Tom Noonan, 78, who was a Billboard institution during his 30-plus year tenure with the magazine, died Sunday (Oct. 29) in Los Angeles. He had been battling bladder cancer for more than a year.
The enthusiastic Noonan punctuated his Billboard career with a 10-year stint at various labels, including Columbia, during the time that parent division CBS Records was run by Clive Davis, now BMG U.S. chairman and CEO.
“He was a very, very special man,” says Davis. “Despite all that he did, which was quite substantial with his tremendous work ethic, he was always able to have that glint in his eye that only special people do.”
Noonan’s career with the magazine began inauspiciously during his college years, starting as a vacation replacement at Billboard’s New York headquarters in 1949. He moved to a full-time position in 1952, wearing the hats of office manager, purchasing agent and assistant to publisher Bill Littleford. He soon began working with the charts and was promoted to head of pop charts in 1954.
Noonan launched several album charts from 1954-1965—including The Billboard Hot 100, which launched in 1958—and spearheaded the use of computers to help tabulate charts and related research reports during this time.
He left Billboard in 1965 to oversee the Columbia-distributed Date Records, the first of five label associations he would have before returning to the magazine. At Date, he worked with artists like the Buckinghams and Peaches & Herb, then transitioned to VP of promotion for Columbia in 1967. He transitioned to Motown as VP of creative services from 1968-1970, when the label was still based in Detroit.
He became president of Metromedia Records in 1971, where he worked with an eclectic roster that included Bobby Sherman, Merv Griffin, Peter Allen, Elephant’s Memory, and Holy Modal Rounders. Then came a stint as VP of marketing at Polydor, starting in 1972, where he worked with Slade, Chick Corea, Lily Tomlin and Roy Buchanan and a return to Motown, as VP of marketing, in 1973. His second stint there saw the career launches of Lionel Richie’s group the Commodores and T.G. Sheppard.
Noonan returned to Billboard as associate publisher in 1975, overseeing sales and marketing until 1982, when he moved back into the charts department. During that tenure he developed the Billboard Information Network and managed The Billboard 200—then called Top Pop Albums—until he retired in 1990.
Not ready to join the shuffleboard crowd just yet, he launched retail marketing company New Marketing in 1996, where clients included Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, George Michael and Bob Seger. In 1995 he launched trade magazine The Charts, which based its sales lists on one-stops’ reports. He also hung out a consultant shingle, taking on clients through this year.
His later years also saw Noonan preside over the Columbia/Epic Records Alumni Association, an enterprise in which he drew together former CBS Records employees through reunions in New York and Los Angeles and the publication of a newsletter.
Noonan is survived by sister Eileen Durning, daughters Kerry and Kristie and four grandchildren.
Visitation will be Friday, Nov. 3 from 4-8 p.m. at Callahan Mortuary, 1301 N. Western Ave. in Los Angeles. A funeral mass will be held the following day at 10 a.m., at nearby Our Mother of Good Counsel Church, 2060 N. Vermont.