This remembrance of popular Washington, DC radio personality Jerry Gray is a contribution from Bill Foster with the DC Bluegrass Union.
His funeral service will be held on Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 at the Welcome Grove Baptist Church, 7368 Newland Road in Warsaw, Virginia, about a 2 hour drive from the Washington, DC area down Route 301. The church will open at 12:00 Noon when the family will receive friends. The internment will take place at a 1:00 PM service.
For 30 years Jerry Gray was a familiar voice on the Washington, DC area airwaves at American University’s station WAMU 88.5 FM. He was known for his warm delivery, sense of humor, and knowledge and taste in music.
Jerry came to WAMU in 1971 to produce and host The Jerry Gray Show which featured classic Country, Country-Western, Cowboy songs and Western swing. Jerry’s show soon became a popular program on the station’s schedule.
Around 1978, the Bluegrass Country program was started on weekday afternoons with Jerry hosting many of the shows.
In January 1989, Jerry suffered a severe heart attack while on the air and collapsed. He was rushed to an area hospital by station engineer Mike Byrnes. Lee Michael Demsey, whose own show had just ended, took over the program and calmly continued the broadcast. Jerry underwent emergency heart surgery, and it soon became clear that he would need a complete heart transplant. Jerry’s recuperation took months but Jerry returned to the air and kept his health in control all through the 1990’s and into the new century, keeping his Saturday show but limiting the afternoon shows to Tuesdays and Thursdays, sharing the shifts with Ray Davis.
In the summer of 2001, the station dropped daytime bluegrass programming from the FM side and soon launched the BluegrassCountry.org web site. However with that change, Jerry decided to leave WAMU and retire, and he and his wife Kay, soon moved to Hardy, VA about 30 miles south of Roanoke.
Jerry had grown up in the Washington, DC area attending school and listening to radio DJs such as Connie B. Gaye with his Town and Country Time program on WARL-AM. Gaye not only was plugged into the country music of the time, but was also instrumental in the careers of Patsy Cline and Jimmy Dean. Jerry listened and absorbed the music.
Jerry attended American University’s School of Broadcasting, and in the 1960’s he started DJ jobs with local stations WFTR-AM in Front Royal, VA, WDON-AM in Wheaton, MD, WPIK-AM in Arlington, VA and finally WAMU-FM in 1971.
I came to WAMU in 1977 as a phone volunteer and worked up to traffic manager, working closely with the program hosts as they pitched for contributions and memberships. I got to know Jerry and we kidded a lot while in the station working the fundraisers. After Les McIntyre and I started the overnight shows and then Bluegrass Overnight, Jerry would only see us when we were together so he started calling us Batman and Robin. He never explained if it was me or Les who was Batman.
Jerry was a self-taught musician and played the guitar. In high school he was in a band called Lonesome Road Ramblers. In later years he formed Morning Train and played occasionally at local spots like the Red Fox, in Maryland.
Members of the band were a DC area who’s-who with sidemen like Mike and Dave Auldridge, Carl and Rick Nelson, Bobby Spates, Eddie Stubbs, Jimmy Arnold, Dave Bowen, Fred Geiger, Rich Adams, just to name a few.
Jerry always liked the resonator guitar and finally got one of his own. In 2008, friend and fellow reso-guitarist, Russ Hooper visited Jerry on his 75th birthday and they did some picking and reminiscing. In the last few years Jerry’s health declined, but he may go on record as one of the longest survivors of a heart transplant, living more than 20 years, a wonderful achievement.
From 1971 to 2001, Jerry Gray left an indelible mark on WAMU’s listening audience.
Sources: Russ Hooper, WAMU station history, Bluegrass Country.org, Katy Daley, Lettie Holman, Bluegrass Unlimited (April 1992). City Paper (July 2001, Dean), Eddie Stubbs, and Floral Funeral Service).