Charlie Monk, a music industry figure known in Nashville as “the Mayor of Music Row” for his six-decade-plus career in broadcasting, songwriting and publishing, died Monday at age 84. No cause of death was given; a statement from his family said he died peacefully at home in Nashville.
Monk was ushered into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in 2019. He had most recently been heard as the host of programs on two of SiriusXM’s country channels, Prime Country and Willie’s Roadhouse, starting in 2004 and continuing through this year.
Prior to joining SiriusXM, Monk has been out of the radio business for about 35 years, after first entering the medium as a high school student in the 1950s. During the intervening decades, he focused primarily on music publishing, although he took on many other roles as well.
“I’ve had a lot of careers — voice work, acting, songwriting, publishing and I’ve managed talent. I’ve told so many lies about my career, I never know which ones I should focus on,” he joked to Country Aircheck in 2019, in an interview about his pending Country Radio Hall of Fame induction.
Among Monk’s claims to fame in the publishing business was having signed Randy Travis and Kenny Chesney to their first publishing deals when they were unknowns. He also had his own songs cut by Travis, Barbara Mandrell, Jerry Reed, Charley Pride and others.
In 1969, Monk was one of the founders of the annual Country Radio Seminar. He hosted that conference’s New Faces show, a rite of passage for most incoming country stars, into the 2010s. The hundreds of radio programmers and artists attending New Faces each year bore witness to his sense of humor as he began the program most years with a comedic monologue roasting the major figures in the business.
Monk did not have any false modesty when it came to his skills on the air. As a radio personality, he told Country Aircheck, “I always thought I was as important as the music, because everybody has the music, but not everybody had Charlie Monk on their radio station. Radio is communication between two people. I happen to play records, but I was hopeful that people would tune in to my radio show to hear my silliness, my stories or me just being ridiculous. I’ve been a radio fan since I was a child, but I’ve enjoyed the characters as much as the music. Radio was a world I wanted to be part of because I wanted to be an actor. I realized God gave me wit, charm, good looks — everything except talent. Had he given me a talent, I’d have been a superstar.”
He was born Charles Franklin Monk in Geneva, Alabama on Oct. 29, 1938. In his hometown, he swept floors at a local station before being offered a weekend shift as a DJ, and after a stint in the Army, he moved up to high-profile radio and television gigs in Mobile and Tuscaloosa before moving to Nashville in 1968 and landing a daily show out of nearby Murfreesboro.
Monk left radio to joined the staff of ASCAP in 1970. Seven years later, he became the Nashville head of CBS Songs. He founded his own publishing company, Monk Family Music Group, in 1983, then joined Acuff-Rose Music in 1988.
Monk’s roles over the years included serving as VP of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (now the Recording Academy), VP of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, VP of the Gospel Music Association and local president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Among the many honors bestowed upon him, last year the Country Music Association made him the ninth winner of the Joe Talbot Award “for outstanding leadership and contributions to the preservation and advancement of country music’s values and traditions.”
Monk carried a strong philosophy about the value of on-air talent into a modern age he believed had forgotten about some of the virtues a successful DJ brings. “I’m still fascinated by radio,” he told Country Aircheck two years ago. “We’ve taken the personality out of it and made the music the most important thing. That’s been a mistake for a lot of reasons. Nashville’s had some of the greatest radio personalities – not just somebody who introduced music. Arthur Godfrey said, ‘Make sure that if you’re on the air, speak as though you’re speaking to one person multiplied by the thousands who might be listening.’
“Never try to talk to a group,” Monk continued. “When I go to a concert they yell, ‘How are you all doing?’ I think, hey, stick to me. I came. I paid. Or when somebody in radio goes, ‘Well, I’m glad you all are listening.’ Well, there’s nobody in the car but me. So, I treat it a little differently, and maybe that’s because I came from a different era.”
Monk is survived by his wife of 63 years, Royce Walton Monk; sons Charles, Jr. (Sukgi) and Collin (Grace); daughters Capucine Monk and Camila Monk Perry (Scott); and eight grandchildren, among family members. Funeral arrangements are pending.