If you’re within earshot of a radio Sunday afternoon in the greater Triangle vicinity, tune in 850-AM at one o’clock for a bit of living history.
The show is “On the Beach,” I’m Charlie Brown and this is The O’Jays…
“On The Beach” is a time-capsule throwback to the R&B style known as beach music. The playlist goes heavy on Chairmen of the Board, the Embers, Temptations and other R&B oldies. And from the program’s overall feel, it’s easy to imagine it airing from a studio just off the Myrtle Beach boardwalk.
Instead, “On The Beach” originates from nearly 200 miles inland, the Hillsborough home of 73-year-old Ed Weiss – Charlie Brown’s real name. With “On The Beach” in syndication on around 40 stations across the Southeast, Weiss/Brown might qualify as beach music’s most identifiable radio voice.
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Weiss has been doing the show since 2003, the last decade using his Hillsborough home for a studio. But his career in radio goes back more than half a century, most of it spent in North Carolina. A lot of the on-air trivial facts and figures that go into “On The Beach” come right out of his head.
Time for some “On The Beach” trivia: Willie Tee only had one of his records make the Billboard Hot 100, it was “Teasin’ You” and it only made it to No. 97…
“It’s amazing to me, how important the show is to people who love it,” Weiss said on a recent weekday morning. “People come up to me: ‘We listen every week, try to make sure we’re where we can hear it and I hate that we missed last week’s show. Any place I can hear it now?’ You can’t find beach music on the radio elsewhere now. The show is not really promoted, it’s just there and people find it.”
The beach beat
Tradition has always been very big in beach music, which started out as what people got used to hearing on beach vacations in the Carolinas in the decades after World War II. On jukeboxes and nightclub dance floors, vacationers would hear and dance the shag to the same R&B songs year after year. Over time, those songs became a canon.
Weiss was one of the key players in establishing that canon, thanks to his curation of Atlantic Records’ “Beach Beat” compilations in 1967-’68. The albums included songs by the Coasters, Clyde McPhatter, the Drifters and other beach favorites, and the back-cover fine print on both volumes included this note: “Atlantic Records gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Eddie Weiss in the selection of tunes on this album.”
“Those records were very important in establishing beach music as a concept beyond the Carolinas,” said Greensboro music critic Parke Puterbaugh, who is writing a history of beach music for University of North Carolina Press. “It was confirmation that the phenomenon was valid and real. For a long time, those records were the only beach music to be had in album form.”
By the time the “Beach Beat” albums came out, Weiss had been working in radio for nearly a decade. His earliest time on-air was as a teenager in Norfolk, Va., where he’d do teen shows for different stations. It was unpaid, but Weiss did not come away empty-handed. He still has recordings of interviews he did with Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley and other hall-of-fame icons.
After going off to UNC-Chapel Hill in 1959, Weiss came home summers and took whatever radio work he could fine. He acquired his on-air name in 1961, working the midnight-to-dawn graveyard shift at a Norfolk station. Management told him that “Eddie Weiss” wouldn’t cut it, so he would henceforth be known as “Charlie Brown” (title of a 1959 hit by the Los Angeles R&B group the Coasters).
“It was a reference to that song by the Coasters, not the Charles Schulz cartoon,” Weiss said. “Not ‘Good grief’ but, ‘Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?’”
Heady times in radio
After graduating from UNC in 1963, Weiss briefly worked at a station in Charlotte, and he kept doing interviews. Stevie Wonder was one, led into the room by a then-unknown Diana Ross (a year before the Supremes would top the charts with “Where Did Our Love Go”).
But that job didn’t last long, and Weiss landed at WKIX-AM in Raleigh in early 1964 – just in time for the Beatles to hit. Weiss worked multiple shifts a day and commuted over from Durham, where he lived with the family of Record Bar founder Barrie Bergman.
As Beatlemania and the rest of the “British Invasion” swept the nation, it was a heady time to be a pop-station deejay. Weiss became one of WKIX’s “Men of Music,” spinning records at sock hops and serving as onstage emcee for the likes of the Rolling Stones and Dave Clark Five when they’d come to town to play. He has memories like watching Carole King play soundcheck at Raleigh’s Dorton Arena, where she was opening for Fleetwood Mac – years before she and they became two of the hugest acts in the world.
A hallway of Weiss’ home serves as repository for a lot of his artifacts, the walls lined with autographed photos of many of the legends he’s met over the years: Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, even Elvis Presley.
“Actually,” Weiss said, “I’m not positive that Elvis one is authentic. I did not see him sign it, so I can’t swear to it. But the rest definitely are.”
Fans in his court
Weiss stayed on the air at WKIX until 1970, when he gave up deejaying to become a sales manager. But he was back on the air before too many years later. He’s continued working in radio ever since, at the microphone as well as behind the scenes, for a series of stations across the state. His last full-time job was with WPCM in Burlington, and he’s been semi-retired since the end of 2014.
“On The Beach” is Weiss’ only time on the air nowadays and beach music remains his signature, even though he’s also also spun pop, rock, country and pretty much everything in between over the years. Weiss was inducted into the Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame in 1996, and he still evokes the seaside even though he’s far from the coast.
“It doesn’t matter where he does the show because what’s important is what’s in his head, his knowledge of the music,” said radio-industry pundit Tom Taylor. “His reputation is such that he could be in the middle of the Arctic and still be an important player in beach.”
Weiss makes song selections and records his “On The Beach” voice-overs on his home computer, programming from a playlist of 650 songs. The show tends to go heavier on the old classics than newer songs, and he’ll generally play around 50 songs per three-hour show.
“The older-skewing an hour is, the more songs because the old ones are shorter,” he said. “I do the music programming while watching TV. Picking songs takes about an hour, then another 30 minutes to type up. Doing vocals and loading music on the computer takes about an hour per hour of programming. I could do it faster. But if I’m not doing that, I’m just eating while watching TV and that’s no good.”
Before sending music and voice-overs off to his producer (who adds in commercials and uploads the show to stations that air it), Weiss will listen to each hour on compact disc while on an exercise bike at the gym to make sure it’s up to snuff. And he’ll pass along those CDs to a special few fans, some of whom seem unlikely.
“I listen to Charlie on the air when I can,” said Sylvia Hatchell, who coaches the women’s basketball team at UNC-Chapel Hill. “And when I can’t, I’ve got the CD copies he gives me. They’re in every stereo in my house and car. I give them to other coaches, too – (Tennessee’s) Pat Summit, Judy Rose down at UNC-Charlotte, all the girls I played with in college. He’s just wonderful and I love his show.”