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.

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