Legendary radio and TV funnyman Jim Hawthorne died last Tuesday, Nov. 6, at Buena Vista Care Center in Goleta. He was 88.
Known for his on-air antics and loose interpretation of radio protocol, Hawthorne is credited for being the pioneer of freeform radio in the early 1940s. Born in Victor, Colorado, in 1918, Hawthorne got his start in radio at the age of 23 at a Denver radio station. But it was in Los Angeles shortly after the start of World War II where he hit the big time: The powers that be at KXLA gave him a late night show and a loose rein.
For a time when saying “damn” on the air was enough to get one fired, Hawthorne could have been considered a shock jock, going against the more mellow stylings of his fellow disc jockeys in favor of on-air nuttiness. Skits with an entirely made up cast, cut-off songs, live conversations with guests and the dreaded needle drag across the vinyl were part of his repertoire. His popularity earned him a strong fan base (Hoganites) which persists today, and many of today’s radio personalities claim creative lineage to the man.
A few radio stations and several years later, Hawthorne eventually brought his craziness to the small screen, with the first late-night talk show, “This is Hawthorne,” in the 1950s. Many point to it as the start of TV sketch comedy, a proto- Saturday Night Live. His inventiveness and natural gift for translating his radio humor to the television screen earned him the respect of other TV comedians such as Steve Allen.
Between TV and radio, Hawthorne also cut a few records, parodying Nat King Cole’s “Nature’s Boy,” with his own rendition of “Serutan Yob,” creating an entire concerto based on the phonetically sung version of a Japanese folk song, or starting his own peachy keen slang by inserting the word “hogan” wherever he saw fit.
In his later years, Hawthhorne moved to Hawaii where he played Mr. Checkers in the popular show “Checkers & Pogo,” making him perhaps the only person who was both a shock jock and a children’s show actor.
Even in his latest years, Hawthorne was the energetic entertainer, producing local cable access shows from the halls of Buena Vista Care Center, where, by many accounts, he was still going strong and planning more shows.
Hawthorne is survived by his children and grandchildren.