Charlie Brown had all the skills morning radio demanded. Boundless energy at 4 a.m.; a stable of goofy, on-air characters like “Clydie-Clyde”; a taste for the outrageous and a way with management that, in the chaotic world of broadcasting, kept him on the Seattle airwaves for more than three decades.
But once he left the studio, Mr. Brown headed for the quieter places, spending time with his family, fishing and crabbing near his home on Bainbridge Island, and pointing out stars in the night sky.
Mr. Brown, a longtime morning DJ at KJR-AM and KUBE-FM in Seattle, died May 11 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease, according to his wife of 38 years, Kimberly. He was 74.
“I think when he was with his radio friends, he kept that funny persona up,” Brown said Friday. “Even when his Parkinson’s started to come in and he had a tremor on the right side of his body, he would tell them, ‘I’m really good at making martinis and playing the tambourine.’
“But when Charlie would come home, one of the things I always told him was that our house was his safe place. ‘Don’t be on.’ He could shut it off pretty fast.”
Brown grew up in Burien and got his start in broadcasting hosting a morning radio show at Eastern Washington State College (now Eastern Washington University). After college, he got a job at KPUG-AM in Bellingham, then spent six years at KJRB-AM in Spokane.
He moved to Seattle in 1974 for a stint at KJR-AM, where he stayed for six years until he “retired” after a dispute over vacation time, according to a post on Puget Sound Media,
Not long after, Brown learned that a new general manager named Michael O’Shea was coming up from Los Angeles to convert a religious talk-radio station into what would be called “The New 93,” and was looking for a program director and morning host.
Brown called three times before O’Shea — who knew of the DJ’s “wild and zany” reputation — relented, and agreed to what he thought would be 45-minute lunch. It turned into a “four-hour gab fest” about radio, O’Shea said in an phone interview from his home in California.
“We just bonded,” he said. He hired Mr. Brown as program director and morning DJ on the spot, and with a handshake.
The station launched on St. Patrick’s Day 1981, with a tiny budget, no studio, no microphone in the control room and no way to record promos. But it made its own luck.
Mr. Brown knew that the KJR-AM studios had a broken bathroom window. So, at 3 a.m., he would crawl through, slip into the production studio while dodging the on-air DJ, rack a tape and record promo liners that he had written in advance, then slip back out and play them the next morning.
“I don’t know if there’s anybody but he and I who knew that story, until now,” O’Shea said.
He told one more: In 1990, Brown got his pilot’s license and bought a two-seat helicopter. The first week he owned it, he crashed it into a lake at Olympic National Park, where he and his brother swam ashore as the copter sunk in 200 feet of water. The two men spent the night in the woods after leaving an SOS message in the sand. They were rescued the next day — which is when Brown paid his aircraft insurance premium.
“He had this charming combination of having this devilish side of him, but also being so charming,” O’Shea said, “and he loved that radio was his calling card.”
Mary White met Mr. Brown on a blind date. When he started to flirt with their waitress, White asked the young woman for her phone number, telling her that while White and Mr. Brown were on their first date, clearly he had no interest in White. But Mr. Brown did want White to become KUBE’s traffic reporter, which she did, working alongside Mr. Brown and Ty Flint.
“More than being sad about Charlie, it’s the end of an era,” White said, “when radio was this really important fun, community thing, and everyone knew who you were and what we did made a difference.”
They made some trouble, too. At Mr. Brown’s suggestion, they barricaded themselves in their studio, demanding the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill. Listeners climbed up to the windows to hand them sandwiches before the fire department, citing safety regulations, made them come out. And she remembered rolling in maple syrup for something else.
“It was really fun,” said White, who later worked at two country music stations and has since written two books about cooking with cannabis, and teaches classes.
“There’s something about light there,” she said of Mr. Brown. “Working with someone like Charlie can be like working with a really talented 4-year-old. ‘Let’s do this and let’s do that!’ But with a soft heart, a goodness, and positive energy.”
John Maynard, who for 22 years co-hosted “The Robin and Maynard Show” on KISW-FM and, later, KZOK-FM, knew Mr. Brown for 55 years. They met at Eastern Washington, lived together in Los Angeles while getting their broadcasting licenses and remained close.
“His exuberance and his sense of humor,” Maynard said, when asked what he would remember of his friend. “He looked at life through a different lens than most of society. That’s why he was so good on the air.
“The guy was absolutely nuts,” he said. “But in a good way. He was a jovial, fun guy with a great sense of humor and always easy to be around, and he didn’t have a malicious bone in his body.”
Younger people who didn’t grow up listening to the radio may not remember Mr. Brown, Maynard said, “but there are a lot of people for whom Charlie Brown will always resonate in a certain way.”
One of those people is Marty Reimer, most recently a morning host on 95.7-FM “The Jet” and before that, the now-defunct 103.7-FM “The Mountain.” He said Brown was the one who inspired him to get into radio.
“As a kid, we would listen to him do his character ‘Clydie-Clyde’ and it was so wonderfully irreverent,” Reimer remembered. “I would have thought that anyone listening would want to do that for a living.”
Bill Reid, a longtime Seattle DJ who currently hosts “Alternative Vashon” on the Voice of Vashon radio, once lived below Brown at Lowman Beach in West Seattle.
“I was star-struck, as were all the neighbors,” Reid said, via email. He thought Brown’s “wacky style” was “corny,” but he respected Brown’s longevity in the radio business.
He also respected how Brown invented the VoxPro digital-editing system, which records and edits phone calls for on-air use. In 2015, Brown sold his company, Audion Labs, to Wheatstone Corp., an audio-networking company.
“Brilliant gear,” Reid said.
Selling the company, Kimberly Brown said, “allowed me to take care of him.”
The couple met at KJR, where she worked in marketing and promotions.
“He was huge, but the funny thing is, he was just one of the disc jockeys to me,” she said.
Mr. Brown was always looking at the night sky, and taught her about constellations.
“I loved that about him,” she said. “That gentle, quiet part of him.”
He loved their son, Tag; his two children by a previous marriage, Chad and Shannon, and their cat, Fiona.
The two of them used to fantasize about spending one day together as 8-year-old kids, exploring, sitting in a treehouse.
“We would have had a blast,” Brown said. “He was a great guy to be loved by.”
Services are being planned for next March, when Mr. Brown would have turned 75.