Chuck Leonard, WABC Musicradio 77 personality, dies at 67

From former WABC PD Glenn Morgan, via the NY Radio Message Board


Chuck Leonard, radio personality from 1965 to 1979 at the legendary WABC Musicradio 77 in New York City, passed away on August 12, 2004 after succumbing to lung cancer. He was 67.

During the heyday of AM Top 40 radio, Chuck Leonard was a key member of the team of disc jockeys, known as the WABC “All Americans,” who catapulted the station to number one status, rating book after rating book, year after year. WABC ultimately became the highest rated station in the U.S. From the birth of The Beatles right through the dawn of the new millennium and the birth of satellite radio programming, Chuck Leonard survived changes in music and radio programming format styles.

Chuck was a familiar voice not just to millions of metropolitan New York area listeners, but thanks to WABC’s powerful 50,000-watt signal, to fans in 38 states. Chuck Leonard also communicated his love of music to his listeners across the nation daily via “Sneak Preview,” his ABC Radio Network program in which he introduced the latest new songs and groups. His network signature sign-off was “Chuck Leonard, sneeeekin’ it to ‘ya!”

Chuck Leonard truly had “golden pipes,” radio lingo for a deep, rich, smooth voice. His style was personable, upbeat, and energetic with perfect diction.

Dan Ingram, well-known WABC afternoon personality, recalled how he discovered Chuck: “I listened to WWRL, a rhythm and blues station, and I heard this guy named Chuck Leonard. I didn’t know if he was red, white or green. I couldn’t care less. He just sounded like he was kickin’ butt. I asked our General Manager to turn on WWRL. He said that guy sounds good. I said yea, you might want to put him on following Cousin Brucie. He invited Chuck into his office and told him he wanted Chuck to do the show. Chuck said I don’t want to be anybody’s experiment. The manager grabbed Chuck’s hand and said don’t worry about it. Some experiment, he was there for 14 years!” In his book, “Rocking America,” WABC Program Director Rick Sklar noted that “Leonard Goldenson, ABC’s Chairman of the Board, was “delighted” that Chuck Leonard had become the station’s first African American DJ.

Chuck’s primary airshift at WABC was from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. following Cousin Bruce Morrow and later George Michael. He also did weekends and fill-in work.

Besides having radio’s “golden pipes,” Chuck Leonard was also a golden gloves boxing champion in his youth. Most found this side of Chuck ironic due to his docile demeanor.

While earning his degree in journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champagne, Chuck served as Program Director of the college radio station. For a brief period after graduation, Chuck worked for the Washington Evening Star newspaper. But he was soon lured by his love of radio and accepted a position at Baltimore’s WEBB, where he worked until joining WWRL.

After leaving WABC in 1979, Chuck held on-air positions at FM stations WXLO, WRKS, WBLS and WQEW-AM, all in New York, as well as WJUX Jukebox Radio. Most recently, Chuck Leonard joined the cutting edge Sirius Satellite Radio on both the Swing Street and Soul Review channels.

Those who knew Chuck Leonard respected him and considered him a true friend. He loved life and loved people. WABC co-workers remembered how every time he entered the studio for his show, he would put his personal chair with the four-foot high seat behind the microphone, sit with perfect posture, put on a big smile that lit-up the room, signal his engineer to open his mic, and open every show with the vitality and excitement of the Manhattan night life he so loved.

WABC Program Director from 1973 to 1979, Glenn Morgan, recalled: “Chuck Leonard never let his stature as a superstar jock go to his head. He always had time for anybody who wanted to talk with him, which helped him immensely when it came to never losing touch with his audience. Chuck was always a gentleman. Over the years, Chuck and I became personal friends and spent a lot of time together outside of the station. A side of Chuck Leonard that listeners may not be aware of is that he was quite the philosopher and intellectual and loved to converse on a myriad of subjects. But what I will always remember is that whenever I needed a friend, he was the first person I would call. He will be missed very much.”

Upon learning of Chuck’s death, longtime WABC morning air personality, Harry Harrison commented: “I’m shocked and saddened to hear of Chuck’s passing. He was a super talent, a super human being and a classy man.”

Chuck Leonard was a member of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan where he served over the years as a lector, fundraiser, emcee and as Parish Council President. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, one of the first African American fraternities. He also served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Chuck frequently donated his services as a host for charity telethons such as Variety: the Children’s Charity, the March of Dimes and the American Cancer Society. He also liked computers, often using them to design cards for his family.

Born Charles Wesley Leonard in Chicago, Ill., Chuck became a longtime resident of New York City. He is survived by his beloved wife, Pamela Horrell Leonard, and daughters Diana Leonard and Kyra Johnson.

A memorial service will be held at St. Paul the Apostle Church at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 26. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the American Cancer Society or the March of Dimes.