Lange began his radio broadcasting career in the Twin Cities after winning an audition as a teenager. He graduated from St. Thomas Academy high school, going on to the University of Minnesota on a scholarship from the Evans Scholars Foundation. After graduating from the University of Minnesota and serving in the Marines, Lange moved to San Francisco. After making his Bay Area broadcast debut as “The All-Night Mayor” on KGO, he moved to afternoons on KSFO in 1960. Lange’s network television career began in San Francisco with The Ford Show in 1962, where he was the announcer for and sidekick to host Tennessee Ernie Ford. Three years later he would sign on to host The Dating Game. While still on-air at KSFO, he commuted to Los Angeles to tape the TV program.
His other game shows included $100,000 Name That Tune, The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime, Hollywood Connection, Bullseye and the ABC version of The New Newlywed Game, as well as short-lived shows including, Spin-Off, Triple Threat and Give-n-Take. Lange also appeared as himself on Bewitched, Laverne & Shirley, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose and Moesha. He appeared as a celebrity player on Scrabble during their 1988 “Game Show Host Week”, and on Hollywood Squares for their “Game Show Week” in December 2002. Lange was introduced to Los Angeles local audiences on KMPC in 1970, in order to limit his commute while taping The Dating Game. He returned to Gene Autry/Golden West-owned KSFO by 1971 and remained there until the station was sold in 1983. He then returned to KMPC, where he did mornings and afternoons (at different times) until the end of the decade.
In the early 1990s, Lange returned to full-time radio in the Bay Area. During that period he initially worked afternoons on 610/KFRC. He eventually accepted an offer to broadcast weekday mornings on “Magic 61”, by then owned by real estate magnate Peter Bedford (Bedford Broadcasting). Magic 61 was formatted as “American pop standards” (Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Harry Connick, Jr., Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, et al.). During this period Lange also hosted promotional events for Magic 61, including Big Band Dances and a resurrection of his popular “Leo Birthday Party”, which he’d initiated on KSFO years before. The “Lange Gang” show on Magic 61 was produced by Steve “Dino” Donikian, whose background cackling laugh punctuated Lange’s jokes, jibes and ad-libs. They would work together for much of the next decade.
After the sale of KFRC AM and FM (99.7) FM (the new owners decided to simulcast the FM “oldies” format on 610 AM), Jim and the show decamped for a run on KKSJ, San Jose. In 1997, Lange became morning host of The Lange Gang on KABL in San Francisco. Lange retired in 2005 after KABL went off the air. Lange appeared as himself in the critically acclaimed 2002 film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. In later years, he lived in Marin County, California, with his wife, Michigan native Nancy Fleming, former Miss America 1961, whom he married in 1978. Lange died of a heart attack at their home in Mill Valley, California on February 25, 2014. Lange is survived by his wife Nancy, three children (all from his first marriage), two stepchildren (from Nancy’s first marriage), and four grandchildren. He was 81.
- August, 15, 1932
- Saint Paul, Minnesota
- February, 25, 2014
- Mill Valley, California