Services for Ron Charles are scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 18, at Craig Flagler Palms Funeral Home, 511 Old Kings Road South, Flagler Beach, with a 1 p.m. reception and a 3 p.m. service. All welcome.
This is not what I want to be writing today, or any day. My friend and colleague Ron Charles, the news director and engineer who’s kept WNZF on the air for the past 10 years, died this morning. He was 56.
He’d been having difficulties lately with heart and liver issues. Two weeks ago he’d texted me of his recent vacation out west with his wife Sandy, of his health getting a bit more troublesome. He listed the innumerable tests he was going through but as always he was in good cheer: one more challenge to deal with then move on. “I’m sure I’ll stack up some good co-pay bills but I can financially handle that,” he texted me. “I live below my means most of the time.”
He was back at work at the end of the month but then it all quickly deteriorated. He was hospitalized, did not improve, and this morning we got an announcement from WNZF: “It’s with great sadness that Flagler Broadcasting announces the passing of Ron ‘Charles’ Gitschier, 56. Ron was the first person hired as chief engineer 10 years ago to build Flagler County’s first radio station WNZF. Ron was a proud retired Navy veteran of 23 years who moved to Flagler County in 2003.”
“Our entire staff is devastated over this sudden loss. Everybody who knew Ron loved him and he will be greatly missed,” David Ayres, Flagler Broadcasting’s vice president and general manager, says in the release.
It was Ron’s voice on WNZF’s Local Morning news for the past 10 years, it was him scaling those communication towers in all kinds of weather to keep the stations on the air–four stations by now–it was him making it to more news, business and cultural events than, one would think, any single person could handle on top of his other responsibilities. And it was him who, as he told me with mischievous pleasure while he drove me somewhere recently and he played a particular DVD, that he’d years ago aired that very compilation on what amounted to a roving, pirated radio station for 120 minutes over Flagler. He doesn’t think anyone noticed, least of all the FCC, but it obviously gave him immense pleasure, even several years later.
“As a radio reporter he had great relationships and liked everybody he met,” WNZF’s announcement stated. Including other reporters: for the past nine years we’ve tag-teamed on assignments, exchanged audio, bailed each other out when one or the other would miss an important event (Ron bailing me out far more often than the other way around). I took him for granted, as I’m sure his station did. That’s what happens with the unfailingly reliable, those who have the nonexistent ego of a good Sufi. There could not be a time without Ron, affable Ron who always conducted his interviews gently but who was also nobody’s fool when it came to his responsibilities as news director.
“He may be a client, but I run a news department, not a sales department,” he texted me a few months ago as we were trading notes on a political candidate foreign to many ethical boundaries. “And in my mind, keep both sides separate. You never hear me on commercials, unless it’s a news sponsor, and that in itself rarely happens.”
There could not be a time without him, but now there is. And to think that all I have left of him beside the many pictures of him when our paths crossed on the beat or elsewhere is an old double-decker tape deck he’d lent me so I could digitize a few ancient cassettes, and those texts going back years, the biography of a friendship and a collaboration in snippets that, dip in anywhere you like, reveals Ron’s modesty and generosity, his versatility and his humor.
Take this one from a year ago, which happens to sum up so many of his qualities in a matter of a few lines: his constant willingness to work, his quirky pleasures, the pride in his family, and that eternal cheer. Always the cheer: “Have you been to the Jacksonville IKEA yet? I was going to Saturday, but was asked to install new equipment at the Bethune Cookman radio station for their football broadcast. Can’t pass the money up as I’m about to become a grandfather in December. Time to return to California.” Then he added: “More good news, our youngest got his acceptance notice for UCF. He’ll work on his bachelor’s and leave the nest.” He had an 11-month-old grandchild when he died.
“Not a good day for Flagler Broadcasting,” David wrote in his email to Ron’s friends and colleagues this morning. If only it were just a day. WNZF and our small media community, and just as importantly, the Flagler community as a whole, lost in Ron a man of immovable integrity and decency in an industry lacking both, and a man whose quiet warmth and affection, whose unselfish professionalism and unassuming strength, some of us will not know again.