Kimberly Ray, Radio’s Untamed Sweetheart: Part 1

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

Weekly Serial: Part I

Just as a serious attempt was made to kneecap Alex Jones over the most un-PC statement of his career, a media star who may be new to you—radio personality Kimberly Ray—lost an insanely successful career over a single comment. Axed along with her was the innovation that drove her success—"the fourth man"—that took news reporting out of the hands of the professionals and turned it over to everyday people.

If you broke down every political drama occurring over the last few years, I'm not sure you could've learned more than by keeping an eye on Kimberly Ray. When she'd turned down an interview request from me a couple of years ago, however, I couldn't imagine what excuse would allow me to ask again.

For those unfamiliar with her, Kimberly Ray made notable headlines twice that traveled beyond her home base for the past two decades, western New York State. Neither time was meant to highlight a radio innovation of hers. Neither was meant to do her any favors. She has, it must be said, a reasonably adversarial relationship with the press.

Ray made memorable headlines the first time while employed as a morning drive-time personality. She was fired over relatively tame—if politically incorrect—comments that upset the LGBT community. That was in 2014 when cancellation over an impolite comment was still something of a novelty.

Ray's second and final termination in 2020 came at a different Rochester radio station and is a rarely-spoken-of thing of legend. It seemingly caused much of her fanbase—which remained strong after the first cancellation—to abandon her. It was an instance like Peter's denial of Jesus when last weeks faithful were too fearful to admit ever knowing you.

Recently, very unexpectedly, for Ray's remaining fans, she made a significant change. She'd become a podcaster after her radio career ended, and after an unexplained break of a few weeks, she uploaded a new episode. In it, she announced that she'd moved out of state to South Carolina.

When I initially made contact to ask about an interview, Ray's life in Rochester was in the toilet after her second termination, and the attendant headlines. I probably should have expected she'd, just then, say no to an exhaustive review of her life and career.

And so I recently contacted her a second time, in South Carolina, and to cut to the chase— somewhere in a new neighborhood dealing with new house issues, when asked about an interview—she changed her answer to yes. To add to the uniqueness of the interview, this will be a first for UncoverDC—a multi-part article released as a weekly serial.

 

PARENTS' INFLUENCE

To tell the Kimberly Ray story in detail, you have available to you almost endless controversial tangents, including patricide and racial violence. The article can start wholesomely, though, with a young woman's interest in broadcasting. They'll be time enough later to at least touch on some of the darker storylines.

One of my first questions for Ray, considering her no-bullshit attitude and instinctive ability to call out a scam, was how those traits developed. Her answer, as much as any she gave, brings us close to her formative years. She said:

"My dad was a marine in Korea, and I, honestly, think I got a lot of my personality traits from him. You don't lie. You don't try to cheat someone. Always be fair."

She continued speaking about her father and said something that might surprise her regular listeners, considering how she regularly mocks people who wear their religion on their sleeves. She said that her father had been a deacon in the Baptist Church. She outlined his philosophy, saying:

"You obviously try to live your life as the most decent person you can. And when you see—he always said—when you see wrong, you gotta point it out. Because people are just going to go and do the same thing over and over."

To balance Ray's reverential remembrance of her father, now deceased, there is her relationship with her mother, who lives with Ray and Ray's husband. This one is more fun.

When the mother-daughter relationship is discussed on air, it almost always involves comically-high levels of tension. It might humanize Ray to get into some of that. An anecdote about her mother from a recent podcast can make for a representative snapshot.

Ray's eighty-eight-year-old mother sent Ray on an errand with a very long, precise list of groceries to buy. Ray explained to her podcast audience that she, however, mistakenly purchased the wrong type of hotdog. Imagine menacing music here.

Not to belabor the details of the story, Ray's mother, while refusing to accept cheddar-filled hotdogs as something she'd eat—I'd assume out of vindictiveness—hid the store receipt so they couldn't be returned. While Ray dug through wastebaskets looking for the receipt—as imitated by Ray, who spoke in a sharp, clipped way—Ray's mother said, "'You're not gonna find it. I'm not going to give it to you."

Ray finished the anecdote with the observation, "It's that kind of thing that drives me crazy." The story is one example among many—seen through her eyes—of Ray trying to, in good faith, barrel through life but being frustrated by impossible people.

 

THE WORKING WORLD

To return to the interview and a discussion of Ray's early professional life—she graduated from a small college in northwest Missouri and soon found work as a radio news director. However, that job was only the first on a long road to hitting her stride. She said:

"So really, my first two jobs (were) in a news director position, my third job was just as a radio deejay, and then I made my way back to Kansas City and joined a morning show as the news director/co-host in '93."

Ray moved again after Kansas City to Cincinnati to another morning show. However, her position was phased out when the station changed its format. She said:

"They had flipped the station from an all-music station to (small laugh) religious, so the contract wasn't renewed, and I'm just sending out tapes, right?"

There was something about Ray's delivery of the word "religious" that spoke volumes. Despite her father's churchgoing, her cynicism about all things pious was apparent.

I'd never heard Ray mention her faith, and I didn't bring up the topic. Ray, similarly, may only be as political as she is a believer. She told me that she doesn't consider herself political – although politics is the most regular topic on her show.

As you'll begin to understand, though, Ray is political in the sense that she calls things as she sees them. That can be dangerous in this age and time, as she has found out. Her famed mouthiness made her attractive to segments of the libertarian right in Rochester and the bane of the existence of some politicos.

 

ROC CITY

To continue from Ray's position in Cincinnati being phased out, she said:

"– and I'm just sending out tapes, right? I had an interview in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I actually came down to Charleston to interview—and I had two interviews here. I had a phone interview and then two in-person interviews. I really wanted the Charleston job; I gotta be honest with you.

I really wanted that job, and Dave Symonds, the program director in Rochester, had called me and said, 'Hey, I like your tapes. I like your resume', and said, 'When would you be available? Would you be available to come up here for an interview?'

And he said, 'I'm really looking for a team,' and I said, 'Well, it's just me. I don't have a team.'"

The origin of what would become one of Rochester's most popular radio shows begins here. And it opens with a slightly cutthroat move from Ray. She explained:

"I got an email from this woman who said, 'Hey, I'm interviewing for your position that you just left'—on this religious station, whatever—and she said, 'Can you give me any tips? I work in Columbus, Ohio, and I'm not liking the show I'm on.' And it turns out that she was on the show with...  Beck (Ray's future co-host, Barry Beck).

And so, I had reached out to him and said, 'FYI, your co-host is looking for other jobs.' That's just the kind of girl I am. I'm going to let him know.

I'm like, you know, maybe they'll hire me in Columbus. An hour down the road. I wouldn't have to move. That would be perfect—but it turns out she left, and they didn't renew his contract."

While on the phone with Beck, they traded notes about the opportunity in Rochester. From that discussion, a plan was worked out to market themselves as a team.

"So, I emailed Dave (Symonds) and said, 'There's a guy in Columbus that I just talked to, and he's looking to team up. I know you asked me about that earlier, but we're planning on having dinner and getting together and talking to see if this is something we both want to do.'

And honestly, I think they had interviewed teams from other parts of the country, and we weren't even on the radar until we had a three-way phone call with Dave Symonds.

They brought us up for an interview, and we were hired. I don't know how we were hired, but we were."

 

CONTINUED IN PART II: “The Fourth Man” NEXT WEEK 

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