ST. PETE BEACH — In the 1960s, Pat Chamburs was living hard. He partied into the wee hours and did a lot of drugs, once assisted by a bathtub filled with champagne. He had moved to New York with a former University of South Florida student who worked as a Playboy bunny and would later change her name to Lauren Hutton.
Close friends worried he was frying his brain. But Mr. Chamburs always seemed to recover. Already, he had survived a kamikaze attack, had his coffeehouse shut down and been investigated as a communist.
But Mr. Chamburs, whose quirky humor and encyclopedic jazz knowledge set him apart in Tampa Bay-area radio, would survive the '60s. After a lifetime of dizzying zigs and zags, he started a jazz show on WMNF that lasted 22 years.
Mr. Chamburs died April 12. He was 84 and had suffered from Parkinson's disease.
"He was truly one of the best radio personalities in the area," said former WDAE colleague John Bohannon, 72, who went on to become the voice of CBS, ABC and NBC radio. "I would put him up there with the legends."
A police officer's son, Mr. Chamburs enlisted in the Navy at 17. In 1945, a Japanese suicide pilot crashed into the battleship New Mexico. Mr. Chamburs lost a leg in the explosion and took shrapnel in his lungs.
Mr. Chamburs got his first DJ job in 1947, and moved from Michigan to Tampa in 1950. After several years at WFLA, he landed a job at WDAE from 6 to 10 a.m.
By then Mr. Chamburs had separated from his wife, Mary, with whom he had seven children. He partied past closing time, but showed no effects on the air.
"He just talked as if he might be talking to one particular person," said Bohannon, who looked up to Mr. Chamburs as a mentor. "He would say intelligent things because he assumed he was talking to intelligent people."
Off the air, Mr. Chamburs spoke as little as possible. He read philosophy and psychology and amassed a jazz library. He believed jazz listeners and their music spoke to each other, understood each other, and that the best thing he could do was to get out of the way.
His own relationships tended to be troubled or truncated. At 36, he began seeing Grace Klein, a 22-year-old University of Tampa student. Her disapproving father ended the romance, shipping his daughter to the University of Miami.
Mr. Chamburs bought a bookstore near the University of Tampa and ran an adjacent coffeehouse, where beat poets read their work to live jazz. He called the bookstore the Tenth Muse and Only One Grace, after his departed lover.
These public gestures and his radio persona made him a sort of underground hero. The notoriety came at a steep price. A state legislative committee was showing his photo around town, asking people whether they thought Mr. Chamburs was a communist.
Tampa police closed his coffeehouse over a missing health card. His bosses at WDAE fired him.
He turned again to a younger woman, a gap-toothed beauty and University of South Florida student named Mary Hall.
He got a DJ job at a Long Island radio station, following Bohannon, who had already left WDAE and paved the way.
Hall went with him, and found work serving cocktails as a Playboy Club bunny.
"They were the odd couple," Bohannon said. "Pat was an introvert, and Mary was a total extrovert. She wanted to be in the spotlight all the time. It was odd that they were together because they were so totally different."
Their tempestuous relationship lasted through several years. They lived in Europe, the Bahamas and New Orleans. They fought famously and made up before Hall ended the relationship. She returned to New York, where she caught the eye of the Ford modeling agency. She gave herself a new name: Lauren Hutton.
Mr. Chamburs moved back to the Tampa Bay area and to local radio, where he amused listeners with "nonobjective humor." For co-hosts, he created a couple of fake crickets he built into his act. "Fern and Fred" stayed in a real chartreuse cage at the station. His evening time slot was perfect, Mr. Chamburs told the St. Petersburg Times in 1965, because "that's when the crickets came out." (The bit worked too well for one listener, who disassembled his radio looking for crickets.)
Mr. Chamburs then became concerned about his drug use and went on a 12-year sojourn. He edited a magazine on macrobiotics in California, then went to Japan and wrote English-language material for Radio Japan.
He returned to his beach cottage near the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa. In 1983 he began hosting a weekly show on WMNF. Jazz & Jive covered old and new jazz, including surprises such as Harlem Hamfats or the Velvet Underground.
"Pat was somebody who knew the music through and through, and his lifetime as being kind of a hipster gave him a certain perspective that made the younger generation find his show interesting," said WMNF program director Randy Wynne, 57.
In 1997, Mr. Chamburs attended a small folk festival in Dade City where he found Grace Klein, now a special education teacher.
They hugged. "That old feeling came back," said Grace Klein Chamburs, 71.
Mr. Chamburs left WMNF in 2005. His wife, Grace, cared for him until hospice took over. April 17 would have been their 11th anniversary.
Mr. Chamburs seldom brought up his past adventures, preferring to sit back and listen. "He never put it in your face," said former WMNF colleague JoEllen Schilke, 47, who owns the Globe Coffee Lounge. "He never said, 'Oh, when I was with Lauren Hutton' or 'When I was in Japan.' But if you asked him, he would tell you. And then you realize that there is so much more, and you have just been getting glimpses."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]