Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Epilogue: Chuck Adams' radio station brought easy listening jazz to Clearwater

CLEARWATER — Like the rest of his generation, Chuck Adams came of age with upbeat tempos of big band and singers who blended power and style the way Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald did.

Because Mr. Adams was a consummate talker and an even better doer, he would re-create the high notes of his youth in his chosen home of Clearwater, first by launching a radio station and then bringing some of the biggest names in jazz to the old Fort Harrison Hotel. For a few years in the early 1970s, performers such as Harry James, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Buddy Rich played for audiences of only a few dozen business folks, who had paid $350 for a table of 10 in the hotel's ballroom.

Ideas Mr. Adams dreamed up had a way of coming true. One of his first, the notion of bringing jazz to Clearwater, is coming true this weekend in the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Mr. Adams didn't start the event that has brought Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, the Neville Brothers and scores of other big-name acts to town, but the bookings he and his business partner secured might have paved the way.

A Clearwater resident for 65 years, Mr. Adams also never watched a baseball game he didn't enjoy. His crisp, on-air patter kept listeners tuned in to WTAN radio during Philadelphia Phillies spring training games. The former high school athlete called himself "Mr. Baseball" and continued to attend Rays games until August.

Mr. Adams, one of Clearwater's most enthusiastic residents, died Oct. 13 in Morton Plant Hospital, several months after suffering a fall. He was 90.

The idea to book live jazz occurred to him in 1970, after Mr. Adams watched Woody Herman and his band perform in Tampa. Mr. Adams, who co-owned WAZE-860 AM, invited Herman to play in Clearwater. The band leader accepted, provided the radio station cover the band's airfare and lodging at the Fort Harrison.

The success of those early concerts bred others, Mr. Adams told the Times several years ago. "And once we did that for six or seven months, the bands started to come to us."

Charles Henry Adams was born in 1923 in Highland Falls, N.Y. One of the peak experiences of his childhood was surely watching a baseball game while sitting on the lap of Babe Ruth. No matter how many decades had passed since, it was the answer he always gave when someone asked him why he loved the game so much.

As an Army telegraph operator during World War II, Mr. Adams was part of the months-long Operation Fortitude campaign, also known as the D-Day Deception, in which Allied forces convinced German spies that they were planning an invasion of occupied France via the Pas-de-Calais rather than the beaches of Normandy.

Mr. Adams married Patricia Brinkley in 1945. The family settled in Clearwater in 1948, where he got a broadcasting job with WTAN. In 1959, Mr. Adams and former WTAN co-worker Gene Robinson founded WAZE. Tucked away in a corner of the Gray Moss Inn, on the part of Fort Harrison Boulevard now occupied by Scientology's Flag building, the pair put out a winning combination of easy listening and personality-driven advertising such as car dealers and furniture stores.

"It's a different time now, with large corporations like AutoWay," said Lorrie Robinson, 58, a Clearwater lawyer and Gene Robinson's daughter. "Then you had individual owners who were prominent people in the community."

The jazz concerts in the Fort Harrison lasted three years. "They were the well-heeled folks from Belleair, and they were just having a great time," said Bob Adams, 63, Mr. Adams' son, who recorded some of the sessions (which have since been remastered to CDs).

In 1974, Mr. Adams and Robinson sold WAZE, now the talk radio station WGUL-860. Others launched the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in 1980, which is now a major regional jazz festival.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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