A Life: Ray Reed, 1948-2017; ‘He Liked Getting Others to Talk’

  • Marge Bussone of Windsor, Vt., congratulates longtime Upper Valley radio host Ray Reed at a celebration of Ray Reed Day at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Dec. 9, 1992. Reed hosted a popular AM radio show for nearly 20 years before his job was eliminated due to cost-cutting technology. (Valley News - Robert Pope) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Longtime Upper Valley radio host Ray Reed is honored as part of Ray Reed Day at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Dec. 9, 1992. Reed hosted a popular AM radio show for nearly 20 years before his job was eliminated due to cost-cutting technology. (Valley News - Robert Pope) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ray Reed on his baby blue Vespa scooter in 1965, which he often tied a radio on the back of. Reed, who grew up in Plainfield, N.H., brought the scooter with him to broadcasting school in Boston. (Courtesy Beverly Widger)

  • Former radio host Ray Reed speaks with a group at Valley Terrace in Hartford, Vt., in an undated photograph. After his radio career ended, Reed visited with seniors weekly at assisted living facilities across the Upper Valley. (Courtesy Valley Terrace)

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2017

The bright good-morning voice

Who’s heard but never seen

Feeling all of forty-five

Going on fifteen

Harry Chapin,

— from W.O.L.D.

West Lebanon — Around the age at which his voice broke out of adolescence, Ray Reed started repurposing those cardboard cylinders from rolls of paper towel and toilet paper.

“He was one of the few people who knew what he wanted to do forever,” Linda Reed Taylor recalled earlier this month, during a memorial service for her brother at the West Lebanon Congregational Church. “He would use (that day’s cardboard insert) as a microphone and throw it into the face of whoever happened to be around and asked ridiculous questions.”

Enlisting Linda, their sisters Wendy and Robin and their brother David to help him sharpen his interviewing skills in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Plainfield, Ray Reed began to hone what would evolve into “The Voice of the Valley” — the resonant baritone with which he would soothe, inform and tickle so many Upper Valley listeners of several area radio stations between the early 1970s and the dawn of the 21st century.

“When Ray was doing his thing, before our lives changed so much, there was AM radio,” Orford resident Bruce Lyndes, who worked with Reed at WNHV and WKXE in the late 1980s and went on to anchor the evening news at WNNE-TV Channel 31, said after the memorial service. “People would get up in the morning and turn on their radio, and Ray was there. He was in good humor; he was a trusted friend of thousands of people, many of whom had never met him but felt like they knew him.”

While Tom Hoyt knew of Reed’s following and reputation during a stint as weatherman at WNNE, he only got to know Reed during the mid-to-late 1990s, when Hoyt did news, weather and sports breaks for WHDQ-FM during the syndicated Imus in the Morning show, in a studio adjoining Reed’s at WKXE-FM, Lite 95.3.

“Sometimes I’d walk across the hall during his show, and Ray and I just talked about stuff about the Upper Valley,” Hoyt, who now oversees public relations and social media for Mascoma Savings Bank, said last week. “Things like, ‘When they did the interstate, why did they put this exit here?’ I’m tossing up the softballs, knowing Ray’s audience, he talks about the downtown Lebanon fire of 1964 or whatever … that’s gold on the radio. It was great to be able to sit there and have that conversation. Not only did the people who lived through it get to remember it, but I got to learn about it.”

Even after the area’s commercial-radio market moved away from its longstanding emphasis on local news and storytelling and toward canned and syndicated material, compelling Reed to take a day job outside of broadcasting, he found another audience: For 17 years, until about three weeks before he died of cancer on May 31, he spent an hour a week each at the assisted-living complexes Valley Terrace in Hartford, Wheelock Terrace in Lebanon and Woodstock Terrace, leading residents in discussions about current events.

