours but it is my way of saying goodbye:
https://suek2001.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/a-tribute-to-the-geezer-aka-dan-donovan/

Beyond all the comments about how the art of radio is dying and DJ's have become marginalized is this...you lost a friend and a mentor...my deepest condolences...and thank you for this tribute.

Johnny Walker said...

Here's something you'll enjoy, Ken: Newspapers are currently going crazy over an accusation by Lena Dunham that a Spanish magazine airbrushed a photo of her... Lena Dunham Criticizes Use of Mad Photoshop on Magazine Cover. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon, saying how "unnatural" her body looks, how terrible the magazine is...

Except the photo wasn't retouched at all. The magazine in question, and several people on the internet, have compared with original photo and there's no difference at all.

See for yourself:
http://i.imgur.com/CdeaQAI.gif
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/1e/f0/2d/1ef02d447c3077faa999bf1908828e29.jpg

The magazine itself, in an open letter to her: http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/03/01/tentaciones/1456828208_318296.html

The newspapers aren't bothering to correct themselves, and Dunham has yet to make a statement. Another triumph of free publicity :)

Jeff P said...

A pro's pro...Charlie Tuna worked hard every moment he was on the air.....I guess I heard 99-% of his shows on KHJ and can never remember him stepping on a vocal.....
That to me...is the mark of excellence!!!!!!!!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

"He worked in Hollywood and never left Nebraska." Yes, sir.

His work on 93/KHJ was revered by us geeks at the campus 'radio station' at ucla in the late '60's. We heard that he wrote out every break on 3x5 cards before going on the air! Such professionalism.

Here are some great links to some nice videos of CT

Charlie Tuna Retrospective Footage
http://www.charlietuna.com/media/030116video01PR-b-roll.mov

Charlie’s inspiration for radio, Jack Lewis:
http://www.charlietuna.com/media/030116video03Jack-Lewis.mov

Charlie’s journey from Kearney, NE to Los Angeles, CA:
http://www.charlietuna.com/media/030116video02Kearney-KOMA.mov

Unknown said...







































Rick said...

What a shock. Charlie tuna was one of the greatest personalities ever. When I was in college in 1970 working at our campus radio station, we found an aircheck of tuna from 1968 on KHJ. Couldn't believe how good this guy sounded. I'm from the East Coast but I've always followed LA radio. I spent two months in LA in 1972 and couldn't wait to hear Charlie coming out of my radio on KHJ. Sadly,he left KHJ a month before and Robert W Morgan,who I never heard before returned to do mornings. I became a fan instantly,but missed hearing Charlie. Through airchecks and further SoCal visits I followed Charlie whatever station he was on. These are the days before streaming. I really disliked KRTH in the last few years,but I would stream Charlie on the weekend just to hear him. From what I read he lived a clean healthy lifestyle..never smoke or drank and he dies from cancer at 71. What a dream team in heaven now..Tuna,Morgan,Steele and Gary Owens.

Anonymous said...

As recently as a year ago, I could listen to Charlie Tuna on the "rock" station in Palm Springs. It was a great throwback to the old days. Steve G.

Dave Schreyer said...

Charlie was a "wonder kid" in the spirit of Charlie Van Dyke and Robert W. Morgan IMHO. As a kid I used to listen to CT when he did Casey's show or was announcing for Scrabble. Charlie took this fan and made him one of his Facebook friends. I was honored. I'll miss his daily posts, his sense of humor and his voice. God's speed Charlie Tuna. You passed on peacefully in a sleepy slumber. You were blessed in life and in death. :-(

Don Jennett said...

Well written, Ken. I met Charlie three or four times and by golly, he was really, truly NICE. And he just loved what he did.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Having lived my entire life on the East Coast, always enjoy reading about great jocks from other parts of the country - especially nice guys like Charlie Tuna. His voice reminded me a bit of the great Phils broadcaster Harry Kalas.

Anonymous said...

What? No "Wheel of Fortune" shout-outs? :(

VP81955 said...

Not familiar with Charlie's work being from back East, but it appears he was among the nicest folks in the business. And as an announcer, he apparently was the West Coast version of Dan Ingram (high praise indeed).

Another Top 40 legend silenced...

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I was blessed to work with many great and talented people during my years in L.A. radio., and I didn't think I could ever hurt as bad as I did when Don Steele passed away, but Charlie's death is going to hurt for a long time. Rest in peace my friend. It was an honor to work with you.

Rashad Khan said...

I've often wished you and Mr. Isaacs had worked on "WKRP in Cincinnati," if only because your background in and knowledge of the radio industry might have provided the show with some terrific stories.

Lovely tribute, Ken!

H Johnson said...

Boy, this is bad news. I'm getting kind of afraid to open your blog lately. So many greats from our life leaving. I was lucky enough to listen to Charlie Tuna on KHJ as a young kid before moving to the islands. Going to college in LA, I got a chance to hear him again. Same smooth style. Fun to listen to and comforting like hearing an old friend.

I truly appreciate you Ken not only for informing us, but writing such moving tributes to these blessed people. I don't know why, but this one's hurting a bit.

Rest in peace Charlie Tuna. Aloha and mahalo nui loa.

Joseph M. said...

Charlie Tuna did the announcing for a Beach Boys show in Long Beach in 1981 in Long Beach. You can find it on Youtube.

Anonymous said...

On The Vanishing pleasure of listening to the disc jockey
http://politicalmavens.com/index.php/2010/08/31/listening-to-dj/

Artie in Sin City said...

You always hear the hyperbole about someone after they passed...

They were great...wonderful...insightful...caring...real people...

Folks, Charlie was ALL that and more...plus he was a GIANT radio talent...Just a brief listen and you knew he LOVED RADIO, his job and those listeners...

Somewhere in those heavenly radio clouds above he is spinnin' the hits and talking up the song...

He WILL be truly missed, but ALWAYS remembered...

dugsdale said...

I used to listen to Charlie Tuna when he was at KOMA, Oklahoma City--we got him on the skip, up in the Colorado Rockies. This would have been around 1967--so maybe there was more than one Charlie Tuna? The guy I heard was suave, funny, raucous and freewheeling, and his shows made the day fly in a really fun way. I have a couple of scoped airchecks of him I listen to from time to time. Takes me back. Sorry he's gone.