Source: www.thehighlandsun.comWill Parr: The Voice of WSRW
by Rory Ryan, Publisher/Editor
The Highland County Press (Highland Sun)
WILLARD PARR and Ohio AP Broadcasters award
My first and most lasting memories of Willard Parr go back more than 40 years. It was during my first three years of school, as one of Mrs. Loretta Dean's pupils at Concord Elementary School, that I came to know Willard Parr.
Not the Man. The Voice.
From 1967-70, I rode Harry Emery's school bus to and from Sugar Tree Ridge to our home in suburban Fairfax. (It's no small wonder that I grew up at the corner of Whiskey and Crooked roads, but that's another column.)
Mr. Emery always kept his radio tuned to the same station: WSRW 1590 AM. And, for the life of me, I can't recall any other on-air voice than that of Will Parr. In my mind, I can still hear the golden pipes of Will's saying, "This is Willard Parr on WSRW Radio in H-I-L-L-S-boro, Ohio," with a special emphasis on HILLSboro.
For at least two hours a day, every day during the school year, I heard Will's voice on the radio. Whether it was delivering the morning news, the obituaries, playing records or reading advertisements, it seemed like the on-air voice was always Willard Parr.
Sure, there were a few times some of the older students, girls mostly, would ask Mr. Emery to change the station to something "more popular." Back then, the girls probably wanted to listen to Donny Osmond or Bobby Sherman (I have three sisters). But Harry Emery rarely gave in. On his bus, it was always Willard Parr and WSRW.
In the fourth grade, I moved on to Belfast School and a different bus driver one who didn't keep a radio on, if he even had one. But we still listened to Will at home in the mornings, especially in the winter time. School closings are almost as popular as first girlfriends for teenage boys.
In the winter of 1977 and 1978, we really listened to Will. A lot.
As noted by http://www.ohiohistory.org, "The worst winter storm in Ohio history struck before dawn on Thursday, Jan. 26, 1978.
"The Blizzard of 1978 continued through Thursday and into Friday. Transportation, business, industry, and schools were closed statewide for two days with the normal pace of society not returning to the state for five days.
"Atmospheric pressure fell to 28.28 inches at Cleveland, the lowest ever recorded in Ohio, as the center of the blizzard crossed Ohio. This rapidly intensifying storm pulled bitterly cold air across Ohio on winds of 50 to 70 mph. These conditions, combined with heavy snow and blowing of deep snow already on the ground, caused extreme blizzard conditions all across Ohio. Enormous snowdrifts covered cars and houses, blocked highways and railways, and closed all airports for two days.
"More than 5,000 members of the Ohio National Guard were called to duty. ...The death toll of 51 made this one of the deadliest winter storms in Ohio history."
And Willard Parr reported through all of it, spending two nights at the radio station out on Route 247. I seem to recall that Will had an old pickup truck, affectionately known as "The Screamin' Demon" that he used to get around in the snow. We were next-door neighbors by then, on East Walnut Street.
The previous year, we still lived below the Old 'Y' Restaurant just off U.S. 62 south. That was the winter with the record-setting wind chills. On Jan. 28, 1977, temperatures fell from 20 degrees to 10 degrees below zero. High winds and blowing snow accompanied the cold wave. Winds of 35 to 45 mph, gusting to 60, blew new snow and snow already on the ground into huge drifts and obscured visibility, according to http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org.
While Bud Estle, my dad and I made it in Bud's truck, at about 20 mph, up 62 to Steen's IGA for a few groceries, Will Parr was there on AM 1590. Always updating us on the closings and road conditions.
For a moment of confession and a prayer that the statute of limitations has expired, it was the winter of 1977 when I played two tricks on Will. I was 15 and a bit ornery.
The first bit of tomfoolery involved an attempt at impersonating Bright Local School District Superintendent Keith Day. Back then, the on-air person often answered the telephone. Especially during the blizzards. When a school superintendent called in, Will would simply put him on the air and let him announce the district closing.
Early one morning in the winter of 1977, I called the station and pretended to be Keith Day. I was going to close school for the good of all mankind.
Will did not fall for it.
Later, on one of those snowy mornings where school may or may not be closed, Will was getting a lot of calls to the station, asking about the
closings around the area. Obviously a bit frustrated, Will came back on the air and asked everyone to listen to the radio for closings. "Please don't call the station," he said. "We need to keep the phone lines open for the schools."
Naturally, that was my cue. I immediately called the station and asked if Bright Local had school that day. Will said he wasn't sure, but a few moments later our superintendent called it off. By that time, my dad had me outside splitting firewood.
Willard Parr was inducted into the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Hall of Fame this year.
Known as "The Voice" of WSRW Radio for more than five decades, he received the honor at the Ohio AP Broadcasters 2009 convention at the The Hilton at Easton Town Center in Columbus.
Will was inducted into the Hall of Fame "for serving with exceptional distinction and honor, and upholding the highest ideals of broadcast journalism."
"For an old Country Boy from southern Highland County, this is quite an honor," Will told me recently.
Knowing Will's humble beginnings, I understand exactly what he means.
Will began his career in radio broadcasting in January 1956 and the first record he played on the air was Gogi Grant's "The Wayward Wind."
As reported in The Highland County Press, Will was serving as a police officer and the president of the Fraternal Order of Police when radio station owner Dave Winslow heard him speak at a city council meeting.
The rest, as they say, is history.
For the ensuing 53 years, Willard Parr has informed and entertained Highland County and southern Ohio radio listeners.
As many people, including Tom and Maggie Horst, Bill Liermann, Bob Hodson and Pat Hays have commented on our Web site, we, too, say "Thank you, Will," and congratulations on a most deserving honor.
Rory Ryan is publisher and editor of The Highland Sun
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