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."

The morning format at KSRO was music and narrative until the mid-1980s, when station managers switched the morning program to talk and news. Grady had no trouble filling air-time with stories, jokes, interviews and banter.

KSRO had been sold several times to large broadcast firms when he and the management had a falling out in 2004 on his 44th anniversary at the station. He departed KSRO, grudgingly.

"He was not at all happy with the way he was treated," Ross said.

Grady's gloom at being off the radio lifted the day he received a call from KZST, the locally owned station with the county's largest listenership.

"We made a place for him because he deserved better than that," said Brent Farris, KZST's long-popular morning guy. "He was the last of an era."

Grady savored the weekend morning shift and was sorry to step away from it last October, but his health was giving out.

Medical tests found he had cancer of the esophagus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and faulty heart valves. He went into a hospital about eight weeks ago.

Grady was under end-of-life-care at Friends House. Sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, he fell from bed and was taken by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he died at about 3:30 p.m.

"Why do the good guys have to go early?" lamented nearly lifelong friend Bob St. Clair, a former 49er great and Pro Football Hall of Famer.

"He was almost like a brother to me."

Ross said he was happy that Grady did not see his long run in radio come to an abrupt end when he departed KSRO.

"He wanted to end his career the way he did," Ross said. "He just ran out of time."

Grady, who delighted being identified by his alter ego, Shamus O'Grady, is survived by his wife of 53 years, Carol Grady of Santa Rosa; daughter Lynn Boustany of Cloverdale; sons Mark Grady of Nice and Mike Grady of Sacramento; and three grandchildren.

Mark Grady said the family will be looking for a place large enough to hold his dad's memorial service.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.