Longtime Radio One talk show host and 45-year radio veteran Bernie McCain died on Oct. 12 from natural causes. He was 75 years old.
A well-respected personality on WOL 1450 AM and WOLB 1010 AM, McCain was also known as a loving family man, community activist and mentor. A memorial service was held in his honor on Oct. 20 for close family and friends at Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
McCain was most remembered for his ability to analyze current political and social issues. His warm manner gained him the affectionate nickname “Uncle Bernie” decades ago. He had been a long-time member of the Radio One family, starting as the company’s first program director when media mogul Cathy Hughes started her first station, WOL AM, in 1980.
“Long before Radio One became a national media conglomerate, it was people like Bernie McCain that helped lay the foundation for the company,” said the Rev. Willie Wilson, senior Pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church, who was McCain’s pastor.
McCain was born in 1936 in Newark, N.J. to Mitchell and Daisy Kiett-McCain. He had early ambitions of traveling the world and decided after high school to join the U.S. Marine Corps, according to his brother, Ted Travis. He served honorably for four years, including a tour of duty in the Korean War before returning to his hometown.
It was a college professor who saw the strength and presence in his voice and encouraged McCain to go into broadcasting. He began his radio career at WNJR 1430-AM, an African-American music station in Newark. From there, he went on to work in radio, television and film across the country and around the world; from Cleveland and San Francisco to Europe and Africa. His titles varied from music director, news director, general manager, photographer and cinematographer.
Mark Thompson, a radio host for Sirius XM Satellite Radio and minister who delivered the eulogy, reminisced about McCain’s on-air presence.
“Bernie McCain’s voice literally and figuratively had gravity,” he said. “He made the lives of neglected people relevant and important because he told their stories.”
Just as impactful as his presence was on-air, McCain’s life had the same affect off air. He was often a guide and mentor for young men and at-risk youth in Washington, D.C. He was also a respected community activist known for his support and participation in key events such as the March on Washington in 1963 and The Million Man March in 1995, loved ones said.
Ron Thompson, program director for WOL 1450 AM, worked with McCain for the last 13 years and tearfully recalled his caring personality.
“He treated you the way you wanted to be treated,” he said. “So often, in this business we’re in, egos take over and people lose sight of who they are. But you knew if he asked about you, it was from his heart.”
McCain is survived by his wife Wanda Hughes McCain, daughters Leslie Charleton and Cairo McCain, stepdaughters Ja’nae Sturgis, Marti’an Hughes and Julian Sturgis, brother Ted Travis and a host of extended family, friends and dedicated radio listeners.