I got an e-mail yesterday from Will Blake. He wanted to tell everyone that his dad passed away on Friday, Jan. 9. I appreciate that e-mail so very much. This isn’t the kind of news I like reading in the newspaper.
You’ve all heard me talk about WXBQ Radio. And Bill Blake was a large part of that radio station. He was also a very important part of the lives of all of his listeners. He was like a friend. No, he WAS a friend. And he will be missed. Since his retirement in 2004, due to failing health, Bill still stayed in touch as best he could, and opened his door when people would come to visit.
Here is the obit his son sent to me. For any of you who knew Bill, or had heard him on the air, or just read Country’s Chatter and know I’ve mentioned the guys at the station – I wanted to pass this on for you.
Bill Blake, November 12, 1941 – January 9, 2009
Former Tri-Cities radio personality, Bill Blake, passed away Friday at his home in Abingdon, Virginia. From 1992 until his retirement in 2004, Bill was known best as the leader of the “Morning Air Show” on WXBQ 96.9 FM. During that period, he created and gave voice to several radio characters, most notably the character “Jim Nasium” which evolved as a local cultural icon. His leadership of the morning show consistently earned the highest ratings in the Tri-Cities market and, more than once, received recognition from Arbitron Radio Ratings and Media Research as the highest-rated country music morning show in the nation.
Marked by many milestones during his flamboyant public life, Bill Blake’s career in radio began as a teenager working for a small station near Grundy, Virginia. Often at odds with his conservative parents, Bill actively sought ejection from Bluefield College in order to further his work in radio. In 1962, he teamed with Pete Nininger to bring rock & roll radio to the Tri-Cities on WFHG-AM. Their immediate success launched a radio empire for Pete and earned Bill a 1963 industry award from Billboard Magazine as the “#1 Program Director of the Year.” In 1967, Bill and Pete founded a new radio station, WKAZ-AM in Charleston, West Virginia—the promotion of which included Bill’s 1968 candidacy for the West Virginia governorship with the slogan, “Put a Swinger in the State House.” His broadcasting successes brought him into regular associations with figures ranging in diversity from Robert Kennedy to Reverend Jerry Falwell to Ray Charles. During the next two decades, Bill operated radio stations in West Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Georgia. Concordantly, he served in leadership roles with the Cincinnati Reds Broadcasting Network and national, state, and local broadcasting associations. In Midland, Texas, in 1987, he personally led the fund raising effort and reconstruction of a Christian radio station destroyed by arsonists. Ultimately, however, the professional accomplishment he cherished the most was his return to his Bristol origins, his reunion with Pete Nininger, and his work to entertain the people of the Tri-Cities whom he loved and regarded as “the most honest people on earth.”
Bill married Damascus-native Thelma Vannoy in October, 1967 officially ending several years of conspicuous bachelorhood in Bristol. The young marriage was tested when, the following September, Bill broadcast the birth of his son William live on the radio. His contributions to community included service as a Sergeant and Engineer in the Army National Guard of Virginia, membership in hospital and public boards, Lay Ministership in the United Methodist Church, and fund raising efforts with numerous charities. He delighted in working with local young people, particularly in the counseling of John S. Battle High School baseball players and in guiding them in preparations to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Bill Blake is survived by his wife, Thelma Vannoy Blake; his son William F. Blake II, daughter-in-law Vicki Blake, and grandson William Alan Blake of Plano, Texas; and, his sister Mary Alice Casebolt of Mount Hope, West Virginia. Per his request, his remains will be cremated and scattered among the towers in the field behind the WXBQ studios. To further satisfy his requests, a public party—a “celebration of life” as he called it—will be held Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of John S. Battle High School, 21264 Battle Hill Dr, Bristol, Virginia 24202. The public is invited and his former radio audience is encouraged to attend this evening of laughter in his honor. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Bill Blake Scholarship Fund for high school baseball players established at Highland Unions Bank.
I’ll talk to you all tomorrow. Thanks for letting me share this with you. Bill was a very special person.