CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A familiar voice to many in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley has been silenced. Howard Russell Jr., better known as Charlie Cooper, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 74.
Cooper spent seven years as a Top 40 radio disc jockey on Charleston radio station, WKAZ-AM. He was only on the air from 1973 until 1980, but his impact in those seven years made him legendary.
“He was the epitome of a disc jockey, he could just entertain people, whether he had two people or a thousand people,” said Noel Richardson, Broadcast Engineer for West Virginia Radio Corporation.
“There are disc-jockeys, there are radio announcers, and then there are entertainers. Charlie Cooper was an entertainer,” said longtime friend and colleague Randy Dameron.
Cooper was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. He was from a very learned family. His father was a word traveled financial executive for Firestone Tire and Rubber. His grandfather was the President of the University of Akron. Although Charlie went to college to study physics and electrical engineering, it didn’t take long for him to pursue his passion which was radio and entertainment.
According to his biography in the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame, Cooper got a tape recorder at age six and was constantly speaking into the microphone and “interviewing” others. He served as Master of Ceremonies and narrator of school events, plays, and musicals and handled public address announcements at his school. When he landed on the campus of Hiram College he immediately signed up to be part of the campus radio station and within months was its general manager.
He eventually dropped out of college to accept a position in the newsroom of country music station WSLR AM in Akron under the name Russ Howard. He worked at the station for two years, growing his hair long which caused a conflict with management in the conservative world of country music during the 1960’s. He left the station, tried a brief stint in radio in New York City, but returned to Canton, OH. There, he went to work as a Top 40 DJ on radio station WINW-AM in 1969.
It was at WINW he decided to change his air persona and selected “Charlie” since it was a well known name–but not very widely used on radio and picked “Cooper” since it was a two-syllable last name which he believed flowed.
His work flourished and he branched out into voice-over productions. A station in Dallas, Texas for whom he produced jingles dubbed him “Super Dooper” Charlie Cooper.
He moved to WCUE AM/FM, Akron, in 1972. The station’s popularity caused him to begin performing “record hops” for schools and private parties. Just as that business took off, an AFTRA strike put him on the picket line. At that time, Charleston’s WKAZ was in need of an afternoon man. Program Director Bruce Clark took a driving tour of Ohio, tuning the radio dial and listening for talent. By luck or coincidence, all of the announcers he approached happened to be former WCUE personalities. They all turned him down, but they recommended the strike-bound Charlie Cooper. AFTRA suggested to Charlie he apply at WKAZ, where he was hired without an audition.
Cooper became one of the best-known radio personalities in the Charleston area during the Top 40 heyday of WKAZ. Throughout the period he hosted hundreds of “Disco Scene” teen dance parties all over southern West Virginia. In 1975 he started Admix Broadcast Service, a Charleston radio advertising production company which he operated until his death.
“Charlie was one of the smartest guys I ever met and one of the most well-versed people you could ask for when talking about classic radio,” said Kennie Bass, Reporter for WCHS/WVAH television in Charleston.
Bass was one of many who credited Cooper for helping him foster a career in broadcasting.
“He gave me my first broadcasting job in 1978 when he was hiring people to do halftime and post-game reports for all of the high school football games in the Kanawha Valley Conference. He hired me to do Nitro High School for the whole season,” Bass shared.
“He was an amazing source for radio knowledge and radio experience and just a wealth of information that really can’t be replaced,” he added.
Charlie left his job at WKAZ in 1980 and concentrated full-time on his voice-over and dance business. Thousands of married couples in southern West Virginia danced their first dance as husband and wife with Charlie at the microphone. Many others remember Charlie as the D-J for their high school prom or a junior high dance.
“Everybody has heard his voice from television and radio commercials. He may have been D-J at your wedding, or prom. The guy has been ubiquitous and has been everywhere for the past 45 years,” Bass said.
Cooper was a key player in the Charleston Rod Run and Doo Wop classic car show in Charleston. The event included a live radio broadcast with Charlie, Dameron, and Richardson involved.
“He was just in his realm with that. He was out in front of people and on the air at the same time,” Richardson recalled.
Cooper was inducted into the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2006 along with Dameron, who noted Charlie’s second home was the Museum of Radio and Technology in Huntington where the Hall of Fame is housed.
“He loved that place. He loved to give tours to people and he loved spending a lot of time in the 1920’s room there,” said Dameron. “That was the kind of radio he loved, the old time radio shows where actors had gathered around a microphone and created live drama.”
Cooper in recent years had produced a large number of the old style radio shows using various actors, including Bass and Dameron, all produced in his Charleston studios. He shared recordings of the events free of charges with residents of nursing homes across West Virginia..
“He made such an impact, but he continued that persona through his dance business and production business. Super Dooper Charlie Cooper’s name was well known many, many years after he left WKAZ,” said Dameron.
“He’s just a wonderful guy. I knew he had been in bad health and that troubled me. As a matter of fact I talked to him this past Friday,” Richardson shared. “I said, ‘Charlie I understand you were recently in the hospital.’ He said, ‘Ah not a big deal we’ll get over that.’ He never complained and was always just a wonderful guy to everybody who knew him. I’m really going to miss him.”
Charlie is survived by his longtime wife PK Khoury.