PORTSMOUTH — Simply put, and to be frank, if you hailed from Scioto County and didn’t hear Roger Gray’s voice at least once, you were either living without a radio OR — even quite possibly AND — under a rock.
That’s because Gray, for almost four entire decades, spent his life behind the microphone for WNXT Radio — whether it was broadcasting sporting events, reporting the news, or co-hosting the station’s morning Get Up and Go Show with Steve Hayes.
Indeed, Gray was immersed in WNXT —from early mornings to all afternoons to long nights.
He is undoubtedly most recognized for his sports broadcasting work with the station(s) —which now include WNXT Mix 99.3, Classic Rock 107.5 FM The Breeze, and 1260 AM and 95.7 FM FOX Sports Portsmouth.
But now, citing his obituary, after “broadcasting more live sporting events than anyone in the history of Portsmouth radio” and having “spent more consecutive years at one station than anyone else”, Gray’s penchant for sports story-telling will live on through the voices and words of others.
Gray passed away on Tuesday at SOMC Hospice, as among his survivors are his wife of 55 years Linda Hinze Gray and his daughter Vonda Rogers.
He was 76 years of age.
When word of Gray’s passing reached the social media outlets on Tuesday, a tidal wave of tributes poured in from fellow colleagues — along with former co-workers, student-athletes, coaches and lifelong listeners.
He received the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Southeast District Media Service Award in 2006, and was six times selected by The Portsmouth Daily Times as the Ohio River Valley’s “number-one radio personality”.
“Roger was a great guy. When I think of him, I think of his smile. It was a warm kind of gesture that made you feel welcome in a room, when you may have felt intimidated otherwise,” said Shawnee State University Sports Information Director and former Portsmouth Daily Times sports reporter Kevin Colley. “With my parents graduating from Scioto County high schools and me graduating from Shawnee State, I appreciated Roger because he cared about the traditions of each institution in the county and it would come out in his broadcasting. Roger has inspired generations of young men and women at WNXT and in turn they have inspired others. His legacy will not be forgotten and the torch will be carried on because of the gifts he provided us.”
“Roger was a good man, and was such an honest, loyal and reliable person,” said WNXT broadcaster and Sports Director Chuck Greenslate. “High school sports on the radio in Scioto County would not be what they are today without him. He was good at calling games, but his behind-the-scenes work with sponsors and advertisers and to deliver what he sold and get games on the radio and keep games on the radio as we know them today, that’s the thing most people won’t ever think about but really was one of Roger’s best traits.”
Gray graduated from Portsmouth West High School in 1962 and attended Ohio University Portsmouth — but before the broadcasting and business aspects of his radio career, he first dabbled in shoe sales.
He worked at Martings for Taggart Shoes and Wohl Shoe until 1983, as his actual radio career at WNXT started in 1979 with part-time broadcasting of sports and special events.
He turned full-time in 1984, was hired as Sports Director two years later, and spent 38 total years at WNXT before retiring three years ago.
For Greenslate, much of Gray’s best work was actually on the business side.
“As an employee of a business, you have a responsibility to try to the best of your ability to make that company a profit. He understood dollars and cents better than anyone. He was able to justify to management in the 1980s and into the 1990s that broadcasting both football and boys basketball in a smaller area like ours was profitable,” said Greenslate. “A lot of time and a lot of work went into what he did away from the mic to prove to people it was worth the income. He was able to cultivate a lot of relationships with sponsors and advertisers and get them on the radio through games.”
Gray hired Greenslate in 1998 on a part-time basis, as he was hired full-time in 2010.
“He laid the groundwork. I know I forever owe him a deep debt of gratitude because he was the one who hired me. I keep going back to the fact that he was honest, loyal and reliable,” said Greenslate. “He handled the payroll and you never had to worry or ever feel you had to question something. Whether it was the sound engineers or the play-by-play guys or the color analysts or whether you worked 15 minutes or five hours. He made sure you got the right amount that was coming to you.”
But business, basically, was the public after-thought.
