Chuck Blair – update 2011

Dave Goudsward, an author and researcher from Lake Worth, Florida, has very kindly unearthed additional information in the USA regarding Chuck Blair – the first we have had for some considerable time. Thanks to Dave's tireless research, we now have a complete picture of the mystery man of many names and even more tall stories. Dave writes:

"I'm an author doing a history of WHAV (AM 1490) out of Haverhill, MA. Since Chuck Blair lists WHAV as one of his employers, I've been trying to determine when (and as who) he worked at the station.

Chuck was a real challenge - the late Fifties and early Sixties are a nightmare for research under normal conditions. Factor in a person in a transitory profession with disposable names and you see the problem. I do appreciate the amount of data you've uncovered already. My problem is that, assuming his CV is correct at least as to the radio stations he lists, Chuck was working at 9 stations in 6 states in the 4 years before Radio England. Even allowing for brief internships at Boston stations while in college, that's still a lot territory to cover in a short time."

Dave then explains the unreliability of the official certificates regarded as 'primary sources'.

"Chuck/Rick has been interesting, make no mistake about that. Strictly from the perspective of a genealogist, primary sources such as birth and death records are not always reliable. (Elvis Presley's middle name was misspelled on his birth certificate). And a death certificate is filled out by someone who is under stress and is the least reliable of all so-called primary sources."

The following, dated September 2011, is the most complete Chuck Blair history we have. We shall not be removing the earlier pages from 2001 onwards, where we originally searched for information about Chuck, as they record how the story unfolded.

Chuck Blair was born Richard Erven Philbrook in Lynn, MA on 16 Feb 1934, the youngest child of Ralph and Anna Philbrook (née Brosler). The couple divorced before Rick’s 4th birthday and after that, Anna simply disappeared from the records. Rick’s older siblings went to live with their paternal grandparents in Maine, but Rick stayed with his father after Ralph's 1938 marriage to Margaret Tombeno. Rick always considered Margaret his mother, even placing her maiden name on the application form for his Social Security number in 1951.

Ralph worked as a house painter and the family lived on Barrett Street in a blue collar neighborhood in Lynn for most of Rick’s childhood. Richard Earl Philbrook graduated Lynn Classical High School in 1952. (Possibly the change of middle name was an administrative error.) If Rick’s CV is accurate about broadcasting for Armed Forces Radio, it would have been right out of High School, when enlistments and draftees served for two years.

Ralph (pictured right) died in the early 1950s and Margaret continued to live on Barrett Street until age and infirmity forced her to move into a nursing home in nearby Revere, Massachusetts, where she died in 1975.

Rick apparently kept in touch with his brother and sister, and when he created his CV for Radio London, he padded it by including a 4-year degree at University of Maryland that was actually earned by his brother Alfred. The listing on his CV of attending Emerson College is correct, but not as the post-grad work as might be inferred by its position. In actuality, Rick, having retained the name Richard Earl Phillips, had attended Emerson for less than a month in 1956, taking a variety of freshman level courses, none of which he completed. His Emerson record also notes a previous aborted attempt at academia in 1955, when he attended the State Teachers College in Salem, Massachusetts for a little over one month. His Emerson transcript reveals that he signed up for one broadcasting class, two drama classes, an education course, English, social science, and a Voice and Articulation class.

It appears that Rick was looking at a career in radio or teaching (or both, considering how quickly broadcasting schools popped up on the East Coast, usually run by deejays). If Rick did receive the certificate from Northeast Broadcasting that he lists in the 1967 Chuck Blair CV, it had to be in 1962 or later, as '62 is when the school adopted that name. Any of these academic attempts could be on the GI Bill. A two-year stint would see Rick as a civilian again not long before his 1955 enrollment at Salem State.

WSJR, (Madawaska, ME) has a R. E. Phillips is listed in the 1966 Broadcast Yearbook as general and promotions manager. These call letters match the station as listed in the Chuck Blair CV. It also places him so close to the Canadian border that his CV listing for employment at CKBC in New Brunswick seems perfectly reasonable.

The material that Carleton provided covers Rick after his return to the USA, so we have a fairly comprehensive view of Rick’s life. His career remains a little more difficult to confirm.

His last pre-Radio London address as a RFD in Nashua, New Hampshire may indicate the closest Dave can place him to WHAV. (Rural Free Delivery is a US Postal term for mail service to farms and rural houses.)

Based on his CV (presumably incomplete), Dave postulates that Rick's US radio career may have looked something like this:

WBZ (Boston) &  WMEX (Boston) = 1955-56

CBS Network, NY, including the NYU School of Theatrical Arts = 1962
one year for certificate from Northeast Broadcasting = 1963

North Carolina WKIX and WSKY = 1964
WKVT  (Brattleboro VT) = 1965
WSJR, (Madawaska, ME) =1965*
CKBC (Bathurst, New Brunswick) = 1965
WHAV (Haverhill, MA) =1966

*The stint on WSJR has since been confirmed as late1965/early '66, by Rick's WSJR collegue Bill Russo.

In July 1966, Rick was issued a passport under his birth name, Richard Erven Philbrook. (He signed the photo, below left, as 'Richard Philbrook').

