If you’re a longtime listener of KMOX radio, then you may remember that once upon a time Charlie Brennan was known by his more formal moniker, Charles. That decision was made by the late Robert Hyland, who brought Charlie to the ‘Mighty Mox’ from Boston in 1988. Hyland did not want his young talk show host confused with other similar on-air names so he asked him to change it. But as the formality of the Robert Hyland era faded away, Brennan slowly readopted his original on-air handle.
Today, more than 20 years later, thousands of St. Louisans listen to The Charlie Brennan Show every day. Brennan, who also serves as ‘provocateur’ on Donnybrook, jokes there was no grand plan to the name change, “Like most things I do, there was very little thought attached to it.” But there are a great number of St. Louisans who would respectfully disagree with him. They are familiar with Brennan’s efforts in a variety of causes that make St. Louis a better place. When Brennan noticed that the area around Kiener Plaza needed sprucing up, he went on a campaign to plant flowers in the medians. Now every summer, visitors and downtown regulars enjoy dazzling tropical floral displays. When he realized there were significant historic sites that were virtually ignored or unknown, Brennan helped start a nonprofit group that put up 27 historic markers and a red line walking tour through downtown. Brennan also has raised money for care packages for the troops, helped spur changes in the way the city deals with derelict buildings and used his voice to get empty storefronts cleaned up.
Brennan currently has his sights set on his most ambitious project to date: Raising more than $100,000 for a statue that will honor one of St. Louis’ all time legends, Chuck Berry. Brennan says the unveiling of the statue on the Delmar Loop this spring will be his proudest achievement. “It’s really time that we honor somebody for something other than sports and military,” he says, “Chuck Berry is the father of rock ‘n’ roll. Besides there are very few statues for African-Americans, and I can’t believe we’ve waited this long for this one.”
Brennan also is working with the Gateway Rivers Greenway group to incorporate the statue and the Chuck Berry plaza, where it will stand, into a new bike path that will traverse the metro area. The path will create a biking and hiking corridor stretching from Forest Park, through Washington University to the statue in University City, then continue on to Creve Coeur and finally cross the Missouri River into St. Charles. Brennan, who has been known to ride his bicycle to work, will undoubtedly be one of the new path’s most ambitious supporters, as well.
Brennan’s passion to improve St. Louis is not limited to civic improvement; he also has become a fervent supporter of charitable organizations. Most of his recent efforts have been focused on St. Louis ARC, formerly known as the St. Louis Association of Retarded Citizens. He says he got involved after being asked to emcee the group’s 60th anniversary gala, but had no idea that he would soon become more deeply involved in helping the group. “I don’t have anyone in my family who needs their services, but I was blown away by how good they are.” Brennan lauds the group that he says makes a big difference in the lives of people living with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. “I’ve never been so impressed with an organization as I am with this one—those people are all very dedicated.”
Brennan says his charitable work has been influenced by something the late St. Louis Cardinals executive Marty Hendin told him. “He told me that when you volunteer for an organization in St. Louis, it always helps you more than them because you meet so many interesting and inspiring people.”
Despite the numerous honors, awards and accolades bestowed upon him, Brennan remains humble—even self-deprecating. “I’ve talked about the issues and to whatever extent that’s helpful, great,” he says. “Whether it’s all significant, that’s for other people to decide.”