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Florida Matters Remembers WUSF's Carson Cooper

Carson Cooper was a radio guy, through and through.

While most people know him best as the longtime host of WUSF’s Morning Edition and Florida Matters, his sonic roots ran deep. This week on Florida Matters, we’re remembering our friend and colleague who died recently at the age of 58 – and the stories he shared with all of us.

It was in Carson’s hometown of Oak Ridge, TN, where he got his first radio gig. An avid listener, he heard the DJ at the neighboring AM station say he’d kill for a cup of coffee.  Carson seized the opportunity, ran over to the studio with some coffee and landed his first job.

Carson Cooper regularly hosted town hall tapings of Florida Matters, like this one in 2015 on human trafficking that featured Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

For many years, Carson’s shift started long before dawn - hours before most people woke up to the sounds of him speaking to them on their radio. The host of WUSF’s Morning Edition since January 2000, Carson was at work by 3 a.m., chowing on dry cereal and downing cups of coffee on his drive in to Tampa, he once told a guest on Florida Matters.

Carson didn't seem to mind his crazy work hours, said Craig Georg, who spent nine years running the sound board while Carson was on the air for Morning Edition. He was there to witness the many times that Carson was cool-headed when things didn't go exactly as planned.

Carson Cooper and Craig Georg teamed up to bring Morning Edition to WUSF listeners for nine years.

“In many ways, he was like a (5-time Super Bowl winning quarterback) Tom Brady behind the mic,” Georg said. “He was good. If you made a mistake, his even-handed professionalism would correct it for you. He would make you sound good.”

Reporters who worked with Carson echoed that sentiment. WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien, who worked with Carson from the day he arrived at the station, shared many moments live on air, including election nights and as tropical storms and hurricanes, which flooded the streets near downtown Tampa.

“He forced me as a reporter to be a better radio person. I could always count on Carson,” she said.

He worked diligently to make his conversations with listeners seem effortless. And he helped pull out of reporters the details that would connect with an audience, O’Brien said.

“He brought out the humanism in a story, just with his questions,” she said. “He also had such a sense of humor and wit. He never let me take it too seriously. He would say, ‘You know it’s just radio after all.’ ”

Many listeners knew that Carson had a life outside of public radio. He was a longtime DJ for Radio Margaritaville, which is Jimmy Buffett's Sirius XM radio station. Buffett said goodbye to Carson with a song at a concert this past weekend at Jones Beach, New York.

And audiences in the Tampa Bay area also recall Carson’s voice on the airwaves in Sarasota – at WSRZ-FM. That’s the job that brought Carson to the Tampa Bay area in 1981. There, you could hear him spinning adult contemporary tunes or classic rock.

Carson Cooper and Classical WSMR host Russell Gant were regular on-air partners during WUSF on-air fundraising campaigns.

Marc Haze, WUSF’s midday host, worked the morning shift with Carson in the late 1990s, and saw up close how he shared his natural wit on the commercial radio airwaves. Carson's humor did sneak through on WUSF - often in his interviews on Florida Matters or even during pledge drives with on-air partners like Classical WSMR host Russell Gant.  

Carson Cooper was a radio man – through and through - and he took that responsibility seriously. 

He ended his on air shifts by saying, "Thanks for listening."  Carson meant it every time. He depended on the listeners. And he knew you relied on him. 

Thank you Carson.

We have a tribute page for Carson Cooper  on WUSF.org and we encourage you to share your memories. He will be dearly missed by his colleagues, his friends and all of those who enjoyed hearing him on the radio.

Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.
I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
I’m the lucky one who guides the WUSF News team as it shares news from across Florida and the 13 amazing counties that we call the greater Tampa Bay region.