Chuck Niles was the voice of jazz radio in Southern California for more than 40 years.
Niles spun tracks on a succession of jazz radio stations, beginning with the pioneering jazz station KNOB in Los Angeles and ending on KKJZ-FM in Long Beach. More than an announcer, he was a one-man jazz university, introducing the music and its lore to generations of Southern Californians.
A musician by training, Niles counted many of the jazz greats among his friends and was the inspiration for several songs, including "Niles Blues" by Louie Bellson and "Be Bop Charlie" by Bob Florence. That song memorialized one of his several nicknames.
After the Navy, Niles returned to music full-time, playing alto sax in a jazz band, the Emanon Quartet — "no name" spelled backward. "How hip can you get?" he later mused.
His first job was on KFOX radio, playing rock 'n' roll-tinged pop that wasn't exactly his style. Next came KHJ-TV Channel 9, where he hosted afternoon movies and the "Strange Lands and Seven Seas" program — "You know . . . some guy goes to Africa, films a herd of elephants, comes back and tells me about it."
But his real break came in 1957, when Sleepy Stein recruited him to be an announcer on what claimed to be the first all-jazz radio station in the United States: KNOB, "the jazz knob."
In 1965, Niles left KNOB for KBCA, another all-jazz station that changed its call letters to KKGO in 1979. KKGO switched to classical music in 1990, and Niles left immediately for KLON-FM, the station of Cal State Long Beach, which had an all-jazz format.
The station changed its name to KKJZ in August 2002.
There, Niles continued to play the music that he loved, introducing Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Horace Silver, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and hundreds of other jazz luminaries to yet another generation.
He was on the air until the day before suffering what proved to be a fatal stroke.