by Carrie Frye | Photography by Diana Matthews
Carolina Beach Music Hall of Famer disc jockey Charlie Brown is still playing those oldies but goodies on his weekly syndicated radio program, “On the Beach with Charlie Brown.” Airing on more than 40 stations mostly across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, the show has claimed the Carolina Beach Music Favorite Syndicated Show award every year since 2007. It is what Brown deems as “appointment radio,” since affiliated stations determine their own programming schedules.
Ed Weiss, aka Charlie Brown, earned his on-air personality name back at one of his first radio gigs in 1961, aptly named after that famous Coasters’ song. The name stuck and has been his alter ego ever since.
With a storied radio career, Brown is one of the WKIX Men of Music, working at the Raleigh-based station in its heyday from 1964-1970. From there, he went on to produce some of the first beach music albums with Atlantic Records. Although rumored that he’s retired, in addition to “On the Beach,” we caught up with Brown in the studio and on the air at WHUP 104.7 in Hillsborough, where he hosts a weekly show on Tuesdays at 1 p.m.
ONC: Where did you grow up, and how did you grow to have a love for radio?
CB: (Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” plays in the background.) Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, I have no idea how I ended up in radio. I just loved listening to it. I couldn’t sing or play anything. I used to call in and win morning quiz prizes on the local radio station. When I was 13, for my bar mitzvah, I got one of those big tape recorders, and I worked part-time at a record store in downtown Norfolk. In my junior year, I got asked to be on a radio show called “Teen Time” on the big Top 40 radio station. Since I had worked at the record shop, I was able to get tickets to the shows for the front row and knew the guy running it, so I would take my tape recorder and interview all of these people backstage, and then I would play the interviews back on the radio. I still have those tapes. I have been in North Carolina since 1959, when I came to Chapel Hill for college. I managed to get out of school in Chapel Hill somehow with my degree in economics. I worked part-time at a radio station, and then my first job was at a R&B radio station in Charlotte.
The radio station I grew up listening to in Norfolk was a R&B station, 850 AM, so 850 was already on the dial when we came into North Carolina, and, ironically, it was WKIX. Unfortunately, it was a directional station, so I couldn’t pick up the signal at night, but I could in the daytime.
What’s your affection for beach music, and how did it develop?
(Stick McGee’s “Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee” plays.) When I came to Chapel Hill, I had no idea what beach music was. There were guys in the dorm I would see dancing and holding the doorknob. Beach music is really rhythm and blues music, which is what I grew up listening to in Norfolk on WRAP 850, and I love that music. I got the chance to meet some of the artists like Jerry Butler and Dee Clark. And then when I got down here, I found out there was a dance called the shag and beach music. I wasn’t a cool guy in college, but I joined a fraternity, and we had a jukebox downstairs. I found out white socks weren’t cool in college; you didn’t wear socks.
Someone asked me what the future of beach music is, and I very unprophetically said, “I don’t know, because I don’t know how there can be new music when beach music is really oldies.” What actually did happen was that beach music grew. All this R&B became beach music, like “Myrtle Beach Days” by The Fantastic Shakers, “Summertime is Calling Me” by The Catalinas and “I Love Beach Music” by The Embers, although that was later on. That’s what I liked. Most of the songs were on Atlantic, and these were the first compilation albums of beach music that I was a part of making.
Since you’ve compiled a Top 40 of beach music, what are some of your all-time favorites?
(The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk plays.) I like some of the more recent stuff from the late 1960s. I love “Sixty Minute Man,” and that’s the No. 1. When we first started the Top 40, I decided I had to maybe make some people mad, so the first time we did the Top 40, we had “Carolina Girls” as the No. 1 beach music song. We did it for two reasons, because I really like General Johnson, and he was nice enough to let us use his song as the theme song for the show, and we kept “Sixty Minute Man” at No. 2. When we re-did the countdown, “Carolina Girls” dropped to No. 3. I like everything The Drifters do. Jerry Butler is a friend and one of my favorite artists, so I really like “Cooling Out.” I grew up with The Embers, and every time I did a show in Raleigh, The Embers opened, even for The Rolling Stones. I am not a dancer, and dancers tend to have more favorite songs, but I just enjoy listening to all of it. The interesting thing about “On the Beach” is that I don’t actually hear the music. I do my talk and slide the music over. I do put it on a CD afterward, and while I am am on my recumbent bike, I listen to the show. So I hear the music anyway, and then I give the CDs of the show to UNC Coach (Sylvia) Hatchell. She’s a big beach music fan, and I am a huge Carolina women’s basketball fan.
