Longtime radio personality Carson Cooper of WUSF has died

Published July 31 2018
Updated July 31 2018

Longtime radio personality Carson Cooper, who was the honeyed voice of one of public radio’s signature shows, NPR’s Morning Edition on WUSF–FM 89.7, died Saturday after a long illness, the radio station reported Tuesday. He was 58.

Mr. Cooper, an award-winning radio fixture in the Tampa Bay area for three decades, had been WUSF’s Morning Edition host since 2000, but had been off the air since February dealing with a health issue. He also had hosted the WUSF show Florida Matters since its inception in 2006, but had stepped back from that since last summer.

When the station in June announced that Jessica Meszaros would be taking over as host of Morning Edition, JoAnn Urofsky, WUSF’s general manager, held out high hopes that Mr. Cooper would return.

"This was a surprise because we did hope he would return to the air," Urofsky said. "He was still a staff member. He really wanted to come back to work."

Urofsky said Mr. Cooper’s family had not yet figured out what kind of memorial services will be held, and the station will have a remembrance for him on air, "because everybody has stories they want to share. He was so terrific."

Urofsky remembered him as a soothing on-air partner.

"It was like playing tennis with someone who was better than you, your game gets better," Urofsky said. "I learned so much from him. He was just a consummate radio host."

He was also a frequent emcee at numerous charities and causes around the Tampa Bay area, and he gave a moving eulogy for former Tampa Bay Times outdoors writer Terry Tomalin, who died of a heart attack in 2016.

"He was the voice of our community," St. Petersburg deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin said Tuesday, adding that he was an ideal choice to emcee her husband’s memorial. "He was very witty, very smart and well-read that was what a kindred spirit he was to Terry."

A native of Tennessee, Mr. Cooper moved to the Tampa Bay area in August 1981 to work at WSRZ­–FM 102.5, then in Sarasota. And he remained at that same frequency when it changed to WHPT and its adult contemporary and then classic rock format until 1999. He then spent the next 18 years on public radio, racking up awards as host and for current affairs on Florida Matters.

He had a side gig that also started in 1999 as a host and programer of Jimmy Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville, now on Sirius satellite radio. The station, created by Buffett, plays a range of reggae, tropical country and a variety of world music and classic singer-songwriters from the ’70s and ’80s.

He was raised in the "Atomic City" of Oak Ridge, Tenn., the Knoxville suburb that was the production site for the Manhattan Project, the massive American, British, and Canadian operation that developed the atomic bomb.

"Carson is, by most accounts, highly radioactive," his Sirius bio notes. "He believes the most important elements for a good radio show are hydrogen, oxygen, carbon … and an occasional dose of uranium. Fun fact: he’s been an actor, and the roommate of George Harrison’s sister."

Tomalin said one of her favorite memories of Mr. Cooper was hanging out at Jimmy Buffett shows. A serious journalist having a side project of programing a Jimmy Buffett channel, "I think was a reflection of what a Renaissance man he was."

"He had his fingers in lots of pots, to keep the community informed and entertained and if there was something meaningful going on that required that journalistic integrity, he lent his voice."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.

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