WSRW’s Willard Parr did his last remote broadcast Tuesday morning doing what he does best — talking behind the mic and helping a local advertiser sell his product, in this case encouraging listeners to stop at Jerry Haag Motors and buy a car.
“It’s been 62 years and I’m entering my 63rd,” the 92-year-old veteran broadcaster told The Time-Gazette. “I started July the 15th, 1956, announcing we were doing an equipment check at 2:15 in the morning.”
Parr was a sergeant with the Hillsboro Police department prior to becoming the familiar morning voice on the radio. He said his career in radio began with a minor grievance he presented to Hillsboro City Council in January of that year, representing the department as president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 83.
“There was this skinny guy at the hearing I had never seen before,” he said, “and he took me aside and said, ‘I want to hire you,’ and his name was Dave Winslow, and he told me he was building a radio station.”
Parr agreed to work part-time at what would come to be known as WSRW, named after Winslow’s daughter Serena Rose Winslow. The station owner made Parr the station manager, a position he held from 1956 until 1999 when Clear Channel, now I-Heart Radio, bought the AM/FM combo from Tom Archibald.
“We’ve been doing remotes with Willard since the mid to late 1980s,” said Steve Haag, the owner of the auto dealership. “We tallied it up one day and we’ve done close to 2,500 live remotes over the years.”
Even at 92 — Parr will celebrate his 93rd birthday on Nov. 25 — the mind is still sharp and the memories clear.
“My first commercial I ever sold was the Peebles Monument Company,” he recalled. “And the advertiser that’s been with me the longest is sitting across the table from me, and that’s Steve Haag.”
John Barney is the sales manager for I-Heart radio’s operations in Hillsboro, Chillicothe and Washington Court House, and has known and worked with Parr since coming to WSRW in 1995. After the broadcast, he praised his senior radio partner.
“He truly is one of the best people you’d ever want to meet,” Barney said. “Will is the epitome of this community and has been since July 15, 1956 when he first went on the air, and he even knows the first song that he played, which was ‘Wayward Wind’ by Gogi Grant.”
As a tribute, Barney said Parr was presented with the original program log from his first day on the air, framed.
Of all the people who have crossed Parr’s path in 62 years, one person in particular stands out.
“There was a young man who lived down on Deadfall Road that came up and kept bothering me for a job, and a couple of years later I hired him, and he turned out to be one of the best friends I’ve ever had,” Parr said. “In fact, he’s as close to me as if he were my own son.”
Herb Day does a Tuesday morning “Country Club” radio show on Batavia’s WOBO-FM, and had fond words for the man he considers both a friend and a mentor.
“I feel the same about him because we’ve become so close over the years,” Day said. “We have become a lot like father and son, so much so that I look at him like he’s my second dad.”
Day looked back on Parr’s career, remembering how much things have changed since that first broadcast in the summer of 1956, saying “I think at 93, you begin to slow down a bit, as well you should.”
“When we first went on the air, we had four turntables and two or three tape recorders,” Parr said. “Now, you’re looking at two computer screens and a mouse you have to chase around, but I’ll tell you, radio has been good to me.”
Parr said his retirement plans include selling his house in Hillsboro and relocating to Phenix City, Ala. to live with his oldest daughter.
Haag had some words of wisdom to give the veteran broadcaster on his last day.
“You can retire from work, but you don’t want to retire from life,” he said.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.