What do you hope your listeners leave with after your show?
(LaVern Baker’s “Tweedle Dee” plays.) I hope that listeners just enjoy listening to the show each week. What’s amazing to me is that they can listen to anything they want to. Yet, when I go to a beach music event, I will have people come and thank me for keeping the music alive. It is appointment listening, since the show is not streaming, so listeners have to know when and what station it is on. It’s good for my ego, and that’s why I keep doing it (laughs). I know it’s appreciated. I’m just amazed, but I am really appreciative, because I don’t know what else I would do. There’s a couple here in Hillsborough who listens to this (WHUP) show faithfully, so I always dedicate a song to them.
What appealed to you about adding the WHUP radio show to your repertoire?
(The Robins’ Smokey Joe’s Café plays.) I love it, because nobody tells me what to play or what to say, and I do what I want to do. It streams live and archives the shows, and most people listen to the archive. I do this, because it is therapy for me. A few weeks back, I had Doug Limerick, who was with ABC News and has subbed for Paul Harvey before on the show with me, so that was fun. At this point in my life, this is fun for me. On Tuesdays at 1 o’clock, I make enough mistakes on this live show, but because it’s live radio, people actually enjoy that part (laughs). It’s one of Charlie Brown’s strengths. If there were no mistakes, they would know I recorded it. The only thing I don’t like is playing slow songs.
How do you go about recording “On the Beach” each week?
In the beginning, I would introduce the song and then my partner would put it all together. Then in 2005, I set up a studio in my house, got the microphone and speakers, and since then, I have been doing the show from my house. I send him a complete show, and he puts in the commercials, and then there are still some radio stations he has to actually mail CDs to each week. The biggest success is that we have a sponsor in Hayes Jewelers in Lexington, and we’ve recorded more than 730 shows.
I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t do that show. We are on more than beach music stations, we are on some Top 40 and country music stations. We win the syndicated show award every year, because we have the most stations and the best show.
How does that compare to your early radio days?
Back in the 1960s, I called a fraternity brother who was at WKIX in Raleigh, and he was able to get me an interview, and I got a chance. A month after I was there, the Beatles came on. I was on the air from noon to 2 and again from 7 to midnight. I don’t know what I did in between. I was getting more mail at the radio station than the show that came on after me. My career in advertising sales took off, and I lost interest in working at night. I was still Charlie Brown and did it by the seat of my pants. The neat thing is that I ended up managing the radio station.
Any upcoming beach music events you are taking part in?
Yes, The Embers will be here in Hillsborough for the Hillsborough Arts Council Last Friday concert series on Aug. 25, and I will be there to bring them on the stage. And then, I am always at the Carolina Beach Music Awards, which this year is Nov. 8-12 in North Myrtle Beach.
Do you have any goals for your Second 50?
The thing is that my wife Sue and I have never not done anything we wanted to do. We’ve always traveled. We’ve been married for 45 years, so I don’t really have a bucket list. We have three great-grandchildren. I hate to drive and don’t like to ride, so I don’t get to see them enough. So Sue decided that she is going to take our great-grandchildren on trips. That’s the kind of stuff I enjoy. We have taken our youngest great-grandaughter to see Broadway shows. I want to spend more time with them and be more connected to them. When our great-granddaughter Natalie comes, she will usually record some promos for “On the Beach” with me.
Is there something about North Carolina that resonates for you or stands out?
I just love North Carolina, because Sue is here with me.