Quick-witted radio broadcaster Jim Grady, for more than 50 years the voice of Sonoma County and one of its happiest advocates, died Wednesday at the age of 77.
Grady first eased behind a microphone at KSRO-1350AM on April 1, 1960. For the past eight years, he told stories and let listeners hype their garage sales every Saturday and Sunday morning on KZST-100.1FM.
In his heyday, Grady's newsy, folksy morning show started the day for much of the population of a county he had loved since the early 1940s, when he began to visit the Russian River from his home in San Francisco.
"I grew up on that river," he said in a 2010 interview with The Press Democrat.
Grady studied at Los Angeles' Don Martin School of Radio and Television and in 1959, the same year he married his wife, Carol, found a radio job in Seattle.
He loved the work but hated the soggy weather. So he moved south to more familiar, temperate territory and sought a job from Frank McLauren, then station manager at KSRO.
McLauren hired him for an afternoon shift. A couple of years later, morning anchor Ken Minyard moved to Los Angeles and left behind an opportunity for Grady to move up.
For decades, he anchored the morning show, spent much of the rest of the day traveling the county and selling airtime to advertisers, and at night broadcast local high-school and Santa Rosa Junior College games with longtime on-air partner Merle Ross.
"We did football and basketball," Ross said Wednesday. "Usually, he'd do the play-by-play and I'd do the color.
"We'd do seven or eight basketball games a week. Sometimes a night game on Friday, a day game Saturday and then a game that night."
For three decades, Grady and Ross were a mainstay of Sonoma County radio.
"We never worked off a script," Ross said. "We worked together so long we knew what each other was going to say.
"He had such a great sense of humor, and had the ability to ad-lib. I was the straight man and tried to keep him on an even keel."