Skidmore brought music, laughter to lives of many
ELKINS — Many community residents are recalling fond memories about David “Chongo” Skidmore, a longtime Inter-Mountain sales representative and beloved local disc jockey who passed away unexpectedly Tuesday.
Skidmore spent more than 20 years on the airwaves in Elkins, providing the soundtrack for generations of local listeners on Saturday nights with “Chongo’s Rockin’ Oldies Show.”
“I’ve never known anybody who knew more about oldies than him,” said Dick McGraw, former owner of Elkins radio stations WELK and WBTQ. “I’ve worked with a lot of people in my 50 years in broadcasting, but he was a reference book on two legs. A lot of the success we had with WELK and WBTQ was because he was part of our team.”
Skidmore was also the emcee for many local events, and twice broadcast his show from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“When I think of Chongo, one of the things that comes to mind is his mental ability to retain facts and minutiae of the radio and music industry” said Brian Elliott of Edward Jones Financial Services of Elkins, who worked with Skidmore in radio for years.
“Today people can pull a lot of information up on a computer or a cell phone. Chongo had it in his head. It was just there on recall. He had so many facts and figures about the artists and how the songs came to be, just the interesting tidbits that made his show so popular. He was just a real talent.”
Skidmore began working as a DJ at 17, at the WCDE radio station at Davis & Elkins College, and later worked at WDNE in Elkins. Before getting into radio, he was a kid who was an Inter-Mountain paper boy, and enjoyed sports and being with his friends.
“I knew him before he was Chongo. We called him David back then,” said Ed Tyre of Elkins Builders Supply. “We played baseball together. We’d get a game together with all the kids in the neighborhood, once or twice a week. In the summertime, we’d ride bikes.
“I was his locker mate from seventh grade to 11th grade, from junior high to Elkins High School. In senior year, seniors got their own locker,” Tyre said. “I graduated with him in 1971. I’ve known him all these years. He was a heck of a fine person.”
Skidmore was given his unusual nickname by the father of his childhood friend, Mike Burke. Dr. Don Burke started jokingly calling Skidmore “Chongo,” which he said meant “monkey.” The nickname stuck and became memorable during Skidmore’s radio career.
Another of Skidmore’s classmates was Steve Herron, publisher of The Inter-Mountain.
“David Skidmore was more than a co-worker to me,” Herron said. “Our friendship goes back more than 50 years when we were in Elkins Junior High School together. So, not only did the paper lose one of our most valuable assets, I personally lost a good friend.
“There is no replacing Mr. Skidmore, as I would call him,” said Herron, who graduated from Elkins High School with Skidmore. “He was one of a kind and those of us that had the opportunity to call him our friend are better people because of it.”
As a young man Skidmore sold clothes at the John B. Wilt Company store and sold cars at the Harry Webb Ford automobile dealership, both in Elkins. In high school he worked at Faraway Hills, a restaurant and tourist destination located off the Georgetown Road in Beverly.
But radio became his calling. He joined the WELK staff in 1985 and quickly attracted an audience of listeners.
“Chongo was Chongo,” McGraw said. “He would come out with what we called these Chongo-isms, these funny sayings he’d always have in his repertoire. He made a name for himself, not just on the radio but in the hearts of those of us who worked with him.”
During his radio career, Skidmore emceed the Mountain State Forest Festival Talent Show, and introduced many famous acts at the MSFF Classic Rock Show, including Three Dog Night.
While hosting his morning show on WBTQ and doing his Saturday oldies show on both WELK and WBTQ, Skidmore also sold advertising for the radio stations, using his salesmanship talents.
“Chongo was just an extremely talented individual,” Elliott said. “Usually there are personalities that can perform on air, or that can perform in the sales department. Chongo was able to bridge that gap and have an extremely popular and successful radio program, and still function very well on the sales side. He was a unique character that could do both.”
Skidmore was well-known for his work ethic, working part-time at Peebles for 15 years while also holding down a full-time job.
“Chongo worked for us almost 20 years. I used to have to beg him to take a vacation,” McGraw said. “He was just one of the more driven people I’ve ever met. I think he worked so much because he liked to be around people. He was just a good, good guy. He wasn’t just an employee, he was a buddy.
“He was unflappable. I’ve never seen him get upset or down. He was just very level. He just seemed to really enjoy what he was doing.”
In 2005, Skidmore started at The Inter-Mountain, selling advertising and building relationships with his clients.
“When he came in a room, he just had this energy,” said Tracy Fath of Davis Health System. “Everybody would sort of gravitate to him. Always a gentleman, always professional. Wow, what a loss.
“Chongo was really old school in his approach to sales and building a relationship with clients. I can’t name any other vendor who took the time to come to the office for a personal visit, if not every week then every other week,” Fath said. “In this day and age, it’s so easy for people to just shoot out an email. But he would come in personally, and from coming in he knew us, and he knew what was a good fit for us and what wasn’t. That only happens if you take the time to know your client. And that’s something I always appreciated.
“I remember, when (my family) restored an old farmhouse, I painted rooms to ‘Chongo’s Rockin’ Oldies Show.’ In our office we played the Beatles all day today as a tribute to him. We are all going to miss him very much.”
Skidmore’s professionalism, work ethic and personality endeared him to the Inter-Mountain staff.
“I’ve worked with Chongo since 2005,” said Michelle Smith, The Inter-Mountain’s advertising director. “He was so reliable and consistent, and a very hard worker. You could always count on him, and he always gave a great effort.
“He always lightened the tone in the office by joking with everyone. He was very funny and very well-liked. He cared about his customers and always did his best for them. He was a very special person.”
“Chongo, as most people called him, was a professional in every sense of the word,” Herron said. “In the five years that I’ve been back at The Inter-Mountain I never heard him complain one time, unless he was joking about a co-worker if front of them.
“He was always one of the first staffers that showed up for work every day and many days he was the last one to leave the advertising office at the end of the day,” he said. “To my knowledge Dave never missed a day of work due to being ill and he never used up all of his vacation days. I think the primary reason he never missed work was because he truly cared about his customers. His top priority every day was to present ideas to businesses and help them succeed.”
Skidmore was a member of St. Brendan Catholic Church in Elkins, where he served as a reader of the liturgy.
He was honored as a United Way Volunteer of the Year, and was a first-degree member of the Knights of Columbus Elkins Council 603.
In 1987 he married his wife, Linda, a former editor of The Inter-Mountain who now is on the staff at Davis & Elkins College.
Skidmore’s parents were the late Ethel and Charles Skidmore.