Ex-cop Jerry Pearce was a Johnny Cash lookalike who hosted ‘The Radio Detective’ show

Jerry Pearce from “The Radio Detective” radio show is shown in this Fresno Bee photo from 2011.
Jerry Pearce from “The Radio Detective” radio show is shown in this Fresno Bee photo from 2011. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Jerry Pearce, the ex-cop who launched “The Radio Detective” radio show in Fresno, has died. He was 76.

Born Gerald Clifford Pearce in Bakersfield in 1941, he died Monday at his home near Prather after a long battle with chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, said his wife, Bonnie Pearce.

The Radio Detective was a late night call-in radio show about law enforcement and politics. He used his experience as a police officer and private investigator to produce the show.

Pearce launched “The Radio Detective” in 1996 on KFRE AM 940. It moved from station to station but was eventually syndicated nationally.

“He loved it, that was his passion,” Bonnie Pearce said. “People loved it all over the world.”

The California Rifle and Pistol Association built a recording studio at their home so he could do the show from there.

In late 1999, the show moved to KMPH FM 107.9 and Modesto’s KTRB AM 860. It later moved to television station KGMC Channel 43, before returning to KMPH radio in 2003, only to be canceled after a year. Three years later, he was driving to Los Angeles to do the show on KRLA AM 870.

Later, “The Radio Detective” was on KBIF AM 900 in Fresno. In 2009, Pearce’s show could be heard on KFPT AM 790 and Bakersfield’s KERN AM 1180, as part of a national syndication of the show. It was also available via the internet.

He married me on his birthday so he’d never forget his anniversary.

Bonnie Pearce

“Jerry spoke plainly,” said Jason Cunning, a former radio producer who worked with Pearce. “He never spoke down to people. He spoke the truth from his perspective. He’d always give people the time to explain their perspective.”

Pearce bore a striking resemblance to singer Johnny Cash, and would entertain crowds by wearing black and playing his guitar and singing Johnny Cash songs.

“One time, he had an audience convinced he was Johnny Cash,” said his friend Tom Thomas.

Pearce went to high school in Fresno and joined the Navy, serving on the USS Hornet as an electrician. After four years in the Navy, he worked for the phone company setting ocean cables, and in the 1960s joined the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department. He rose to lieutenant and was chief of detectives.

It was there that he was recruited to the narcotics division. He once used a rowboat to get to a trimaran smuggling marijuana, worked with the FBI and the DEA, and while loaned out to another agency went undercover as a Hells Angel.

Pearce was an excellent investigator, said Norm Epley, a retired sheriff’s commander from San Luis Obispo County.

“He had a heart of gold,” Epley said, noting that Pearce once gave a homeless man his shoes. “I’ve seen him reach into his pocket and give money to help children.”

In the mid-1970s, he returned to Fresno, became an investigator for the Wild, Carter and Tipton law firm, and started his own private eye company. He was the first outside firm to do investigations for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, his wife said.

“He was very well known in the industry,” she said.

In 1979, he married the former Bonnie Ingram of Delano. “He married me on his birthday so he’d never forget his anniversary,” she said.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

Gerald C. ‘Jerry’ Pearce

Born: March 30, 1941

Died: Jan. 8, 2018

Survivors: Wife Bonnie; children Amanda, Lance and Derek; six grandchildren; two great-grandchildren.

Services: Pending with Yost & Webb Funeral Home