It seemed only fitting that the ultimate silence of one of urban radio’s most powerful and influential voices would draw thousands in tribute to his life. Longtime WDAS AM/FM radio personality Joe “Butterball” Tamburro was laid to rest on Thursday during a standing-room-only Mass of Christian burial at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City Philadelphia.
Tamburro, who died on July 27 at age 70, was eulogized by members of his radio family who spanned the arc of Tamburro’s career.
The first speaker was fellow radio icon state Representative Louise Williams Bishop, who recalled insisting that her former husband, Jimmy Bishop, (the then-WDAS program director in 1964) hire the young man. Bishop not only put Tamburro on the air, he slapped the portly young man with the nickname “Butterball.” Within months, “Butter” was a hit with listeners — and was a popular on-air presence until his death.
During the hour-plus service, current WDAS FM mid-day host Patty Jackson delivered a biblical passage, which drew a round of applause in recognition of her decades-long friendship with Tamburro, whom she called her “mentor.”
Monsignor Arthur E. Rodgers also received applause when he recalled Tamburro as an Italian-American from South Philadelphia who was an avid admirer of African-American rhythm and blues music culture. Prior to landing at WDAS, the aspiring radio disc jockey played at record hops around town for legendary Philadelphia on-air personality Hy Lit. The lessons he learned there, he would eventually bring to the airwaves for the next 47 years.
As program director for WDAS, Tamburro was uniquely attuned to the station’s faithful listeners for 25 years. He maintained the sound heard on WDAS AM/FM by selecting the music played, choosing the jocks that played the music and going on air himself. It was a winning formula that drew high ratings for the stations, as his distinctive touch and charming personality warmed the hearts of listeners for nearly five decades. Tamburro had often shared that he smiled when he spoke on the air, thus creating a soothing bond that listeners responded to as friendly.
According to a station spokesperson, Tamburro had been battling complications from heart disease and diabetes, and was in his Haverford home at the time of his death last week. In passing, Tamburro is survived by his wife, Cynthia, five adult children and eight grandchildren.