Charlie Boone, the WCCO Radio host who was the voice of mornings in Minnesota for nearly 40 years, died on Sunday. He was 88.
“Boone and Erickson,” Boone’s 37-year collaboration with Roger Erickson, was one of the most popular shows on radio from the 1960s to the 1990s. The partnership ended in 1998 when Erickson retired, but Boone continued to host a Saturday morning show until 2010.
“Charlie was one of the greatest talents in the history of radio broadcasting, and certainly in the Twin Cities he was unparalleled,” said Mick Anselmo, market manager for CBS Radio in Minneapolis.
When Erickson retired, the Star Tribune editorial page wrote, “Boone and Erickson gave their listeners warm neighborliness, goofy humor and a gentle kind of wit that virtually defined mainstream Minnesota-ness.”
Born in Newfoundland, Boone grew up in Connecticut and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1945 to 1948. He came to WCCO from Fargo in 1959 and was the station’s first disc jockey, playing records on his show instead of introducing a live orchestra.
His show at WCCO, “Boone in the Afternoon,” followed Roger Erickson’s program each day, and the two struck up a friendship.
“The station realized they had good chemistry,” said Steve Murphy, the retired former anchor and managing editor for WCCO.
The weekday morning show started in 1961 and would last 37 years. Boone was more of the straight man and Erickson got most of the gags. The two were famous for their skits and voices. Boone could impersonate a bellicose Southern senator or a New York cop. Erickson, a Minnesota native, handled the Scandinavian accents.
“They were a great combination,” said Sid Hartman, the Star Tribune sports columnist, who appeared on the show many times. “In the days before FM, it was by far the top-rated show in town.”
Boone and Erickson poked fun at politicians, lampooned current events and parodied old radio shows. One of their most popular bits was “Minnesota Hospital,” billed as “the best place to get sick in.”
Celebrities who came through town would go on the show, and Boone and Erickson wrote them into their skits. Politicians were regular guests, because they knew the show’s reach. It was the most popular program on a station whose signal reached all of Minnesota, plus parts of Wisconsin and Iowa.
“They also did excellent interviews. I don’t think they get enough credit for that,” Murphy said.
Boone liked to say that he and Erickson treated their relationship like a marriage. They had to keep working at it. They remained friends, getting breakfast together to reminisce in recent years.
“Boone and Erickson” was serious when necessary, and Boone’s cultivated radio voice was a comfort to listeners when tornadoes or blizzards struck, said Don Shelby, the former WCCO-TV anchor.
“If you could just hear Charlie talk, you knew the sun was going to rise tomorrow,” Shelby said.
Right before he came to Minneapolis, Boone was scheduled to emcee a show by Buddy Holly and Richie Valens in Moorhead, Minn., and was waiting at the airport when he learned the rock star had been killed in a plane crash. Needing a replacement act, he scrambled to enlist a local band called The Shadows, headed by 15-year-old Robert Velline, who later became known as Bobby Vee.
“He was a thoroughly articulate, well-studied, serious man, who could, thank God, be funny at the drop of a hat,” Shelby said. “But his internal workings were the workings of a serious broadcaster.”
Boone acted at Old Log Theater and was friends for 50 years with its founder Don Stolz — who died this year.
Boone hosted his Saturday show until he was 83, before fully retiring in 2010.
He lived in south Minneapolis. His mind was clear to the end, Murphy said, but he suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and his health deteriorated suddenly over the weekend. He died Sunday afternoon at Abbott Northwestern Hospital surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife Carol Heen, a son and daughter, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.