Rick arrived in England in August '66 to join Don Pierson's second venture into offshore radio, Radio England, which had launched that year in May. Marine broadcasters were encouraged to change identity and the Chuck Blair DJ persona, like several others aboard the Olga Patricia, was selected from an existing jingle package custom-recorded for WPTR, Albany, New York. This was brought to the ship by ex-WPTR employee Frank Laseter, who was identified by the jingles as Larry Dean.

Many generic DJ names were used throughout North America. Sometimes a new jock joining a station would take over the persona and jingles of a departed one. If a DJ was attracting big ratings, the station would want to keep a show with the same name, even if it was presented by a different person. (However, it's hard to believe that listeners would fail to notice the change.) A good example of this is Charlie and Harrigan on KLIF, the Dallas duo whose show inspired Kenny and Cash. Over time, several DJs took on the Charlie and Harrigan roles.

Some DJs arrived at new jobs already equipped with their own personalised jingles from a previous employment, some stations even bought jingle packages with generic DJ names, ready to find the appropriate air talent to fit the ID. All this name-swapping resulted in there being jocks in various locations, all known by the same name. It wasn't a problem if there was a Chuck Blair in Seattle and another in San Francisco, as nobody was likely to hear them both. The Chuck Blair who broadcast on WPTR was not a big name and is barely remembered. In fact, we have so far encountered only one WPTR listener who remembers him.

In November 1966, the short-lived Radio England went off the air. By December, Chuck had jumped ship to the Galaxy and taken his DJ identity with him. He presented his first Radio London show on December 6th and was aboard till the station closedown on August 14th, 1967, when he broadcast emotional farewells to his loyal listeners.

He applied and would appear to have been accepted for, a job on Caroline – the only offshore broadcaster that was continuing post-Marine Offences Act. The job never came to fruition, which is unusual, as Caroline management was particularly keen to recruit non-British citizens who could not be prosecuted under the MOA. Chuck also said he had applied to join Radio 1, which when it launched in September 1967, employed a large contingent of ex-Radio London DJs.

Fellow Radio London DJ Norm St John, who left the station to return to Australia in February 1967, says, "Chuck was fairly talented but unsuited to the UK market. However, he was very good at doing voiceover promos for other jocks."

In October 1967, despite his job applications and strongly-stated wish to remain in the UK, Rick returned to the USA, arriving at Boston, Mass.

From then, till the year 2000, when Carleton Penn III contacted us, nobody knew what had happened to Chuck Blair. With Carleton's input, we were able to establish that the man who, as Rick Phillips, had married Carleton's mother Nancy in 1976, was the Big L DJ Chuck Blair. Because his real name had always been believed to be Charles Richardson and he had claimed to have been born in Sweden, we had been looking in the wrong places. Presumably, the Richardson pseudonym was one that Chuck had adopted at some stage during his year in the UK, by combining his DJ name and real christian name, i.e. Charles (Chuck) and Richard(son).

Carleton filled in many gaps in the story of who his late stepfather really was and what had happened to him during the 21 years after leaving Big L, until his early demise in August 1989, aged 55. The name on the death certificate is Richard Erven Phillips.

Over the years, others who had known Rick had been gradually assisting us in solving missing parts of the puzzle and now Dave has completed a large part of the picture. There are, however, still many questions that may never be answered about the man we knew as Chuck Blair, who began life as Richard Erven Philbrook and died Richard Erven Phillips.

Carleton remembered clearly that Rick was terribly distraught when John Lennon was murdered in 1980 and that he had phoned someone who had been aboard Radio London and attempted to borrow money to travel to New York for the memorial service. Norm St John tells us, "I was invited to John Lennon's memorial service and Chuck DID phone me, but I don't recall if he asked for money, or even hinted in that direction. As I was at a conference in Malaysia at the time, I couldn't attend. I only had one more call from Chuck, some years later."

As well as a change of ID, DJs were encouraged to embellish their CVs and like the artists whose music they played, knock a few years off their ages if appropriate. Embellishments certainly applied to the resume that Richard E Philbrook was sending out as Chuck Blair in 1967.

Chuck was born on 16 Feb 1934 in the USA and not the 1967 CV-stated birthplace of Sweden. There is nothing to indicate that he or his parents had Swedish connections, or even visited the country, although little is currently known about his birth mother Anna. However, Norm St John has a theory as to why Chuck named Sweden as his birthplace.

"I understand it was to try and get a UK Visa, He did, from memory, have a Swedish passport. Sweden was much easier to get residential status in those days - many countries' records were in tatters after WWII. I know that Tommy Vance also applied and he spoke to me about it. Anyone who was not a UK resident or who did not have a British Passport was at risk of possibly being barred from re-entry to the country."

This of course was a big concern for those working on the offshore stations every time they came ashore. However, if Chuck did obtain a Swedish passport, it must have been held concurrently with his US one and this US document does contain visas, for one month's duration, on condition that he did not obtain work. Working outside territorial waters would not have been a problem. Joining a land-based station was another matter. (Tommy, sadly also deceased, may have been considering returning to Radio Caroline post-MOA and thinking that a non-British passport would be a huge asset for that purpose.)

