In January 1989, Jerry suffered a severe heart attack while on the air and collapsed. He was rushed to an area hospital by station engineer Mike Byrnes. Lee Michael Demsey, whose own show had just ended, took over the program and calmly continued the broadcast. Jerry was given immediate heart surgery which shortly became a need for a complete heart transplant. Jerry’s recuperation took months but Jerry returned to the air and kept his health in control all through the 1990’s and into the new century, keeping his Saturday show but limiting the afternoon shows to Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, sharing the shifts with Ray Davis.
Jerry Gray with Ed Walker and Ray Davis
In the summer of 2001, the station dropped daytime bluegrass programming from the FM side and soon launched the BluegrassCountry.org web site. However with that change, Jerry decided to leave WAMU and retire, and he and his wife Kay, soon moved to Hardy, VA about 30 miles south of Roanoke.
Jerry had grown up in the Washington DC area attending school and listening to radio DJs such as Connie B. Gaye with his Town and Country Time program on WARL-AM. Gaye not only was plugged into the country music of the time, but was also instrumental in the careers of Patsy Cline and Jimmy Dean. Jerry listened and absorbed the music.
Jerry attended American University's School of Broadcasting and in the 1960's he started DJ jobs with local stations WFTR-AM in Front Royal, VA, WDON-AM in Wheaton, MD, WPIK-AM in Arlington, VA and finally WAMU-FM in 1971.
I came to WAMU in 1977 as a phone volunteer and worked up to traffic manager, working closely the program hosts as they pitch for contributions and memberships. I got to know Jerry and we kidded a lot while in the station working the fundraisers. After Les McIntyre and I started the overnight shows and then Bluegrass Overnight, Jerry would only see us when we were together so he started calling us Batman and Robin. He never explained if it was me or Les who was Batman.
Jerry was a self-taught musician and played the guitar. In high school he was in a band called Lonesome Road Ramblers. In later years he formed Morning Train and played occasionally at local spots like the Red Fox, in Maryland. Members of the band were a DC area who's-who with sidemen like Mike and Dave Auldridge, Carl and Rick Nelson, Bobby Spates, Eddie Stubbs, Jimmy Arnold, Dave Bowen, Fred Geiger, Rich Adams, just to name a few.
Jerry always liked the resonator guitar and finally got one of his own. In 2008, friend and fellow reso-guitarist, Russ Hooper visited Jerry on his 75th birthday and they did some picking and reminiscing. In the last few years Jerry's health declined, but he may go on record as one of the longest survivors of a heart transplant, living more than 20 years, a wonderful achievement.
From 1971 to 2001, Jerry Gray left an indelible mark on WAMU’s listening audience.
Sources: Russ Hooper, WAMU station history, Bluegrass Country.org, Katy Daley, Lettie Holman, Bluegrass Unlimited (April 1992). City Paper (July 2001, Dean), Eddie Stubbs, and Floral Funeral Service)
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