Leo Chears was affectionately known to his listeners as “the man in the red vest,” a nickname given him by one of his main sponsors, Anheuser-Busch. They were looking for an identifying phrase, and Chears showed up at a client meeting wearing a vest he “didn’t even like because it was red,” he said. But they liked it, so he ended up filling his closet with the vests.
Chears’ name has always been associated with jazz on St. Louis radio, on WBBR, KADI, KSD, WMRY and WSIE, usually holding down a nighttime slot. As was the case in the 1960s, radio managers paid a pittance to many announcers, especially Negro announcers.
Chears held down a full-time job during the day in a lab at Barnes Hospital and then did a six-hour air shift at night.
When Leo Chears went to work for a radio station, management got more than just an announcer. He used his record library, which consisted of thousands of jazz albums, to supplement the station’s library.