Bill Bailey, veteran West Michigan radio personality, dies during golf outing

  By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk |
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on June 13, 2013 at 10:30 AM, updated June 21, 2013 at 10:24 AM
Bill Bailey-WGVU-AM.JPG
West Michigan radio personality Bill Bailey competing in Grand Rapids Magazine’s annual “Joke-Off” at Dr. Grins Comedy Club at The B.O.B. in 2002. Bailey, 66, died unexpectedly on Wednesday, June 13, 2013. (File Photo | The Grand Rapids Press)

Update:Celebration of Bill Bailey’s life planned. Get the details and see a video tribute on Bill Bailey’s career.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Radio was WGVU-AM personality Bill Bailey’s first passion. Golf was his second.

WGVU-AM’s “Real Oldies” program director and morning on-air host died in the pursuit of both.

Bailey died suddenly on Wednesday while playing golf for the WGVU 40th Anniversary Golf Outing at The Meadows at WGVU. He was 66.

Bailey, a native of Chicago, is survived by his wife, Sandy, and daughter, Brandy. Funeral arrangements are pending.

“He’s just a legend in radio,” said Michael Walenta, general manager of WGVU Public Media. “His passion for music and knowledge of music is unmatched.”

Family and friends are mourning the loss of the 40-year veteran of radio, who worked in Chicago and Detroit as well as Grand Rapids.

“Bill was such a wonderful man, broadcaster, husband and father,” said Andy Rent of WTRV-FM (100.5), another longtime West Michigan radio personality. “Bill was a true professional. I had great respect for him. He encouraged so many people to be the best they could be. He was truly loved.”

For 11 years, Bailey was a program director and afternoon host for WLHT-FM (95.7).
But in September 2009, Bailey joined Grand Valley Public Broadcasting in the creation of “Real Oldies” on WGVU-AM 1480/850 as a spin-off station that would no longer simulcast WGVU-FM.

“Bill has been a huge and integral part in building ‘Real Oldies,’” Walenta. “Without his help, it probably wouldn’t be here.”

Bailey at first was an on-air personality but later assumed the role of program manager for the entire station.

Currently he was on the air from 6-9 a.m. Monday through Friday on WGVU-AM 1480 in Grand Rapids and WGVS-AM 850 in Muskegon. He also was heard on WGVU’s “Motown and Soul with Bill Bailey” that aired 6 -9 p.m. on Saturdays on WGVU-FM (88.5) in Allendale/Grand Rapids and WGVS-FM (95.3) in Whitehall/Muskegon as well as on the two AM stations.

In a long career in radio, Bailey was heard on WLS-AM in Chicago, WDRQ-FM in Detroit and WXTR-FM in Washington D.C. and many others.

Bailey has been the recipient of awards including the National Association of Broadcasters Marconi Award for Station of the Year in 1998.

Three times, in 2005, 2006 and 2007 he was a finalist for the NAB’s Crystal Award, and he’s also been a finalist for Billboard Magazine’s Air Personality of the Year and Program Director of the Year.

“We will miss his smile, his style, and the contribution he has made to our station and our lives,” Walenta said. “His passion for music, golf, and the community are an inspiration.”

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The 2 Bill Bailey’s


WLS had 2 personalities named Bill Bailey. The first came to WLS in 1969 and did mornings on WLS for only a short time before returning to Kentucky. Bill was known as “The Duke Of Louisville”. Bill Bailey 1 came to WLS from WKLO and went to WAKY in his return. Bill (William Boahn) passed away on Saturday January 14, 2012 at the age of 81. He had lived in a nursing home for a number of years following a stroke.

The story of Bill Bailey coming to WLS from the Louisville Times, July 11, 1969 and from…

   Hired By Chicago Station
Bill Bailey Gets Big-Time Pact;
5-Year Contract Is for $300,000
Bill Bailey, one of Louisville’s most popular radio announcers, has been hired by WLS-AM in Chicago at a salary that’s “the biggest we’ve ever offered a new man,” according to John Rook, WLS program director.

The contract guarantees Bailey a minimum $300,000 income over a five-year period, with the opportunity to make more if his ratings are strong. He leaves here July 25 and goes on-air in Chicago July 28.

The offer was made after WLS officials – who came to Louisville last week to listen to Bailey’s 6 to 10 a.m. weekday show on WKLO-AM – decided “we had to have him,” said Rook yesterday.

Bailey came to WKLO in October 1965. Since that time he has built up a listening audience that may outrank that of any other Louisville radio announcer. Recent ratings credit him with 32 per cent of the listening audience, eight percentage points above the nearest competitor.

Going Big Time
His move to Chicago will place him in the big time – a 50,000 watt station in Chicago’s metropolitan area. WKLO’s power has been 10,000 watts since a short time ago.

Bailey’s name had been known in Chicago broadcasting circles for some time, Rook said. “We had heard from various station in the Louisville market that they would like to see him out of there.”

Last Wednesday, after winding up a business trip, Rook decided to stop by Louisville and sample Bailey’s on-air style himself. He was impressed enough to call Gene Taylor, a WLS vice-president, to come to Louisville on the Fourth of July and listen.

Their decision was unanimous. Bailey is “one of the best morning men in the country,” Rook said. “You never know what’s he’s going to say next.”

The morning hours, especially 7 to 9 a.m., are a peak listening period for radio, and stations want a man with a strong audience attraction to put in that time period.

Bailey will continue his 6 to 10 a.m. schedule on WLS, replacing announcer Clark Weber, who had announced he was leaving before Bailey was hired.

The offer came as a surprise to Bailey, who did not know he was being studied by WLS officials. When he heard the size of the WLS offer, “I was a little stunned, frankly,” he said yesterday.

One of Best-Paid
Bailey wouldn’t reveal his salary here, but he is generally considered one of the best-paid announcers in Louisville. His Chicago salary, which starts at between $60,000 and $70,000 for the first year, is easily a “100 per cent increase” over his present pay, Bailey said.

Now 38, Bailey got his first broadcasting job at 16, and has announced for classical, country and rock ‘n’ roll music shows in his career. He was born William Clyde Boahn in New Bern, N.C.

His on-air voice and delivery are reminiscent of a carnival barker, and he frequently makes himself or his family the butt of his jokes.

Bailey’s analysis of his success is that “I am a very strong personality. To a certain element of the audience I can be offensive, but I’m still interesting.”

Rook’s analysis is that Bailey is “believable,” “real” and “human – somebody that doesn’t sound like a disc jockey.”

The other Bill Bailey joined WLS from WWDJ in Hackensack, NJ in 1972 and worked evernings at WLS. Bill was hired by WLS Program Director Mike McCormick and started the same night as John Records Landecker. Bill was the youngest air personality ever hired at WLS. He remained at the Big 89 for 2 years.
Bill Bailey’s story is told in an interview with Inside Radio‘s Mike Kinosian. Bailey left WLS in May 1973. According to Billboard Magazine, “Chuck Knapp is out at WCFL-AM, Chicago, and Bill Bailey out of WLS-AM, Chicago. Along with their engineers. Seems they made some makes together and management frowned rather severely on both of them.” 
After WLS, Bill Bailey 2 went to WDRQ in Detroit to host the morning show. Bill is currently heard on WGVU Real Oldies 1480/850 am in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bill appeared at the WLS Rewind in 2008. 

Bill passed away on June 12, 2013.