Sonoma County's Jim Grady: The legend behind the microphone
Published: Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 3:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 3:03 p.m.
A half century after arriving in Santa Rosa, Jim Grady is still working in early-morning radio, a distinction unmatched in the Bay Area and maybe anywhere. And all these years into it he's still Grady: Quick-witted, corny, affable, small-town, self-effacing.
Much has changed in Sonoma County since April 1, 1960, the day he hired on as the morning guy on KSRO 1350 AM, the county's first radio station.
Even Grady himself, while remaining on air the entire time, hasn't stayed static.
On his 44th anniversary at KSRO in 2004, he and the station had a falling out and he switched to KZST 100.1 FM, the region's most popular station.
Now, from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, he lets locals phone in to promote garage sales and soccer-team feeds. He carries on about Sonoma County and its denizens, past and present, with affection and familiarity that dates back not just 50 years, but almost 70.
World War II wasn't yet a year old and he was just 6 when he began exploring the Russian River on frequent visits to his aunt and uncle's place in Duncans Mills.
“I grew up on that river,” said Grady.
He identifies himself often as his alter ego, Shamus O'Grady, and lists his age as “74, going on 20.”
As a kid he lived with his divorced mother in San Francisco and rode Greyhound buses north to be with relatives Jo and Bob Phillipson, who back in the 1940s ran the Mayor's Inn in the structure that's now Duncans Mills' landmark Blue Heron restaurant.
“The (current) kitchen was my bedroom,” he noted.
He graduated from St. Ignacious High in San Francisco in 1953. He served stateside with the Navy Air Corps, then used the GI Bill to enroll at San Francisco City College.
A key moment in his life came at City College while pondering what four-unit course to take to round out his class schedule.
He remembers spotting an instructor and two students talking into a microphone beneath an illuminated sign reading, “On the air.” One of the students was Carter B. Smith, destined to become one of San Francisco's best-loved radio personalities.
Grady learned from instructor Henry Leff that he could earn four units from a course in radio and TV engineering and operations. The class sounded easier than it turned out to be.
But Grady, born with the gift of gab, had found his calling. Upon completing his two years at City College, Leff encouraged him to go to Los Angeles and study at the Don Martin School of Radio and Television.
In L.A., Grady learned the fine points of broadcasting with classmates who included Bob Eubanks, future host of “The Newlywed Show.” Grady was still a student when his first professional opportunity came. He and Eubanks and a few other Don Martin students were hired to open a radio station in Oxnard.
Grady was a newlywed when, in 1959, he and his bride, Carol, migrated north for a new opportunity at a Seattle station. He loved the work but detested the soggy weather nearly as much as his wife did.
He was 24 and had loved Sonoma County most of his life when he asked Frank McLauren, the station manager at KSRO, for a job. McLauren hired him to anchor the morning music, news, contests and community goings-on program, then hit the street to sell commercials.
Grady and KSRO's polished pioneer newsman and program director, Merle Ross, soon morphed into a naturally balanced on-air team. The crisply professional Ross reported the news and gregarious Grady bounced ad-libs off of it.
The now retired Ross recalled, “We got to a point that we worked so much together that we knew what the other was going to say.
“It was like a marriage,” Ross said. “We were seeing each other more than our wives when we were covering football games and basketball games.”
Some of the former on-air partners' favorite memories are of the high school and Santa Rosa Junior College night games they broadcast from home and the road — Eureka, Weed, Marysville, Shasta, Bakersfield — for almost 30 years.
After so many decades of long days — rising in time to flip on the microphone at 5 a.m., then calling on advertisers, then announcing the play-by-play at weekend games — Grady is now perfectly content with his weekend morning gigs on KZST.
“I could not do a daily show anymore, nor would I want to,” he said. If the work continues to be fun, the old pro said, he expects to talk on the air for as long as he keeps on breathing it.
You can reach Staff Columnist Chris Smith at 521-5211 or email@example.com.
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