A claimed connection between Chuck and Sweden had appeared the previous year in a slightly different guise, in the publication 'Who's Who in Pop Radio' by Peter Alex. (Where the photo, top left of page, appears.) This book, which is not renowned for its accuracy, stated that Chuck Blair was 'of Swedish-American Indian-English ancestry, born in Boston, Ma. in February 26 years ago.' He was indeed born in Massachusetts in February, but in 1966, was aged 32. The book says Chuck had been a semi-professional footballer, a 'fact' that he did not transfer to his 1967 resume. 'Who's Who in Pop Radio' also records a 4-year stint by Chuck as a USAF Staff Sergeant in the Air Sea Rescue Squad and two additional radio employments at WLYN and WKBR which are missing from the '67 CV – making a total of eleven claimed broadcasting employers in addition to AFN.

It quickly becomes apparent that Chuck's claims of educational and other achievements, accolades and broadcasting employments, both in 'Who's Who in Pop Radio' and in his resume, are highly exaggerated. It would not have been feasible for him (or anyone else) to have achieved so much, prior to joining Radio England in 1966 at the age of 32, let alone at the stated age of 26!

Chuck's educational qualifications are now proven not to be as stated; claims such as working on TV coast-to-coast, hosting teen pop show 'Where the Action Is' and winning the Gillette advertising award 1967 and various other accolades, remain unsubstantiated. What has been confirmed by a number of sources is that Chuck possessed musical abilities. Norm St John recalls, "He sent me a letter some time after returning to the USA and was working at a restaurant and part-time as a a nightclub DJ. He also played the piano, as I'd witnessed one night in Blackpool."

Rick had an older brother Alfred and a sister, Jerene, who were brought up by their paternal grandparents, while he remained in his birthplace of Lynn, Massachusetts, with his father and stepmother. During his final Big L show, Chuck played three tracks from the Four Seasons, whom he named as his mother's favourite group. Without naming his parents, he dedicated a track to them, saying that they had both died in 1966. This date ties in with none of Dave's research. Rick's father Alfred died in the mid-Fifties and Margaret, the stepmother he regarded as his mother, lived until 1975.

In 2008, Rick’s brother Alfred Leon Philbrook (known as Al) died in East Orland, Maine. His obituary mentions the predeceased grandparents who raised him, his sister Jerene and close friends, whom he regarded as family. It mentions neither his parents nor his younger brother Richard.

Al's obituary in the Bangor Daily News, presents him as a man with a keen sense of humour who loved to make people laugh. This is something he very much had in common with Rick, whose nickname was 'Chuckles'.

In 2005, the Radio London webmasters were contacted by a woman who, after putting the name Rick Phillips into a search engine and discovering our pages, was fairly convinced that she had found her long-lost father whom she had always hoped to see again. Naturally, it was deeply distressing for her to learn via the process of an internet search, that her father had passed away. She asked us to send her as much information as we could about Rick. This we did, although there was little to add to what had already been posted on the Chuck Blair section of the site. We have never again heard from her.

Although it has not been verified, Dave's research leads us to believe that the woman who contacted us was, indeed, Rick's daughter. However, as we have not received her permission to reveal her identity or any other information concerning her probable family connection with Rick, we felt it was inappropriate to post any of these details on the site.

The names that were used, or are believed to have been used by Rick during his life, which we have established during our research are as follows:

Richard Erven Philbrook – appears on the birth certificate, initial Social Security number application and the US passport issued in 1966 and renewed in 1981.
Richard Earl Philbrook – appears on some of his educational records.
Chuck Blair – the on-air persona chosen aboard Radio England from a WPTR jingle package.
Charles Richardson – this had long been believed to have been his real name, and was quoted as such in Keith Skues's book 'Pop Went the Pirates', but it is uncertain whether or not Chuck actually used it. It may have been his pseudonym during the year he spent in England.
Jay Kay – appears to be a DJ persona he may have used, perhaps prior to joining Radio England. The only reference to use of this name is when 'Jay Kay' (who is then identified as 'DJ Chuck Blair') hosted the Radio England launch party.
Rick Phillips/Richard Earl Phillips – the name he used at different times both before leaving the USA in 1966 and returning there in 1967. He was using Richard E Phillips when he married for a second (or possibly third) time, in 1976.
Richard Erven Phillips – the name on his death certificate, dated 15th August 1989.

This is very unlikely to be the end of the story.

Feature copyright Mary Payne & Radio London, 2011, with grateful thanks to Dave Goudsward for his illuminating research. Dave's website:

If you have any info concerning Chuck that you would either like to share with us (it will not necessarily appear on the website), or wish us to pass on privately to Carleton, please contact Mary:

Chuck's 1967 CV and info The incredible story of how we found Chuck
Feedback from our story about finding Chuck Chuck's final show on Big L
Chuck shares his 'will' with Big L listeners Seventies photographs taken by Chuck's family
2011: much more information comes to light 2013: Page 1 of Chuck's memorabilia
2013: Page 2 of Chuck's memorabilia 2013: Bill Russo woked with Rick/Chuck on WSJR

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