Radio broadcaster Roger Barkley, whose basso-voiced dry wit and common sense soothed early morning listeners in Southern California for more than three decades, died Sunday night of pancreatic cancer. Barkley, who was nearly as well-known as a mainstay of local charities, had been diagnosed as having the disease just a month ago. He was 61.
For 25 years--until 1986--he was teamed with Al Lohman, first on the “Lohman & Barkley” show on KLAC-AM (570) and then at KFWB-AM (980), before moving over to KFI-AM (640), where they dominated early morning listening. They also paired up on a local television variety show that won two consecutive Emmy awards, and they appeared frequently on national TV, including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Hollywood Squares” and their own NBC game show, “Name Droppers.”
In 1985, they got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“He’ll be missed by the industry and especially by the community, who adored Roger Barkley,” said George Green, former president and general manager at KABC-AM (790). “This has nothing to do with ratings. Forget about the show biz bull--Roger will always stand in my mind as one of the great talents and one of the great human beings I worked with.”
After an abrupt and bitter breakup with Lohman in 1986 that he wouldn’t publicly discuss--except to say that “it was painful"--he went on to solo on now defunct KJOI-FM for several years. In October 1990, he teamed with Ken Minyard on KABC on the popular “Ken & Barkley Company.”
“He was such a gentleman,” Minyard said. “Will Rogers never met a man he didn’t like. I never met anyone who didn’t like Roger. . . . He was just a wonderful professional.”
The Barkley-Minyard pairing lasted until mid-September 1996, when he was replaced by the younger, more frenetically funny Peter Tilden.
“He was very hurt” about the loss of his show, said Joan Feehan, the mayor of La Canada Flintridge, a friend of Barkley’s for 30 years who worked with him on various charitable events. “It was a big shock and he always talked about Friday the 13th when he was fired. It was devastating for him.”
Still, he took his licks with humor. Barkley, president for the past two years of the Children’s Bureau of Southern California--a nonprofit organization dealing with the prevention and treatment of child abuse--jokingly told a board meeting within days after his dismissal that a portion of the charity’s money ought to be used for “unemployed radio announcers.”
“He never spoke in a bitter tone,” recalled Alex Morales, the organization’s executive director, “and he used his marvelous wit and humor to make people feel comfortable.”
Beyond broadcasting, it was his charitable work that marked Barkley’s life. The Roger Barkley Community Foundation was formed with the proceeds of an annual golf tournament and distributed $650,000 to more than a hundred local youth and service organizations. Some of the money helped purchase musical instruments and history textbooks for students.
He also was giving of his time. Feehan recalled Monday that when a forest fire was nearing the Barkley home, Barkley’s wife, Nila, told their son to hurry back inside to get Barkley’s tuxedo because he had three upcoming charitable events.
“He never lost his good Midwestern values,” Feehan said. “He was a great observer of human nature, and he would never compromise his good family values for muddiness. Anything off-color or obscene, he was just above all of that.”
Green said Barkley “did about 200 dates a year, free charity things--to do these at night, and get up at 4 in the morning to be on the air at 5. That was a feat, but Roger was always there--for an auction, a charity, an appearance.”
At the time of his death, Barkley was also a vice chairman of the Boy Scouts of America, Los Angeles Area Council, and for the previous six years had been chairman of its November food drive. “He always wanted to know about results,” said Thomas Kolin, the council’s director of support services and chief financial officer, “how kids were enjoying themselves and what kids got out of” various programs.
Barkley was also a restaurateur, owning eight Southland eateries and catering services with partner Jim Campbell, ranging from casual family fare to fine dining. He was co-owner of the Barkley Restaurant & Bar in La Canada, where he had lived since 1967, and three other restaurants bear his name in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Lake Arrowhead.
Born in Odebolt, Iowa, he dreamed of becoming either a radio announcer or preacher. But the ham in him prevailed. His first radio gig was at age 15, as a guest disc jockey on a small station near his hometown. After graduation from high school, he attended the American Institute of the Air in Minnesota and worked as a pageboy at a Minneapolis station.
His working career started in Mankato, Minn., where he met his wife of 42 years. Barkley also worked in Fairmont, Minn., and Salt Lake City before going into the Army. After that, he had jobs in Dallas and Denver before moving to Los Angeles.
As director of programs at KLAC, he hired Lohman. When new owners began looking for a talk-and-comedy morning team, he decided that they should partner.
Besides his wife, Barkley is survived by a son, Christopher; a daughter, Angela; grandsons Jared and Tyler; a brother, James Barkley of Aurora, Ill.; a sister, Josephine Link of Omaha; and 19 nephews and nieces.
A private service is scheduled for the family. A public memorial service will be held Jan. 7 at 3 p.m. at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Glendale, in the Hall of Crucifixion and Resurrection. Donations may be sent to the Roger Barkley Community Foundation, P.O. Box 1033, La Canada Flintridge, CA 91012.
Barkley had been working on a book for the past year. Called “First Writes of the Storyman,” it has just gone to press.