San Francisco broadcast legend Phil Lerza died in the early morning hours of April 16, at the age of 67. Many of his colleagues learned about it during last week’s NAB Show or when they returned home.
The first broadcast engineer to be inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, Lerza was remembered by colleagues for his warmth and generosity in services held April 20 at Crosby N. Gray & Co. Mortuary. He died after being struck by a Caltrain commuter train in San Mateo, Calif.
Broadcast engineer Bill Ruck attended the service, which he said celebrated the various “Philisms” that people would miss — like how Lerza rooted for the Giants, how he ate lunch in Chinatown just about every day, how he would stand on his tiptoes to look taller in photos, how he meticulously washed dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
“Phil Lerza has to be the most liked engineer in San Francisco,” Ruck said. “He was always able to make people around him feel good about whatever they were doing.”
After being introduced to broadcasting via Armed Forces Radio, Lerza landed at San Francisco’s KFRC(AM) in 1969, and worked during the station’s heyday with radio personality Dr. Don Rose. Lerza stayed on with the station for the rest of his life, diligently working behind the scenes through a series of owners, most recently CBS Radio.
Paul Black, treasurer of Chapter 40 SBE San Francisco, who worked for Lerza from 1975–85, said, “In 10 years, you know, you work with someone 40 hours a week, you get to know him … I never saw him get angry.”
Lerza was also known for his sense of humor, once wryly introducing Black to a couple friends as, “This is my friend Paul. He works with me… and sometimes he works against me.”
Before radio, Lerza served in the U.S. Navy in Adak, Alaska. An outdoorsy man, he spent his free time camping, boating, flying and hanging out with his grandchildren.
“If the world is turning 33 rpm, he was turning 45,” Black said. “He didn’t sit still for very long. And that’s part of the secret to his success … We used to try to keep caffeine away from him.”
The fatal incident that killed Lerza, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle last week, is still under investigation.
In lieu of flowers, Lerza’s family has requested that donations be made to the Sacred Heart Nativity School in San Jose in memory of Phil Lerza.