A man whose name is synonymous with trucking radio has signed off the air. North America’s legendary radio truck show host Dale Sommers, The Truckin’ Bozo, died Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in a hospice facility near his home in Hernando, FL. He was 68.
Sommers, widely known for his long-running talk and call-in show geared toward over-the-road truckers, enjoyed a successful broadcast career that spanned more than 50 years.
Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times/ZUMAPRESS.com
Regular fans of “The Bozo” know that Sommers suffered from Addison’s Disease and was an insulin-dependent diabetic. He had been recovering from a critical bout with fragile health conditions and medical complications, for which he was hospitalized earlier this spring.
He returned to the air shortly in mid-June, but was soon off the air again due to more health problems. Although Sirius XM did not issue a statement, friends and family indicated that he was simply not well enough to resume the grueling radio schedule.
From 1984 to 2004, Sommers hosted the all-night show from Cincinnati-based Clear Channel Station WLW-700. In 2004, he announced retirement but changed his mind and agreed to do an afternoon talk show on XM satellite radio. On the satellite radio show, he discussed the hot button issues affecting the trucking industry as well as politics and current events. XM later merged with Sirius, and the popular show has aired on from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Sirius XM Road Dog Channel.
Sommers was a life member of OOIDA. In August 2010, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer and “Land Line Now” Host Mark Reddig traveled to Cincinnati to present him with an OOIDA Lifetime Contribution award. The award was suggested and approved by the OOIDA Board of Directors at the spring 2010 meeting.
The framed plaque commended Sommers for his career during which he “stimulated, amused and motivated thousands of long-haul truckers, making him a valued friend of truckers and someone who made the miles less lonesome.”
Dale is survived by his wife, Sharon Cox Sommers; children David Sommers, Steve Sommers, Sean Compton, Crystal Sommers, Kevin Sommers, Jason Sommers and Brian Mitchell; 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
On his afternoon Sirius XM show, Dale shared news and editorial opinion from TheNewYork Times, the Tampa Bay Times, trucking magazines like Land Line and more. He had an institutional knowledge of the road, affection and respect for his trucker audience and was never short of a point of view.
Dale often said “my life is an open book” and didn’t hesitate to share personal experiences and incidents. He shared anecdotes regarding friends like Hollywood, his wife “Lumpy,” and his kids. He taunted his producers, and they often played off each other like early TV comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen. If he was annoyed with callers, he pushed a button and they exploded on air. This was a tradition that callers enjoyed and intentionally provoked. Asking Bozo “how many days to Christmas” would always get a caller blown up.
He was well known for his impromptu shenanigans. Singer/songwriter Jack Kapanka recalled on a Facebook post this week that he was singing “America Moves By Truck” on Bill Mack’s show. “Dale was goofing around, came up behind me and actually started taking my pants off while I was singing. We were on the air, so I just kept right on playing. Always a prankster, always a friend,” posted Kapanka, who says he will never forget that moment.
Through the years, the cast of characters on his live radio show were more than just entertainers, hecklers and ranting regulars. They were real truckers with names like Yoda, Hollywood, Maverick, Bullwinkle, Elvis, Goodwrench, Big Ed, Asphalt Soldier, Straycat, Kentucky Red Devil, Zookeeper, White Trash, Crud, Double S, Super Trucker, Brooklyn and more.
Some of them became more than just callers; they became trusted personal friends. Rusty “Yoda” Wade kept fans and pals updated on the Bozo website during Dale’s illness. Wade, an OOIDA Life Member from Brundidge, AL, was at Dale’s bedside during the last days.
In the mid ’80s, OOIDA’s Todd Spencer – a former trucker – first began listening to Bozo on WLW. He later met him at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, and the two became good friends.
From OOIDA’s Grain Valley, MO, headquarters, Todd’s workdays often turned into long nights as he developed a habit of staying to listen or call Dale on the all night show.
“Sometimes I answered the phones while I was at the office late, and I remember having truckers say they had no idea someone would be manning the phone at OOIDA in the middle of the night,” he said. “Actually I was there listening or calling in to Bozo.”
Spencer says Bozo tried his hardest to always be there for drivers. There was never any doubt whose side he was on.
“He thoroughly enjoyed and did his best to be an advocate when he felt like a trucker was getting the short end of the stick. And he never hesitated to share his opinion with or about anyone,” said Todd. “In those days, we didn’t have Internet, cellphones. Often, he was one of the best sources for trucking news, for getting the word out there. The best example might be Dale’s contribution to arresting the DC snipers.”
It was Dale who helped nab snipers who were terrorizing the DC area in the fall of 2002. Trucker Ron Lantz was listening to The Truckin’ Bozo late one night when Dale announced the license plate and description of the sniper’s vehicle. At a Maryland rest area, Lantz spotted the car, blocked the exit with his truck, and notified police. The ensuing arrests ended the attacks that killed 10 and injured three.
Driver Nichole Setzer of Goose Creek, SC, says she has been listening to Bozo since she was a kid. “My dad listened to him. Then I became a truck driver and started listening to him on Sirius. He helped me pass many a mile, kept me laughing and informed me about the trucking world. He reminded me of my dad in so many ways.”
OOIDA Member Ingrid “Half Pint” Brown summed up a common sentiment with her Facebook post. “Thank you, Mr. Dale. You will never be off the asphalt airwaves.”
OOIDA Member Sherri “Missing Link” Schmidt, Jerome, ID, first called the WLW show in June 1994. She asked Dale to play “Daddy’s Girl” by Red Sovine for her dad’s birthday. Sherri posted on Facebook this week that her dad always listened to Bozo, even after he retired. Two days after Dale played the song, Sherri’s dad passed away at age 84.
OOIDA Member David “Bullwinkle” Gilland, Nettleton, MS, is one of his longtime listeners. “Dale is a friend. He’s been there for me and I think I’ve been there for him. I started listening to him in April 1984 – WLW’s show. I’ve listened to him ever since. I can’t imagine radio without him.”