This is the eulogy given by the ‘Oldie King’ Bob Walker at the celebration of life for his long-time friend and colleague Lonnie Matherne, ‘The Real’ Robert Mitchell, on September 24, 2022.
Well, it was a Robert Mitchell Morning today but not the kind we hoped for with the 7:30 stretch on the radio.
I lost the Big Brother I never had … on September 12, 2022. Lonnie Matherne was as much as a biological brother could have been. He was 3-1/2 years older than me … and strangely enough, when his wish came true being on the radio in his home town … my Big Brother also made mine come true.
It would be many years before we met. But from the start we did share a lot of similarities in the early years that we would know each other.
Lonnie Matherne Jr. was better known as Robert Mitchell. During 50 years he excelled as a popular New Orleans disc jockey, program director, and talk show host.
We grew up across town from each other as kids. But from the start, we shared things that hinted at our futures together.
First: We were born Yats across the city from each other. We both listened to WTIX in the 50s and also enjoyed listening on other stations to Poppa Stoppa, Jack the Cat, Jacqueline the Kitten, Larry McKinley, and others and we learned the New Orleans music they played in the 50s.
Second: In 1960 WTIX had a scavenger hunt. I was one of three who made it to the studio in time. We were all strangers who rode up together in the elevator to the WTIX office. When the elevator door opened one of the other guys jumped out first and he won. Bob Mitchell told me years later it was he who won the first-place prize.
Ironically, the second guy who won the second prize was Steve Slumber, who I got to know in later years who loved oldies so I named him “The Oldies Professor” who would call and tell early rock ’n roll trivia on my oldies hour every Thursday at noon on WTIX.
The third guy in the elevator was me and they told me there were only two prizes.
Third: In 1959 Lonnie decided he wanted to be a disk jockey on WTIX ….. and so did I. We both listened to WTIX into late at night and also won numerous records from endless contests. Bob and I would go to their studio at 624 Canal St. and watch the DJs through the glass window and got to know many of them, even though we still had not crossed our own paths.
WTIX didn’t know that many of the records that we both won from them would return to the studio a few years later and the songs were played on the air.
Fourth: We both had similar jobs as young adults in the early to mid-’60s, Lonnie was a milkman around 1960 and I was a route man for Tom’s Peanuts & Candies vending machines in 1965. We both serviced our products in company trucks.
Bob’s journey in radio began in 1960 as Robert Mitchell.
The story as he told me, he started his career at a daytime AM radio station in White Castle, Louisiana near Baton Rouge. As a true radio trooper, his home was the studio shack. The owner decided that Lonnie Matherne was not the best radio name and he needed a different one. Somewhere in the studio, they discovered a tape with a name jingle on it for some DJ who had worked there previously. So he became Robert Mitchell and he even had a recorded jingle of his name from the start.
Fifth: After his stay in White Castle he worked at stations in Bogalusa, Lake Charles, Charleston, and Jacksonville In early 1964 General Manager Ed Muniz brought him home as a DJ and Program Director at WNNR 990-am in the Jung Hotel. The format at the time was rock ‘n’ roll and New Orleans music.
One of the DJs on WNNR was Poppa Stoppa.
Clarence (Poppa Stoppa) Hayman greeted everyone with “Where ya at, my boy?” That greeting stuck between both of us in later years on WTIX.
By late 1965 Bob Mitchell left WNNR for an opening at WTIX. I got the opening Mitchell left behind shortly, in early 1966, and I had my first professional radio job, at WNNR … with Poppa Stoppa.
Sixth: At first Bob Mitchell was the WTIX nighttime newsman and weekend DJ for a year & 1/2 … he was moved to Afternoon Drive in August 1967.
Two months later, in October 1967, I was hired at WTIX for Bob Mitchell’s opening slot as … nighttime newsman & weekend DJ. We finally met.
And Seventh: A year later, in November 1968, Bob Mitchell, the afternoon dj, became Program Director, … he took over the WTIX morning show two months later …
and when he did that, he moved me into … his old afternoon slot.
He vowed to make WTIX the Mighty 690 the best New Orleans music station ever. He did it with a classic New Orleans sound, with current pop hits, soul music, and oldies.
Bob was a genius in bringing WTIX 690 to one of the top 10 influential stations in the nation.
As the new Program Director, he came out of the gate with a bang. He gave away 100 sets of The Top 68 of 1968 in the week between Christmas and New Year.
Other memorable contests and promotions were the 25-mile Pledge Walk, Chime Time, Music Jams, Beat The Bomb, Cash Call, and … the Coke Denim Machine truck. It was so ugly it was for sale by the winner in News on Wheels magazine the next week.
The people he hired at WTIX were very loyal to Bob and he looked upon us as family. Names like Skinny Tom Cheney, Jim Swiller, Craig Roberts, Jeff Stierman, Ray Fisher, Don Anthony, Marc Sommers, Todd Bauer, Nick Bazoo, Marty With The Party, Terry Young, Blair on the Air, Kim Stephens, Bonnie Poirier, Don Kelly, Captain Humble, and many others.
Also record promotion people too became lifelong friends, like Walter Moorehead, Al Monet, Sam Harrell, and numerous others.
Bob was brilliant. He had quite a knack for hit songs.
He was awarded dozens of platinum and gold 45 records and albums.
At WTIX he rebooted the careers of Sonny & Cher, The Osmonds, Roberta Flack, Tony Orlando, The 5th Dimension, and many more, and they never forgot us.
Tony Orlando would go to Bob’s house whenever he was in town because Bob’s mother Elsie loved him.
Legendary singers passing thru town would visit with Bob Mitchell at the station to promote a new song or just say hi.
That’s the level of respect that Bob Mitchell earned for himself and WTIX the Mighty 690.
In the mid- ’80s Bob went to work for Ed Muniz again on LITE 105. In 1993 Ed also purchased 95.7 and named it WTKL KOOL 95.7.
He made Bob Mitchell Program Director and Bob said he would make it sound like WTIX the Mighty 690 again. He did just that … with Don Wilbanks, Blair on the Air, Vince Marinello, Darlene Gentner, Tommy Tucker, Cherie Vitrano, me, and others.
Then in 1998, he decided to hang it up as Program Director because he wanted to spend more time with his wife Clair, his family, his grandkids and great-grandkids, and his pups, especially Dot and Gunnar.
After Katrina, Bob showed his never-ending talents by filling in on WWL-am talk shows even though he was mostly in retirement … and then he left for good in 2020.
Bob loved the Saints and LSU. He also loved hot tamales. In the few later years, Bob and I would meet at Rocky & Carlos for lunch and talk about the old times. Then sometimes, when we were leaving I would surprise him with a couple of dozens of hot tamales from Guillory’s and it would make his day, a small way to thank him for all he did.
I love and cherish the memories of those lunches.
I miss you my Big Brother. I will thank God every time I remember you. You will always have a place in my heart.