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Ray White, longtime WLIR radio personality, dies at 69

Ray White, formerly of WLIR, was working as

Ray White, formerly of WLIR, was working as afternoon host on CPR Classical from Colorado Public Radio prior to his death.  Credit: Colorado Public Radio/Hart Van Denburg

Ray White, a veteran DJ and key member of WLIR's on-air staff during the 1970s and '80s — and later for WNEW and CD-101.9 — has died. He was 69, according to an obituary posted on the website of Colorado Public Radio, where he had worked since 2019. The cause of death was complications from cancer, according to his partner Elizabeth Budd.

In a statement, CPR's president Stewart Vanderwilt called White's relatively brief tenure at the classical music station "part of a long and illustrious radio career." Indeed, since the '90s, White had been West Coast-based but in the '70s was part of a revolution unfolding in the unlikeliest of places (Hempstead) and at the unlikeliest of stations.

One of the first progressive rock stations in the country, among the most influential, WLIR introduced hundreds of new artists to area listeners, ultimately to the nation, most of them from the U.K. The LIR DJs championed their own artists while White's would include U2, along with its first studio album, "Boy," in 1980.

"Ray would mentor the young interns and DJs like myself and would teach us the little trick of 'just listen to the artist, feed off it,'' says Larry Dunn — veteran Sirius XM DJ "Larry the Duck'' who began his career at the station. "He also taught us how to interview people — the great art of just listening, and picking up a little nugget or extracting it. 'Be prepared but also roll with the moment …' He was the consummate professional."

White conducted countless interviews during the LIR years, often on his popular Sunday night show, "Off the Boat." His questions so sharp and casually delivered they seemed part of a conversation, they were particularly informed. In a 1979 interview with Jerry Garcia, for example, White wondered why the Grateful Dead had not returned to Long Island, then answered himself — a "notorious" 1973 concert at Nassau Coliseum where police "busted about 40% of the audience." (Garcia laughed, saying stadium officials "have been trying to sell us this change-of-policy rap" ever since.)

Michael "Eppy" Epstein, the impresario who founded Roslyn's My Father's Place when he worked as a music director at WLIR, says that then-program director Denis McNamara "deputized me to take my car and drive to Hartford where we were to meet young Ray White [but] he wasn't leaving New England and had no intention of working at LIR. … Denis made him an offer he couldn't refuse so he packed his bags."

"Ray," he recalls, "was magic. He brought his New England/Hartford vibe and became a major talent for us and started discovering talent for us. In his later years he became a very serious, very passionate specialist [but at LIR] he was loved by everyone."

A Hartford native, White — who walked with the assistance of a cane — had become partially paralyzed from the waist down after contracting Guillain-Barré syndrome when he was 15. During his convalescence, he began to fall in love with radio, later began to hang around stations. At home, his father played jazz, and his mother classical music but was drawn to both, ultimately much in between. After his long run in New York radio, he joined KKSF in San Francisco, later KFOG, KQED and KDFC, each with different formats and different music.

Explaining his spread of musical interests and tastes, he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2014 that "it doesn't matter if I'm introducing Pink Floyd, John Coltrane or Beethoven. I'm talking to a friend, to one person."

White is survived by his son Harrison of Novato, CA; his partner Elizabeth Budd; and his brother and sister-in-law, Larry and Donna of Carlsbad, CA. He was predeceased by his parents, Raymond and Elaine; his brother Tom; and his stepfather Robert Johnson.

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