“Hey Mom! Your Son’s on the Radio!” The Story of Chuck Leonard

By Phin Upham

The smooth baritone voice of Chuck Leonard filled the airwaves of the 70s. He introduced WABC’s musical program, and acted as a pioneer for black American broadcasters in mostly-white mass-appeal radio.

Leonard had begun his broadcasting career in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He became the school radio program director at WPGU, and he majored in journalism. This gave him a foothold in the newsroom. He got his first paper gig working for the Washington Evening Star, under Carl Bernstein, who would later help to break the Watergate scandal.

His big break came at ABC, where he hosted Music Radio 77 at the flagship New York station. He worked under Rick Sklar, who was one of the originators of the Top 40 style of radio that is popular to this day. Leonard’s initial time slot was 11 to midnight, and he absolutely rocked that hour from start to finish day in and day out. His late nights stayed late and got later until November of 1979, when he earned the more substantial 10:30 to 1 AM slot.

Leonard’s career would cover 38 states in the course of 14 years at ABC, before ending a 40-year long career in broadcasting. That’s a milestone that few in the business can claim. Radio competed extensively with television for a time, and some personalities were lost in the scuffle.

Leonard was inducted into the Museum of Television & Radio, and was a Golden Gloves boxing champion before he became a disc jockey.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.