Sunday, April 27, 2008

RIP: "Big" Ron O'Brien

I was saddened to learn tonight that Ron O'Brien has passed.

I remember him so well from his days at WCFL/Chicago back in the 70s - and later at KFI/Los Angeles (which boomed into Santa Fe when I lived there; and in CQUAM stereo too!).

Big Ron was part of an era of Chicago radio of all-star talent. Ron an incredible jock who never failed to deliver. Great pipes and energy, tight, yet relaxed and comfortable - combined with great personality. A radio natural.

Above: WCFL 1974; below right: WOGL 2008; bottom: KTLK/Denver 1970.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer (today 4/27/08):

"Big Ron" O'Brien, afternoon disc jockey on WOGL (98.1) and a former WFIL "Boss Jock," died this morning of complications of pneumonia.

Mr. O'Brien, believed to be 56, had been ill for nearly two months and was hospitalized at Paoli Memorial Hospital before being transferred to a rehabilitation center in West Chester. He seemed to be improving about a week ago, Jim Loftus, the station manager, said.

Mr. O'Brien had been at WOGL, a classic hits station specializing in music from the 1960s and 1970s, since 2002. Loftus described Mr. O'Brien as a musicologist who not only knew his play list but was well-versed in contemporary music.

"I never knew a guy who loved being on the air as much as he did," said Anne Gress, WOGL's program director. "There was such joy in his voice. He was put on this earth nothing other than to be on the air." Mr. O'Brien's first stint in Philadelphia was at the top-40 WFIL, a home of rapid-fire disk jockeys, from 1976 to 1979.

A Midwesterner, he started his career in 1969 at KUDL in Kansas City, according to a biography from the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. A year later, he went to KTLK in Denver. In the next six years, his radio station stops included WQXI in Atlanta, WCFL in Chicago, WXLO in New York and WOKY in Milwaukee.

He landed in Philadelphia at WFIL, toward the end of its "Famous 56" halcyon days. In 1979, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked first at KFI and then at KIIS before moving to KWK in St. Louis in 1985. He stayed for nine years, until his return to Denver at KZDG. He returned to Philadelphia in 1996, when he joined WYXR (Star 104.5). In 2002, he joined WOGL, where he hosted the 3p.m.-to-7 p.m. weekday shift. He won several Achievement in Radio awards in Philadelphia.

"A lot of guys like me looked to guys like him to inspire their careers," said Loftus. "We are incredibly saddened. He was one of the greats." He is survived by his mother. Funeral arrangements were pending, but the station said services probably would be Friday.

Added: John Rook remembers Big Ron. Read here.
Added: WOGL website tribute to Ron. Here.


rrafson said...

This is so sad. Thank you for sharing the information.

I really enjoyed the high level of competition between WCFL and WLS in the 60's and 70's. Ron O'Brien was a big part of it.

The great Radio that I listened to growing up is what launched me into a career in Radio which I'm still in today.

Roger Rafson
CMS Station Brokerage

midair said...

Many hours were spent listening to Ron at the "Voice of Labor" in '72 & '73 on a '66 VW Bus AM radio. The signal would blow into central Virginia from WCFL after sunset and his ringing in of 7 o'clock with, "Welcome to the night time America!" with the station ID was always a joy. I would occassionally wonder, "where is he now?" over the years only to 'find' him via the internet a couple of years ago. Listening to air checks on brought back many memories and recently listening to his afternoon show on WOGL's internet stream will always be cherished. His timing was always impeccable! is a small tribute page of some photos from the '70s found on the internet.

Ron - We're going to miss ya!

Tony Clark said...

One of my happiest memories during my high school years was hearing Big Ron hit the post on the double-drum talk-over legal ID on WCFL at the top of the hour, slamming right into something like First Class and Beach Baby!

For those who don't know...Big Ron's father is Larry O'Brien, who worked at 'CFL in the late 60s early 70s...I think on the same shift. Big Ron may have taken over when Larry went to Pittsburgh and WTAE.

Tony Clark said...


Big Ron and Larry O'Brien were never related (many thanks to a friend of Big Ron's in Phila. for enlightening me.

barack obama said...

We had countless road trips from WCFL to see Roger Merrill in Rockford, Illinois, to WROK, from Chicago in the '70's.