It's with a heavy heart that I write today about the passing of a friend. Ed "Charlie Brown" Weiss passed away this past Saturday. I just called him CB. You will hear on Social Media and in the news today about Charlie Brown's roll in bringing Beach Music to the masses, and you'll hear about his legendary status as a Disc Jockey, and undoubtedly you'll hear that he was an amazing friend. All of these things are very true. What you won't hear about, probably, is how he took pity on a clueless young radio programmer and, even though he really didn't have to, how he taught me how to program a radio station.
When I was 17 years old I started my first job in radio at WPCM and at that time had very little clue who Charlie Brown was. I knew enough to know that his name was usually followed by whispers of "he's a legend" and of course in the Beach Music world everybody- and I mean everybody- knew his name, but my first realization came one night when I was babysitting the board and and looked at the station directory posted on the wall. It had each employees name, phone number, and position at the station. It said something like: "Bill Whitley- General manager, Gails Stuckey- Sales, Carson Johnson Board Operator", and then it said "Ed Weiss- 'Charlie Brown'". His job at the radio station was to be Charlie Brown, and he did it better than anyone on the planet.
When I was 28 years old I came back home to Burlington after a stint on WAAC in Valdosta, Ga and was still pretty clueless. After surviving a couple of format changes and a period in which Byron Tucker, myself, Dee Brockwell, and Charlie Brown were the only employees of the radio station we were handed a huge gift- We received an FM radio signal. Even more importantly, because I had some knowledge of how our automation system worked, someone up in Raleigh decided to take a chance on me as Program Director for this new radio station- Classic Hits WPCM. It only just now occurred to me that previously Charlie Brown had been handling the music on WPCM and as I'm writing this I've just realized that I sort of took his job. For some reason I'd never had that realization before. CB never said a word.
I went home and read the manual for our automation and music scheduling software from cover to cover. It was an old DOS program called MusicMaster and was insanely complicated. I was pretty cocky and still dumb enough not to know any better so i set about changing things. I listened to every song in our music library, I set up new clocks, I culled our music and pulled out songs that didn't fit my vision for this new radio station I had been asked to create, and finally, when I realized I was probably going to blow my first big opportunity, I called Charlie Brown and asked for help.
CB was semi retired at the time. He was doing his syndicated Beach Show "On The Beach With Charlie Brown", and he was doing his afternoon show on WPCM, and I think he would have been perfectly happy to leave it at that. He could have sat back and watched the impending trainwreck I was going to cause but instead he gladly listened to my vision and without hesitation told me he was on board and would help as much or as little as I wanted him. I wanted him a lot.
Together CB and I built a radio station that I'm quite proud of. We met weekly on the phone and would go over music and we would each find new music to play. We'd send songs to each other and very often would disagree. At those times CB would take a moment to impart some of his knowledge upon me. And usually we would play, or not play, the song he wanted. Through it all I learned that CB knew more about music from the 1950's to the mid 90's than I could ever hope to learn. He introduced me to songs and bands that I didn't even know existed. Yes, Charlie Brown knew beach music better than anyone on the planet, but too often I think it's overlooked that he simply knew great music.
CB and I were both Michael Jackson fans. We both loved Madonna and Prince. I leaned more towards Papa Don't Preach and When Doves Cry and CB was more a fan of Borderline and Raspberry Beret, but the mutual love of music was there. CB never cared for Tears For Fears and I had to fight with him to play "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" on the radio. Finally I slipped it in anyway and when he heard it on the air he called me and said "Carsonius, you were right!" I'll never forget that moment because it was the moment I realized I might actually not suck.
CB help build me confidence as a radio programmer and taught me a lot of the basic philosophy I still use to this day. He also taught me how to be an on air personality- and he had a big personality! I'll never forget the first time I every voicetracked a radio shift. It was only a two shift but it took me about three hours to track it. CB needed to get in the control room so he could do his show and he stuck his head inside after I had re-recorded the same bit six times and said "are you writing book? Think about what you want to say, say it, and play the record."
At some point, when I was browsing through a yard sale or a flea market, I came across an old Drifters record. I think it was a Greatest Hits album and when I turned it over I got the shock of a lifetime. There, at the bottom of the liner notes, was Charlie Brown's face- horn rimed glasses and no beard- staring back at me. CB has written the liner notes for the Drifters Greatest Hits album. I brought it to the studio with me a few days later and showed it to him. He said "Oh yeah, I forgot about this." CB was a legend but he was an extremely humble legend.
Charlie Brown lived in Hillsborough and usually worked from home. Usually once a week he would come in to the studio in Burlington to work and often times he'd invite me to lunch. He'd say "Let's go to Five Guys, I've got a coupon". I don't think I ever ate with Charlie Brown when he didn't have a coupon. That's another thing I learned from him. At lunch we'd talk shop, discuss music, and complain about upper management. We both knew we had the potential for a really great radio station but we couldn't get the freedom to really make it live up to its full potential. Finally around 2014 or 2015, I can't remember which, the decision from the corporate offices in Raleigh was handed down and Classic Hits WPCM was no more. When I told Charlie Brown the news he said "Well, we've had a good run. I've still got On The Beach." CB and I stayed in touch after the end of our radio station. When I decided to do my outlaw country show Thunderbird Tavern he was my first phone call. I sent him my first show before it aired and he critiqued it and gave me feedback. I went back and re-recorded the entire show, including all of his changes.
I've written all of this and talked very little of Charlie Brown's radio career outside of my own time working with him. I've talked very little of Beach Music. There are others much more qualified to talk about those things than I so I'll simply say this. Without Charlie Brown, Beach Music would not exist. He was the largest cheerleader and chief ambassador of the genre. Many bands owe their careers to Charlie Brown. In a large way I too owe my career to him as well. Thank you CB. Now everybody go home and put on a Drifters record.