The Voice of Richmond County says ‘Goodbye’

Dawn M. Kurry Richmond County Daily Journal

September 21, 2013

A familiar voice has signed off the Richmond County airwaves.

Jimmy Ray Smith of WAYN radio in Rockingham has retired from his long career as a radio announcer.

“I retired at the end of work day today after 62 years,” he said. “I was 16, a student at Rockingham High School, in the 11th grade and the station announced plans to hire a high school student to do the afternoon show.”

That’s how it all began. Smith was one of five boys that tried out for the position, and he got the job.

“I wanted to be a broadcaster, I knew that, from the time I was very young,” he said. “I had no idea I would stay there for that long but I knew I would stay in broadcasting. It just kind of opened up for me to stay in my hometown. Some people called today and said they did not remember when I was not there. I know I give away birthday cakes in the morning and I’ve given them to a grandmother, mother, and child. It’s been great, I have enjoyed doing it. I did the morning show all these years.”

If you woke up to the sound of Smith’s voice, you can imagine he was halfway through his workday by then.

“I’m up at 4 a.m., after breakfast and getting ready, then it takes me about 45 minutes to get ready, sign on, do a 4-hour show, with lots of local information and local sports,” said Smith, still not used to the idea of having retired. “We have a network there that brings national news. We play music, give the time and kid around with people. We have some comedy stuff you can drop in here and there. That’s pretty much how it went. Got off at 1 o’clock. After I finish the live show, then of course we have a period where we record commercials and news magazine which has to be put together and that took about two hours, and that runs from 12-1. Which is pretty nice to get off that early. I used to not get off that early.”

The man who brought you the morning news is of course a local Rockingham man, now in his late 70s.

“I have lived in Rockingham all my life, I was born in East Rockingham and my parents worked in the textile mill. I went to Rohanen Middle School until 8th grade then Rockingham High School. I didn’t go to college because I got the job. About the time I graduated, our full-time announcer went back into service for the Korean War and I got his job. I’ve done the master of ceremony at events, beauty pageants and shows, sports. Other than that, I have been pretty much a homebody. I love the beach and I’ll be able to do a lot more of that now.”

Smith said he has slowed down and will be relaxing in his retirement, right here at home.

“I’m going to tinker around the house,” he said. “I’m 78 years old so I’m not going to be climbing mountains. I’ve decided to just call it quits and I told (the radio station) about a month ago, and they were all right with that. My replacement has been with us three to four years, has substituted for me when I was away or sick, and is very familiar with the morning format. She will be very different but will be very good, but probably will not tell jokes like I did.”

Smith said his replacement is Kelly Gribbens, in her 30s, and in addition to doing announcer work, she’s a whiz with the computer.

“It’s just like family at the station and I had lots of mixed emotions,” he said. “I had the mayor and Senator Gene McLaurin come out.”

Emily Tucker, on behalf of the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, said, “Jimmy has meant a lot to this community, and our citizens for years have awoken to his voice. While we are saddened to hear about his retirement because we will miss the Voice of Richmond County, we are excited for him and wish him many adventures in his retirement. The Chamber has shared a Monday morning chat with Jimmy for many, many years and was proud to honor him as the 1996 Citizen of the year. We congratulate him on his retirement and thank him for his 60 plus years in radio.”

According to the City of Rockingham, he celebrated his 50th Anniversary with WAYN in 2001 and is being honored again some 12 years later as he retires; and he has always been a part of local community functions from broadcasting the annual Civitan’s breakfast fundraiser, to working with the local Jerry Lewis Telethon drive, to being the Grand Marshal of the Richmond County Christmas Parade just to name a few; and he is well-known as the “voice of the Sandhills” and is, in fact, somewhat of an “institution” in Rockingham-Richmond County; and, he loves his community and has a genuine concern for the well-being of our citizens and is always lending a helping hand or giving a word of encouragement.

In a proclamation by the City of Rockingham, Mayor Steve Morris said, “We extend congratulations to our special friend as he signs off the broadcast waves. We will always smile and remember his trailer… ‘this is Jimmy Smith reporting for WAYN Radio 900 on your am dial’ and wish for him many days of happiness and relaxation and promise not to ring ‘the cow bell’ while he snoozes.”

Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry’s last day was Friday. This is one of her last stories for the Daily Journal.