Chuck Leonard (1937-2004)

Chuck Leonard in the 1970s
Chuck Leonard in the 1970s
Photo in Public Domain (CC0)

Chuck Leonard, a pioneering disk jockey known for his rich, smooth voice, was born Charles Wesley Leonard in Chicago, Illinois, on March 30, 1937, to Alma Leonard and Charles Leon. Chuck graduated from Hyde Park High School with honors in 1955, where he ran on the 4×440-yard relay track team. He applied and was accepted into the United States Navy Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, but declined upon realizing the four-year commitment to service on a Navy vessel at sea.

Leonard instead attended and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he remained on the Dean’s List, pledged to Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and was also program director of the campus radio station. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in 1959, he accepted a position with the Washington Evening Star newspaper while working part-time at WEBB in Baltimore, Maryland. He left the newspapers, continued with WEBB in 1965, and moved to New York City to work for WWRL, the local R&B radio.

The WWRL (R&B) night shift stint lasted for only seven weeks because he moved to WABC MusicRadio 77 in New York City, the highest-rated station in the country at that time. WABC was assembling a team of Top 40 DJs known as the All Americans to host programs on their station. Leonard was the first African American DJ hired at this mainstream radio station. His airshift at WABC was from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., and his playlist focused on R&B music.

Leonard remained at WABC for 14 years until 1979. By the early 1980s, Leonard was in demand in New York with a full DJ schedule. He moved to WXLO in 1980, and in 1987, he was hired at WRKS-FM (98.7 KISS-FM). In 1989, he joined WBLS-FM, and in 1996, he began working for WQEW-AM and Sirius Satellite Radio on both the Swing Street and Soul Review channels. During this period, Leonard also hosted The Muppets from Sesame Street at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden; was guest ringmaster of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus; and recorded numerous advertising voiceovers for Coca-Cola, Noxzema, Panasonic, and VIM athletic store.

Leonard married Pamela Joy Horrell. They parented two daughters, Diana Joy Leonard and Kyra Monique Leonard Johnson.

Chuck Leonard, who ended each radio show with his trademark signoff: “Chuck Leonard, sneeeekin’ it to ya!” died in New York City on August 12, 2004, of Lung Cancer. He was 67.

In 2018, Leonard was inducted into the Museum of Television & Radio, the national, nonprofit, educational organization that collects, preserves, and interprets television and radio programming and advertisements and available to the public.