Legendary Kansas City television and radio newsman Charles Gray died Monday morning. He was 87.
Gray, with his booming, deep voice, covered many of the city’s most notable news events for five decades. Between 1958 to 1972, he served as anchor for KMBC. Gray then moved to WDAF radio, where he was the morning news anchor to thousands of morning rush-hour listeners.
“He saw pretty much anything that happened between the 1950s to the late 1990s in Kansas City. He had a front-row seat to it,” his son John Gray said Monday night.
Those events included the gasoline explosion that killed five firefighters on Southwest Boulevard in 1959, and the rioting and civil unrest in Kansas City that broke out following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Gray also covered the 1988 explosion in south Kansas City that killed six firefighters.
“He was a great storyteller,” said Caroline Rooney, a former news reporter and anchor at WDAF-AM who worked alongside Gray for 20 years. “The world is a better place for having Charles passed through. He was a true broadcast journalist in every sense of the word.”
Gray was raised near Tulsa, Okla., and graduated from high school in Sand Springs, Okla. Gray did not attended college and began his career as a journalist, working at several small radio stations in Oklahoma and Wisconsin in the late 1940s before moving to Kansas City in the early 1950s, said John Gray.
He worked for WHB radio and then spent 14 years as news anchor at KMBC before he was replaced by Glen Hanson. Months later, there was another change and Larry Moore replaced Hanson.
“His quote was that he was fired because he was too ugly,” John Gray joked.
Gray told The Star in an interview in December 1996 that his departure from KMBC was “probably the best thing that happened to me, professionally, in my life.”
Returning to radio, Gray moved over to WDAF where he built a news department from the ground up, borrowing news from the neighboring WDAF-TV.
“He was also a very kind and caring man, and he saw the real people out there in our city, not the high and mighty but those who worked hard for a living,” said Rooney. “We’re missing him already.”
Gray developed a special bond with the city’s Fire Department, police officers working patrol, as well as FBI and U.S. Secret Service agents. He retired from WDAF radio in 1997.
“He would tell you it was the most enjoyable part of his career, was that last 25 years he spent at WDAF,” said John Gray.
Tom Jackman, a former reporter and columnist for The Star, described in a 1996 column that Gray’s delivery was a rat-a-tat similar to legendary news reporter Walter Winchell. However, Gray’s voice had a unique quality all to its own.
“I don’t know how he developed that. I don’t know if that was something he naturally had or if he developed that on his own over the years,” John Gray said. “He was somebody that people inherently trusted. He built trust and credibility, and he carried that with him. That is why I think he was so successful.”
Gray is survived by two sons, Charles Robert Gray and John Gray and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending Monday night.