Curtis L. Anderson, a former WEBB-AM radio disc jockey who rose to head the news department at WWIN-AM radio, died July 21 of complications from pancreatic cancer at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. He was 61.
"Curtis was a natural in this profession. He was warm and outgoing and just a natural," said Kweisi Mfume, former NAACP leader and Maryland congressman. "He could do a show or production work without any effort."
"He was one of the big DJs of the 1960s," said state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a longtime friend.
The son of Theodore Anderson Sr., a crane operator, and Margaret Anderson, a homemaker, Curtis Lansdale Anderson was born in Baltimore and raised on Tyson Street. His family later moved to Lafayette Avenue.
It was while he was a student at Edmondson High School that Mr. Anderson began his entertainment career, on the school's public address system.
"While at Edmondson, he served as the DJ in the morning serenading the school building with music until the bell rang at the start of morning homeroom," said a daughter, Adriann Anderson of Rosedale.
Entertainer James Brown, often called "The Godfather of Soul," purchased WEBB, which was located at Walbrook Junction, in 1970.
James Frank Sears, WEBB-AM program director whose on air name was "Diamond Jim" Sears, discovered Mr. Anderson, who was then 16 years old, and hired him in 1969.
"He asked Curtis' mother if he could hire him to work at WEBB, and she agreed and he was hired to work with fellow teen Guy Brody as teenage DJs," said Ms. Anderson. He and Mr. Brody "hit it off immediately and had a great working relationship that evolved into a lifetime friendship."
Mr. Mfume said he met Mr. Anderson in 1973 or 1974, when Mr. Mfume was working part time at the station.
"I admired him from the beginning. He was just exceptional and one of James Brown's favorites," recalled Mr. Mfume. "Curtis had sat at the feet of such legendary broadcasters as Paul 'Fat Daddy' Johnson and Rockin' Robin. He had a creative personality that fit in and was accepted by everybody."
Chuck Woodson, a former WEBB broadcaster, also worked with Mr. Anderson at the station during the James Brown era. "We were all youngsters at the time and grew up in radio together, and Curtis lived the dream," said Mr. Woodson. "There's no question about it, he was extremely talented and was certainly a good co-worker, co-host and a top-notch professional."
Ms. Anderson said her father was also "a production fanatic and loved doing commercials and promos."
In 1980, Mr. Anderson was named program director at 1400 WWIN-AM radio, and when the station added the FM band 95.9, Mr. Anderson "referred to them as the WWIN Twins," his daughter said.
"One of his first remarkable moves in changing the face of WWIN was adding a female, Pat Johnson, to the one-man news department as assistant news director working under the direction of Billy Taylor," said Ms. Anderson.
Mr. Anderson discovered Ms. Johnson at Mondawmin Mall. She was a student reporter on Morgan State University's WEAA radio station, and he "convinced her over a coffee and doughnuts to accept the newly created news position that would alter the news at WWIN radio and move it forward," his daughter said.
He pushed for quality news and community news stories, and reached out to the city's African-American community, which sometimes brought him into conflict with the station's general manager, who tried to contain his guidance of the news department.
"He was known to often engage the on-air reporter in unscripted conversations about the news within a scripted on-air news broadcast," his daughter said. "This model proved to be innovative for the time period, which was both reflective and entertaining."
Mr. Anderson looked forward to Mondays, when record executives and promoters would visit the station, and he'd use those meetings to plan the station's music programming for the next week.
"He knew everyone counted on his 'ear' for the music and his potential addition of their cut to the highly sought-after 'Hot List' or the honorable 'A' rotation spots," his daughter said. "He was known to interrupt a playlist in order to play on a whim the track of an artist who was denied an audience at another station."
"Curtis was a very kind and social person and he knew all the players and would promote their shows. He knew a million people and they loved him," said Senator Conway. "He had a very kind heart."
Mr. Anderson enjoyed his forays into the community and especially at Mondawmin Mall, where he enjoyed talking to people, recruiting radio talent, distributing 45-rpm records of local artists, and encouraging students to stay in school and get an education.
He organized holiday parties at Odell's nightclub on North Avenue, which he called "Kiddie Holiday Parties," for children and their parents.
Mr. Anderson, a longtime Perry Hall resident, launched a second career as a singer in 1979.
"I've always wanted to sing professionally," Mr. Anderson said in an interview with the Afro-American at the time. "This may sound a little egotistical, but I believe I have the talent and prowess to succeed in show business."
Mr. Anderson had three hit singles, "The Hardest Part," "How Can I Tell her?" and "I Remember," said his daughter.
Mr. Anderson was also in demand to emcee concerts at Painter's Mill, local clubs and the Meyerhoff, where in 1982 he emceed for Melba Moore and the Four Tops.
Nodules in his throat ended Mr. Anderson's radio career in 1986.
He went to work in 1987 as an administrator and driver for CIG Transportation Service, which was owned by Senator Conway and her husband, and in 1994 as a tax preparer for CIG Professional Tax Service, also owned by the couple, where he remained until retiring in 2014.
"We had such a great friendship that went back to our teenage years," said Mr. Woodson who retired in 2012 from WFBR-AM in Glen Burnie. "It developed into a long-lasting one."
Funeral services for Mr. Anderson will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Wylie Funeral Home, 701 N. Mount St.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Cherelle Anderson of Lutherville and Chanelle Anderson of Pikesville; a brother, Theodore Anderson Jr. of Owings Mills; three sisters, Mary Abrams of Upper Marlboro, Patricia Anderson of Baltimore and Lucille Carter of Perry Hall; three grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.
An earlier version misstated the name of WEBB-AM radio station. The Sun regrets the error.