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Life on the Airwaves

Local Radio Personality Mentors Students Who Want to Follow in His Footsteps

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing

Shane Ray’s interest in music and radio was born not long after he was. At just five years old, his father took him on a tour of a friend’s radio station. After watching the DJ spin records, Ray was hooked. As a teenager, he volunteered at the public access channel and landed a job at a local AM community radio station.

“That was back in the days of records and tapes and doing things manually,” Ray says.

When he moved to Brownsburg in 2001, the only local station that was still located in the county was WKLU. When it moved to Indianapolis, people in the area missed the local flavor on the airwaves. In an effort to resurrect a radio presence in the community, he put together a low-powered AM/Internet oldies station and incorporated high school sports as well as community programming. He also included interviews with local officials and spotlighted local news.

Students from area high schools and colleges with hopes of pursuing a broadcasting career frequently asked Ray if he would give them some on-air time to hone their skills.

“Caught in a Catch-22, none of the big stations would give these kids an opportunity until they got some experience, but they couldn’t get any experience until somebody gave them an opportunity,” says Ray, who wanted to help aspiring DJs learn the ropes and mitigate their nerves.

Unfortunately, the AM station was largely automated, but he told them that he was waiting for a window of opportunity to open that would enable him to start a local FM station. In 2012, Congress passed the Community Radio Act. During the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) open application period, Ray (with the Hendricks County Educational Media Corporation) applied for an FM license. The only requirements by the FCC were that the station be nonprofit and low-powered FM.

Ray found his window, and the students were happy to feel the breeze. In October 2015, 98.9 WYRZ began operation, and in the last two years Ray has invited students from Brownsburg High School and Vincennes University to intern. Two of his former proteges have gone on to work at other stations. Although it’s bittersweet to see his students go, he’s thrilled for them to spread their wings and do what they love — just as he has done for the past 26 years. In that time, he’s witnessed the evolution of technology.

“I started out doing live announcing and playing records and reel-to-reel tapes,” says Ray, who vividly recalls the moment the first CD player was brought into the station. When the automated computer arrived, that was a true turning point.

When Ray describes the “olden days” to his apprentices, their eyes grow wide.

“You mean you actually had to sit here for hours, talking and playing records?” they ask, mystified.

“I give them not only an education on how to do things but also the history of radio,” says Ray, who for years held the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. “Though it’s nice to not have to sift through a room full of records or have someone on staff all the time, the other side of that is that you lose a lot of the personality.” Ray mentions the legends he grew up listening to — Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem.

“You won’t see people like that anymore,” Ray says. “They’re casualties of the changing technologies.”

Through the years, Ray has interviewed Charlie Daniels, Terry Sylvester of the Hollies, and Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis & the Playboys. These musicians all told Ray the same thing: “Wow. You really know the history of the records, the chart positions and the producers!”

That’s one thing Ray stresses to the students he mentors — to prepare for interviews by doing the research.

“Folks really respect when you’ve done your homework,” says Ray, who when he isn’t on air, mentoring students, or acting as audio engineer, is out selling radio spots and working on fundraisers to keep the station afloat. In the past, they’ve hosted golf outings and blue-jeans-and-bow-tie dances, but this fall the station is sponsoring Rockin’ Hendricks County, a unique fundraising opportunity that invites 10 nonprofits in and around Hendricks County to participate.

At the October 7 event, held from 6-10 p.m., there will be yard games, food trucks, a silent auction and a live band — the Mississippi Raglips. Representatives from each nonprofit will ride a mechanical bull. Riders include the sheriff’s wife, Kari Donald Clark; Indiana’s weatherman, Paul Poteet; State Senator John Crane; and president of the Hendricks County Food Pantry Coalition, Brandon Morphew. The rider who stays on the longest gets to keep all the proceeds from their ticket sales. The other nine nonprofits will split the proceeds 50/50 with WYRZ. In that way, the radio station benefits but so does everyone else.

“No one comes away a loser,” Ray says. “Every nonprofit gets to keep at least a portion of the money they raised. And that’s really nice — especially for small nonprofits that have a difficult time with fundraising.”

For instance, the Northwest Hendricks County Education Foundation told Ray that with a board of only six people, this event enables them to engage in a full-size fundraiser without having to do all the work.

Clark is pleased to not only support her organization, the Indiana Youth Sheriffs Ranch, but also WYRZ.

“[Even if I don’t stay on the bull the longest,] half [of my ticket sales] will go to the ranch and half will go to our wonderful local radio station WYRZ, which gives back so much to our community,” Clark says.

Ray is grateful to his wife, Teresa, for her unwavering support through the years. He also appreciates colleagues Brian Scott, Rob Kendall and others who help make the station great.

“My life is fun,” Ray says. “It’s like they say — if you enjoy your job, you never go to work.”

Scott agrees, noting that when people ask him what he does for a living, he responds, “I play on the radio.”

“I’ve always loved all aspects of radio,” Ray says. “It’s a blessing, and I thank God all the time that I’m able to do it and give back doing it.”

About Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning writer and columnist who writes human interest stories for national, regional, and local magazines. She is also the author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

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