The man behind the mic


Longtime local radio personality Willard Parr passes at 94

By Tim Colliver - tcolliver@aimmediamidwest.com



A young Willard Parr is pictured on the air in 1965, spinning the hits at WSRW Radio. Parr died Monday at the age of 94.

A young Willard Parr is pictured on the air in 1965, spinning the hits at WSRW Radio. Parr died Monday at the age of 94.


Submitted photo

The Highland County commissioners congratulate Willard Parr at his retirement party in 2018. Shown, from left, are commissioners Gary Abernathy and Jeff Duncan, Parr, and commissioner Terry Britton.


Submitted photo

According to fellow broadcaster and close friend Herb Day, Willard Parr made his final entry into life’s program log at 8:34 p.m. Monday at Highland District Hospital in Hillsboro.

From July 15, 1956 until his last radio remote broadcast on Tuesday morning, Oct. 23, 2018, the deep, booming voice of the local broadcasting icon was a familiar sound on radios in Southern Ohio.

Of all the people who crossed Parr’s path in his 62-year career, he said during that Tuesday morning remote broadcast at Jerry Haag Motors in Hillsboro that one person in particular stood 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, president and general manager of the multi-media internet radio station Herb Day Radio.com, had fond words for the man he considered both a friend and a mentor.

“We had gotten so close over the years,” he said. “We had become a lot like father and son, so much so that I looked at him like he was my second dad.”

On the occasion of his death, Day reflected on the man he knew on and off the air for many years, and spoke fondly of an incident when he was snowbound at WSRW during the blizzard of 1978.

“I was living on East Deadfall Road and that was socked in with 18-foot snowdrifts,” he remembered. “So during the blizzard I slept on a cot behind the transmitters and wasn’t making much money back then, and every meal I ate had to come from a restaurant and that can add up after a while.”

He said that at that point “things were getting tight moneywise” for him, and that after Parr arrived at the station to go on the air at 6 a.m., he got up and drove into town for breakfast.

“I was on my way to get something to eat, and I knew I was about out of money,” he said, “and when I opened my wallet there was a $100 bill inside — there was nobody else around so I knew it had to have come from him, but he never admitted it — he was such a good friend.”

There weren’t many women in radio at that time, but Leslie Ramsey said she worked with Parr for more than three decades, joining the staff of WSRW on March 1, 1967.

“Folks simply started the day with him, with the local sheriff, police and fire department reports a must,” she recalled. “He was literally with Tom Archibald from the very beginning, doing everything he was asked to do, including digging a trench to alleviate rain water coming in the transmitter room in the back door.”

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 was birthed in a minor grievance he presented to Hillsboro City Council in January 1956, 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. He became the station manager, a position he held from 1956 until 1999 when Clear Channel — now I-Heart Radio — bought the AM/FM combo from Archibald.

“My first commercial I ever sold was to the Peebles Monument Company,” Parr said, and he could still remember the very first record he played on the air, “The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant.

Ramsey said Parr told her one time he sold those first radio commercials, or “spots” as they’re known in the business, for all of $1 each.

John Barney is the sales manager for I-Heart radio’s operations in Hillsboro, Chillicothe and Washington C.H., and had known and worked with Parr since coming to WSRW in 1995.

“When I started he basically took me under his wing like he’d done with a lot of people,” Barney said. “He showed me the ropes and let me succeed and fail so that I could learn, and when I’d fail he show me the right way to do it, and he kept doing that until he retired in 2018.”

As a gift to commemorate his last remote broadcast on that October morning in 2018, Barney said Parr was presented with the original program log from his first day on the air, framed for posterity.

“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 was 94 years old, having celebrated his birthday on Nov. 25, 2019.

Funeral services were incomplete at press time.

Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.

A young Willard Parr is pictured on the air in 1965, spinning the hits at WSRW Radio. Parr died Monday at the age of 94.
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2020/05/web1_Parr-on-the-air-1965.jpgA young Willard Parr is pictured on the air in 1965, spinning the hits at WSRW Radio. Parr died Monday at the age of 94. Submitted photo

The Highland County commissioners congratulate Willard Parr at his retirement party in 2018. Shown, from left, are commissioners Gary Abernathy and Jeff Duncan, Parr, and commissioner Terry Britton.
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2020/05/web1_Commissioners-Gary-Abernathy-Jeff-Duncan-Will-Parr-Terry-Britton.jpgThe Highland County commissioners congratulate Willard Parr at his retirement party in 2018. Shown, from left, are commissioners Gary Abernathy and Jeff Duncan, Parr, and commissioner Terry Britton. Submitted photo
Longtime local radio personality Willard Parr passes at 94

By Tim Colliver

tcolliver@aimmediamidwest.com