The late, great Walter Brennan related in his 1962 musical release “Old Rivers:” “How old was I when I first seen Old Rivers? I can’t remember when he weren’t around.”
That’s how I feel about a man I’ve listened to on the radio from the time I was old enough to hear anything, until last Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, when Willard Parr wrapped up Highland Highlights, a public affairs program on Hillsboro’s own WSRW 101.5 FM and 1590 AM, along with Buckeye Country 105.5, WCHO in Washington Courthouse. As he offered his final farewell, he wrapped up 62 years of broadcasting history. A record that only a very few in our industry have ever achieved.
Like most of you, I too listened to Willard Parr on WSRW Radio every morning for the school closings. It was like coming to the holy mountain of school closures. If Will Parr said it should close, every school district within the sound of his voice would call back the buses that had already left the garages, simply because Will said they should close. In fact, I remember calling during request hours and would request that Willard would close Bright Local for the next day. Sometimes, he would smile on me and close it. I didn’t know it then, but just recently I learned that he didn’t have that power. Big let-down.
With great fondness I remember back when choices for entertainment in Highland County were few, and throngs of people would gather in uptown Hillsboro for a promotion that WSRW and the Hillsboro Retail Merchants organized called Bonus Bonanza. I don’t recall the exact premise of it, but prizes and shopping advantage were involved, and Mom and Dad would load us in the car and we went to town. Even then, the highlight of the evening was putting a face to the voices I heard every day on WSRW. When the Highland County Fair would roll around, I would run to the radio station’s block house booth for the same reason: To watch the faces and hear the voices over the airwaves as they broadcast the happenings at the fair.
I believe it was predetermined that I would spend a life in broadcasting, as my love for it, which was instilled largely by Willard, and WSRW gang, burned like a raging fire. In addition to Willard there were personalities like Tom Archibald (WSRW owner), Chet Irwin, Bud Storer, Leslie Ramsey, Jeff Martin, Jim Smith, Bob Holladay, Bob Hodson, Del Overstake (chief engineer and the keeper of Pierre, the weather forecasting wooly worm) and speaking of weather, local weather observer Tom Knott. There were many other voices to come, but these voices ignited my desire to do what they were doing.
As the years passed, I set out to make my dream a reality, and while this is not about me, I only bring this up to say, yes, Willard did throw me out of the radio station multiple times when I would drop by unannounced just to watch them do the radio thing. Finally, one day in 1975, Willard called me and invited me to visit. I did, he offered me a position, I accepted (of course), and that was the beginning of a 43-year friendship (so far) between Will and me.
It is said that if you love what you do for a living you’ll never work a day in your life. I have watched Willard over the years, through ups and downs, and I know he has loved every day of his career. Radio has been Willard’s identity around here for 62 years, and Will Parr has given radio its identity in Southern Ohio. He and Tom Archibald really had no prior experience, so the two of them — Tom as owner, and Willard as station manager, just blazed a trail that, at least in their infancy, other stations in this area followed and emulated.
I still remember that distinct bass voice crooning, “Something old, something new, perhaps a record just right for you! Will Parr mike-side. Time, temperature and tune. Until tomorrow morning at 6, take care, but don’t take any wooden nickels. Will Parr saying so-long on WSRW Hills-BORUGH, Ohio.” I sure miss hearing that.
In the not so distant future, we will celebrate Willard Parr’s career and retirement with a reception and ceremony, most likely at Southside Praise and Worship Center at 621 Southeast St. in Hillsboro. At that time, you will be invited to come wish our local radio legend well in his next chapter of life and share some fond memories. As soon as that date is set, I will have it for you here.
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. He can be heard Tuesday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon on 88.7 WOBO-FM, and can be reached at [email protected]