July 27, 2012

WDAS and Philadelphia Radio Legend Joe "Butterball" Tamburro Has Died

Joseph "Butterball" Tamburro, the long time and legendary Philadelphia radio DJ and program director at 1480 WDAS AM and 105.3 WDAS FM has died. He was 70 years old. He was in the hospital and had just had surgery for a diabetes-related illness. The South Philly native with the infectious laugh, also referred to himself on the air as "Butter," worked briefly in Miami before returning to Philadelphia and joined 1480 WDAS AM in 1964. He worked along side two giants in the industry and of Black Radio,"Jocko" Henderson and Georgie Woods. Butter eventually moved over to WDAS FM as midday host in the mid 1970's and had been on the air there ever since. Butterball scaled back his daily on-air commitments and became the regular weekend host of the Sunday Night Live Oldies Dance Party in the early 1980's after taking over the popular slot from Harvey Holiday, now of WOGL FM.

In January of this year, he returned to the airwaves as the afternoon host on WDAS AM when the station returned to its roots as "The Soul of Philadelphia."  During his almost 50 year career at the station not only was he an on-air personality and program director; he was the Operations Manager at WDAS as well. Here's a photo gallery from WDAS FM. Also check out WDAS History.org for the civil rights history of the station. WDAS-FM Program Director Ken Johnson said in a statement, "I have met and worked with quite a few legends in my career. Butter was the pinnacle. He will be missed, but never forgotten."

Tamburro is survived by his wife, Cynthia; five children; and five grandchildren.

Colby Colb, Program Director and Operations Manager for Radio One Cleveland and afternoon personality for Z107.9 said via facebook today: "Growing up in Philly there was one voice that made us smile. One voice that made you feel like home. BUTTERBALL. I remember the first time I met him, I was just getting started and we were competitors but he showed me a lot of love and wished me luck. We lost a great one today. My prayers go out to his family and the City of Philadelphia on such a great loss."

Nile Rodgers ‏founding member of Chic @nilerodgers via twitter: RIP Butterball. This is the man who broke CHIC. He went on "Dance, Dance, Dance" 1st

Wynne Alexander, former WDAS news reporter, curator of the WDASHistory.org archives, (her grandfather Max Leon owned the station and her father Bob Klein, as the general manager, gave WDAS an important voice in the civil rights movement) remembers Butterball fondly. “In those days, a white guy working at a black station, although it had happened before, it was still rather unusual,” she told KYW Newsradio.  “But Butter had this enormous charm and this enormously good ear, and it paved the way.”

"People loved Butterball," Kenny Gamble, architect of the Sound of Philadelphia, said about his friend of nearly 50 years in an interview. "Radio is totally different today than it was then. A DJ was the most iconic figure in the community."

Gamble said that when he and Leon Huff were overseeing the hit machine that was Philadelphia International Records in the late 1960s and 1970s, they would often bring recordings directly to Butterball to seek his opinion.

"There wouldn't have been a Sound of Philadelphia were it not for Jimmy Bishop (WDAS Program Director and evening host at the time) and Butterball," he said. "They played our music first. I would go in the studio and record and produce something, and I'd say, 'Butter, I want you to listen.' He'd pick my singles. This guy had golden ears. That continued for many years. I would always consult him."

There's been an outpouring of appreciation and love via Butterball's facebook page as well as the WDAS FM facebook page. Both are an excellent and amazing tributes to a radio legend.

Butter was the one constant force that remained during WDAS' status as a heritage station. He was connected to the glorious past of the AM station 1480 WDAS and he mentored the great staff of the 1980's and 1990's at 105.3 WDAS FM as program director.

Our condolences go out to his family and to the WDAS family. His voice and influence will truly be missed.

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