This story is about a famous lebanese canadian Wilf Ray, who was the founder of the Lebanese Canadian society and one of its most active president and member.
Wilf is invited to be the guest of honor at the “International day of the lebanese emigrant 2016 in vancouver that is why we are reposting this article about him he is now 89 years old .
Old man of airwaves keeps on talking
Wilf Ray,75, who got his first radio job in 1944, still has a spot on the dial.
Wilf is invited to be the guest of honor at the “International day of the lebanese emigrant 2016 in vancouver
Wilf Ray jokes that he’s the best kept secret in Canadian radio, and it just might be true. The 75-year-old first appeared on the Vancouver airwaves on his 18th birthday, Dec. 21, 1944. He’s been on the air so long; he predates the late, great Jack Cullen, who got his first radio job in 1946.
In fact, Cullen’s first job was taking over Ray’s show, the DX Prowl, on CKMO.
“I’m partially responsible for the guy,” says Ray with a laugh. “If I hadn’t done such a lousy job, I wouldn’t have been demoted.”
Ray bounced back from the temporary demotion to become a late night staple on CKMO and CKNW in the late 1940s. He left radio to sell real estate in 1950, but came back in 1965 with a weekly gospel show. Ray is still on the air, doing a two-hour slot on AM 600 from 10 p.m. to midnight every Sunday.
His non-radio career is just as interesting. He was Jimmy Pattison’s public relations man for over a decade, helped design the landmark Bow Mac sign, and was the groom in a controversial “million-dollar wedding” at the Pacific National Exhibition in 1954, when he gave his wedding speech before 10,000 people.
Walking around his pink rancher in a cream turtleneck grey slacks and silver necklace, Ray is the picture of a 1940s hipster entering his senior years. He might move a little slower, but his mind is still sharp and his tongue is still quick. Get him going, says his wife Marion, and you can’t get him to stop.
Fittingly, at 75 he still sells real estate with “The Jay Team,” Wilf and daughters Leanne and Robin.
“I can’t retire,” he says. “I have no company pension, so I’ve got to keep working. I’ve said it many times, I’d rather wear out than rust out.”
Ray has had a singular life. To begin with, he is one of a handful of Vancouverites who is of Lebanese descent (his grandparents immigrated to Canada in 1911; the original family name was probably Rayh).
He was born at Vancouver General Hospital in 1926 and raised in West Vancouver before the Lions Gate Bridge was built.
“A lot of people don’t realize, but they named the streets alphabetically from the waterfront. You’ve got Argule, Bellevue, Clyde, Duchess, Esquimalt, Fulton, Gordon, Haywood, Inglewood, Lawson, Mathers, Nelson, Ottawa, Palmerston, and Roseberry. After the R’s I forget.”
Like many kids of his generation, Wilf was obsessed with the radio growing up. When he landed a DJ job, he was in heaven.
“It was the next best thing to being a movie star,” he says. “When I’d sign off the air, I’d have two or three women phoning me.
“Fifty years ago we were household names. You could walk down Granville Street and ask ‘Have you ever heard of the Wilf Ray Program?’ and seven out of ten would recognize the name right away.”
This was because Wilf Ray was one of Vancouver radio’s greatest self-promoters. His big gimmick was Disky, a horse fashioned from two 16-inch records that sat atop his 1946 Chevrolet.
Ray would park the Chevy with Disky downtown, and whoever spotted it and phones in first during his program would win a box of Purdy’s chocolates.
“A good DJ in those days was no more or less than a giant promo machine, and he was the best at it,” says another radio legend, Red Robinson.
“After he quit radio and he had a real estate company, on the top of his car he built a little house that said ‘Wilf Ray’ to promote his real estate business. He’s a character.”
Ray’s career peaked at CKMO in the late 1940s, when he went head-to-head with CKNW’s Cullen and CJOR’s Vic Waters for late-evening supremacy.
Then-NW’s Bill Rea talked him into switching stations.
“He said ‘what are they paying you at CKMO?” says Ray. “I said “$75.’ He said I’ll double that if you’ll come and be on the All-Night Record Man.’
“I came over and it got rid of the competition. It was one of the dumbest mistakes I made.” He lasted 11 months on the midnight to 6 a.m. shift before he decided the hours were too much.
He thought of moving to a station in Seattle, but couldn’t get sponsored and wound up leaving radio to start his own real estate firm.
At CKMO he had fallen for the music librarian, Marion McDonald. After then went out for several years (when he says five, she rolls her eyes), Marion read a Jack Wasserman column in the sun about a contest being put by Miller’s Jewellers. If a couple agreed to be married in front of the masses at the PNE, the bride would get to wear a million dollars worth of the Russian crown jewels.
She decided to take the bull by the horns, and had Wilf drive her to Miller’s house to meet him in person. Shortly afterward, they were chosen as the lucky couple.
