They all thought he was crazy. Or if not crazy, then incredibly confident.
Yet, Chuck Leonard kept pitching his idea. It was an idea for a comedy-slash-variety talk show, and Chuck would be the host. He had some broadcast experience as an intern at a radio station, but this would be his first foray into television.
Needless to say, many of the station managers Chuck spoke with about his idea couldn’t get past the obvious gap between his vision and his lack of TV experience.
“I pitched it and pitched it to every station from Modesto to Bakersfield,” said Chuck, currently Senior Admissions Professional at UEI College in Fresno. “And, I got thrown out of almost all the general managers’ offices.”
But in 2008, he managed to get the attention of one general manager at KAIL-TV (Channel 53) in Fresno. Not only was the station willing to give Chuck his break; within two months, it led to Chuck having Fresno’s highest-rated show in the 10 a.m. to noon timeslot.
The show was called “Chuck Leonard’s Central Valley Buzz,” and he filled his 12 daily segments giving monologues, telling jokes, doing interviews, and featuring a variety of musicians, all in front of a live studio audience.
The musical segments, in particular, struck such a chord in the Fresno community that many consider it the beginning of a local music resurgence in the area. And, despite his show having ended after nearly a decade on the air, people in the Fresno area still haven’t forgotten the role Chuck played in what’s currently a vibrant local music scene.
In fact, in early November, Chuck was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the first-ever Central Valley Music Awards, which was held in the Visalia Convention Center.
The honor, he admits, was a bit of a shock.
“At first, I’m like, ‘Why the hell are they giving this to me? I’m not a musician,’” he said. “Then I got to thinking about it, and I’ve done a lot. I’ve helped change this area so it’s more music-friendly and art-friendly. Fresno was not really known for its art community, its music community, and I think I brought that to the surface. And, it was fun!”
CREATING BUZZ FOR THE FRESNO MUSIC SCENE
Chuck has always been an outgoing person. At the age of 8, his gregariousness inspired his parents to answer a newspaper ad seeking kids to try out for an “Oliver Twist” musical in San Jose.
“They said, ‘You talk a lot. Why don’t you try out for this, and maybe you’ll get a bit part,’” he recalled.
“And so I go down there, and I end up getting the lead part.
The production was supposed to run for six weeks, but it became so popular that it was extended to eight months. Chuck became a bit of a mini-celebrity during this time. He was regularly featured on the local news, and he even got to make an appearance during the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
But, the attention dried up after the production ended, and Chuck grew up focusing more on “sports, girls and stuff.” His love of the spotlight never quite left him, however.
As an adult, and following his radio internship, he moved to Fresno hoping to expand his career into broadcasting. But, no one seemed to be hiring.
That’s when he got the idea to start his own variety show. After KAIL-TV took a chance on him, Chuck’s idea, combined with his nature talent in front of the camera, quickly evolved into a top-rated show.
“It was an idea I had believed in,” Chuck said. “I fought for it and fought for it and fought for it, and it finally came to fruition. I really had a great show, man.”
And, simply based on the frequency and consistency local music was featured on “Chuck Leonard’s Central Valley Buzz,” the show helped change the live entertainment landscape in and around Fresno.
“Once the community started seeing all the musicians on our show, they began to realize there was a great music scene here,” he said. “Everybody started jumping on board having live musicians in their bars and restaurants. Musicians started getting gigs and making money they’ve never made before. I guess that led to me becoming somewhat of an icon in the music community.”
HELPING PEOPLE CHANGE & FIND HOPE AT UEI COLLEGE
Chuck made a significant career change in 2017 when he joined the team at UEI College’s Fresno campus. He started in admissions, eventually working his way up to becoming the campus’s Senior Admissions Professional.
In this capacity, he helps students through the application and enrollment process and strives to help them be successful through graduation.
“Chuckie is an integral part of the Fresno UEI community,” said Ada Clower, Executive Director of UEI College’s Fresno campus. “His passion for life is apparent, and he shares his enthusiasm for success with all he meets. He serves a team captain in admissions, and his team consistently wins the day! We thank him for his energy and appreciate what he gives back to the Fresno family.”
Chuck says his outgoing character and his ability to connection with an audience has translated well into his position on the admissions team.
“It helps a lot,” he said. “The very first contact [with prospective students] most of the time is over the telephone, so being able to communicate well over the phone helps. And then, of course, when they get here, making them feel comfortable, joking and laughing with them and getting them at ease … that helps also.”
Jim York, Vice President of Leadership, Culture and Learning, agrees that Chuck’s enthusiasm in infectious with both students and his admissions team members.
“Chuck is truly one-of-a-kind,” Jim said. “His energy in the work area is contagious. His background in music, movies and television, coupled with his passion for helping others, shines through as he welcomes new students to our UEI Fresno campus. Chuck’s engaging smile and positive demeanor provide a comfortable backdrop for a warm and impactful experience for those who come us to help them create a new future.”
According to Chuck, the most rewarding part of his current position is seeing people not only change their lives, but their notion of what’s possible in their lives.
“I get to see people that want to change but don’t know how to change, and we show them how to do it,” Chuck said. “You don’t know how many times we have people just crying because they’re finally going to get their high school diploma. They’ve never been able to check that box on the application, and now they’re going to leave here with a real high school diploma and certified in something. It’s really beautiful when you can take someone with no hope and give them hope.”
Even while working at UEI College, however, Chuck hasn’t stepped completely away from the entertainment business. He recently took part in an indie movie, “The Last Country Singer,” that has been accepted into nine different film festivals, and his 7-year-old daughter is signed with one of the top talent agencies in the world.
But regardless of all the experience and the accolades he’s gained through the years, he considered the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Central Valley Music Awards to be incredibly humbling.
“I was honored,” he said. “When I did my acceptance speech, and I finished, I got a standing ovation. I’ve gotta tell ya, I got a little choked up.”