“He’d been doing it a couple of years before I got there 15 years ago,” Valley Terrace activities director Bobbi Tremblay recalled last week. “I’d grown up in the Upper Valley, but moved away, so I never heard him on the radio. But as soon as I saw him and heard him with the residents, I said, ‘We’ll keep him. We’re going to keep him. He’s awesome.’

“He was wonderful.”

After earning a degree from the Leland Powers School of Radio, Theater and Television in Boston in the late 1960s, Reed worked briefly for WTSL in Lebanon, then served a two-year stint in the Marine Corps before marrying high school sweetheart Nan Van Hoesen in 1970 and returning to the Upper Valley for good. Eventually, he moved to WNHV-AM, where he hosted a morning show from the mid-1970s until 1993.

In addition to reporting news from near and far, he announced, among other things, school-lunch menus and dates and times of PTA meetings. He also broadcast live from many community events, and read from what he described to the Valley News, in 1993, as a voluminous notebook full of names of listeners whose life milestones he read over the air.

“If I find out your birthday, I’ll jot it down,” he told a Valley News reporter, “and when it’s your birthday, I’ll wish you a happy birthday. … You many not be listening, but somebody else is … and she’ll wish you a happy birthday, and it makes you smile. … Also, people like to hear their names on the radio. It’s a little recognition in this world.”

Along with his radio time, Reed also lent his voice to emcee-ing charity benefits, announcing play-by-play at the polo matches in Quechee, and serving as grand marshal of the alumni parade in his adopted hometown of West Lebanon.

And he always found time for the town where he grew up.

“Several times I asked Ray to help me as master of ceremonies at Plainfield Historical Society and (Maxfield) Parrish stage-set events or programs,” Beverly Widger, senior vice president of human resources at Mascoma Savings Bank, said last week. “He always said he was the interviewer not the interviewee. He liked getting others to talk. If Ray knew you and you were at an event, that microphone would sneak up on you and he would ask a question that was relevant to you personally. He was always thinking of ways to get people to open up.”

The recognition that Reed built both on and off the air couldn’t save him from a layoff from WNHV in the fall of 1993, due to the kind of cost-cutting technology that was starting to change the industry. The move inspired dozens of listeners to write letters of protest to the station.

While he did land on his feet back at WTSL as host of the talk show Your Turn, neither that once-a-week gig nor the subsequent stint at Lite 95.3 could keep up with the bills of a family with two growing daughters, even while Nan worked as a dental hygienist.

Reed made ends meet by working in customer service at Signal Aviation (now Granite Air) at Lebanon Airport.

“He got the rug pulled out from under him, but he soldiered on,” said Lyndes, who now does communications for the Senior Solutions social-service agency in Windsor County. “He had all these connections that ended up serving him well.

“The guy was everybody’s friend.”

Which isn’t to say that everybody agreed with him.

“When he came to us for his Thursday gig, some of the residents who were pretty conservative — people in their 80s, 90s, coming up on 100 — were very set in their ways, very, very opinionated, while he was trying very hard not to be, which was hard after the last election,” Bobbi Tremblay of Valley Terrace recalled. “Some of them could throw political stuff at him, but he had a way of taking things not so personally.

“I think I saw Ray upset (with a resident) once in 15 years.”

By now a grandfather of five, Reed kept returning to Valley Terrace, Wheelock Terrace and Woodstock Terrace — often bearing refreshments from Nan — for more, even while undergoing often-grueling treatment at Norris Cotton Cancer Center over the last year of his life.

“I think we were the last one he came to,” Tremblay said. “He hung on. He was a fighter. Sometimes we talked beforehand about what he was going through, and he was sad. It was very hard for him. During the discussion group, he would sit instead of stand, but still, he would talk about the news and what was happening nationally and internationally.”

In his memory, the residents still get together every Thursday between 10 and 11 a.m.

“We always bring Ray’s name up, because we don’t want to him to be a forgotten part of the family. There’s a huge, empty void on Thursday mornings.

“It’s still not real that he’s not coming.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.