“I think [she] found a way to get me off the pot,” says Ray. “Because in 1954 she said’ I’m going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, when I come back we’re going to get married, or …’”
The nuptials were set for Sept. 2, 1954 at the PNE, but quickly generated controversy among religious leaders who objected to the “commercialization” of marriage. The newspapers whipped themselves into a frenzy trying to find out the identity of the couple to be married, which was supposed to be a secret.
“Tom Ardies of the Sun phones me up,” recalls Ray. “He said ‘I hear maybe that you’re the couple.
“ ‘I won’t write anything… and of course naïve me, I confirmed it. And of course it was in the afternoon edition.”
The controversy only intensified. It got so bad the couple had a tough time finding a minister to perform the ceremony. Eventually an old radio cohort named Reverend W. Arnold Bennett stepped in to perform the service, but the actual ceremony was held on the lawn of Marion’s home on Cambie Street, with the reception at the PNE and the Cave Supper Club.
In 1957, the real estate market was in a slump, and Ray went to work at Bowell Maclean (Bow Mac) motors on West Broadway. The general manager was Jim Pattison, who had met Ray when he sold him a car. Marion Ray was hired to play organ at a Bow Mac function, and suggested to Pattison that he hire Wilf. So he did.
“He was the advertising manager”, says Pattison, “ and there wasn’t a better one in Canada.” Faced with stiff competition from Black Motors to the east and Dueck’s to the west, Pattison and Ray decided to erect a monumental sign no one could ignore.
“Black’s sign was 25 feet and Dueck’s had two 60 foot towers,” relates Rays. “So we went with this 100 foot Bow Mac.”
“We opened it with [radio host] Jack Webster, who went to the top of it,” says Pattison. I’ll never forget it, because Jack hit his head on one of those girders going up the sign and cracked his head open. He went up, did his broadcast, and there was blood all over him. A typical Jack Webster deal.”
“There was enough cement in the base of that sign to pave 40 home driveways,” says Ray. “It has 10 miles of wiring, and you could see it 10 miles away. It went into the Guinness Book of Records in 1959 as the world’s largest free-standing neon sign.”
Ray’s promotional zeal was perfect for the car dealership. One of his most successful stunts was the World’s largest Checkers Game in 1858, which featured beautiful women in bathing suits as checkers.
“We had over 5,000 people jamming the lot on Cadillac Square,” says Ray.
In 1961, Ray was lured to Toronto by General Motors. But he came back to work with Jim Pattison in 1965, after Pattison had set out on his own and started to build his business empire.
“I started in business in 1961, and by ’64-65 was gaining momentum,” says Pattison. “He wanted to come back to Vancouver, and we could afford him then, so he came back and worked with me in the car business.”
As the Pattison Empire grew, Ray seemed to be everywhere, shooting photos of Pattison and firing off press releases. “ He travelled everywhere with us, and was a great asset to us,” says Pattison. “Wilf, heck, he was my best friend.”
“I wrote every press release from day one until I ended up having a heart attack in 1980,” says Ray. Rays decided his heart attack was caused by the stress of life in the corporate last lane, and left Pattison to go back into real estate.
“I kind of miss being in the corporate world to a certain degree,” says Ray. “But once you get kicked in the face with a heart attack, you change something.
Pattison had given Ray a radio gig back in 1965 on CJOR, and Ray’s show is still on a Pattison station.
“He made a commitment back in 1965 that if I came back and helped his build his two empires, Jim Pattison on Main and CJOR, I’d always be on the air,” says Ray.
“As long as I’m around and we’re in the radio business, he can have a program,” says Pattison.
Red Robinson says listening to Ray is listening to a classic. “He’s got two lines,” says Robinson. “ ‘This is Wilf Ray, you man for God,’ and his closing line, ‘well, I’ll see you next Sunday on the radio. Until then, ask yourself this. What are you doing for an eternity?’ ”
The show is a mix of Christian music and inspirational messages that he calls “my thoughts for successful living.”
“One of my favourites is ‘a smile is a curve that can set a lot of things straight,” says Ray.
He knows that his late night slot and the older demographic of his audience, he doesn’t pull in big ratings. But he figures if “one person can be uplifted” by his program, he’s done his job.
“I know of two cases where I’ve saved the lives of people that were going to commit suicide,” he says. “ One fellow phoned me up one Sunday night and says you know ‘Wilf, I’m very despondent, I’m really depressed. As far as I’m concerned I’m just going to take off and go to the middle of the Second Narrows Bridge and jump off.’
“I said ‘you know brother, that’s a terrible thing to consider. My suggestion to you is seek help. Don’t even thing along those lines.’ He said ‘Well, I’m goin’.’
“I was on the air, and said ‘you know there’s a chap who just called me. He wanted to do something that’s really of a terrible nature. If you’re listening, brother, I’m going to play this selection for you.’
“I played What a Friend We Have in Jesus. He phone me about a half-hour later and said the music touched him so much that he changed his mind.”
Though he lives way, way out in Fraser Valley, Ray drives in every Sunday to do the show live.
“It’s work of love for me,” he says. “It puts me in another world for two hours. I go through rain, hail, snow and sleet, and I’ve never missed a program in 37 years, except when I had a heart attack.”