Listeners associated Gray first and foremost for his game coverage, and he definitely didn’t disappoint.
Highly-respected by colleagues, he was an instructor to many, a helping hand to others, and an institution in all of Scioto County — and most of southeast Ohio.
“Roger was always great to work with. Whether I was with another radio station or during my time as SID (Sports Information Director) at (University of) Rio Grande and finally when I came to work at WNXT,” said WNXT broadcaster Mark Williams. “I think my colleague Chuck Greenslate said it best when he said ‘it took two of us to replace him.’ Roger will be missed, but never forgotten.”
“Roger was a mentor to me, on and off the mic. He made me want to get into radio,” said WNXT broadcaster Christian Downey. “I rode with him to many ballgames. He told me to put the kids and the game first and yourself last. He was a class act. I learned so much from him. He taught me how to be a professional and call games.”
Professional, and helpful, were two words commonly used to describe Gray.
“In the almost 40 years that I knew Roger, I found him to be a professional that didn’t forget what it also meant to be a great guy with the people that worked with him and around him. He was always very helpful to other broadcasters needing information as well as technical help,” said Mike Smith, News and Sports Director and longtime play-by-play voice for WKKJ Radio in Chillicothe. “I recall doing a regional baseball tournament in 1982 at Branch Rickey Park (in Portsmouth), where Roger made it possible for us to marti our signal to the WNXT radio, who relayed it back to Chillicothe. Just one of the many, many times he lent us a hand.”
Not only lending a hand, but also an ear — via sharing the mic.
“He was respected by his colleagues. He was determined to handle a task, even when you could tell there were some signs he was struggling physically and/or mentally. He was open and willing to talk whenever I was around. I wish that I tried to make myself more available as a guest or some other type of contributor,” said former Portsmouth Daily Times sports reporter Cody Leist. “Even when I left the PDT (for Maysville Ledger-Independent), he grabbed me to do a halftime interview during the Valley-Fleming County (Ky) football game in 2014, which he didn’t need to do as any favor to me. He probably had to do it because he needed to fill time, and I was thankful that he asked. I am thankful he allowed me to do a guest color spot during Wheelersburg’s 2013 state title run in baseball. My major in college was Radio/Television/Film as my minor was in Journalism. I cherished every moment I could get behind the mic (and still do), so walking across the parking lot at Huntington Park prior to the Ursuline game, he asked if I could step in to help out. (Former PDT editor) Bob (Strickley) gave me the green light, and I jumped at the chance. I still have the copy of the game broadcast. He was consistent to credit me and PDT whenever I was sitting next to him, feeding scores whenever they became available.”
Wheelersburg’s back-to-back baseball state championships in 2012 and 2013, along with Wheelersburg’s first football state title in 1989 and South Webster’s boys basketball state crown in 2006, were just four of the most noteworthy moments of Gray’s game-calling career.
But his biggest thrill, he said, was as the radio voice for the Shawnee State women’s basketball program — and calling the club’s 1999 National Championship.
“To see some of the ‘99 National Championship team members, such as Brandi Baker-Damron and Brandy Lightle, comment on his greatness and talk about how much he was a part of the team, said it all to me,” said Colley. “The best team in school history with a Hall of Fame coaching staff, and they’re saying those kinds of words about Roger? That was his greatness shining through. I’d say it was a piece of inspiration that helped lead them to the ‘99 title.”
Gray also held another sports title: coach.
He guided the Notre Dame softball program for six seasons, the volleyball program for three and the girls basketball program for two — leading the Lady Titans twice to the softball regional tournament.
He also coached softball at Portsmouth High School for two years.
However, it’s his life and work with WNXT — and that familiar Friday night sports voice — that all of those with a radio will always recall.
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of, and will take place at, the Roger W. Davis Funeral Home in West Portsmouth — as interment is set to take place in Scioto Burial Park.
Friends may call on Thursday from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., and one hour prior to Friday’s 11 a.m. service.
Condolences may be sent to www.rogerwdavisfuneralhome.com.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved