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Jan. 27, 2023

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Longtime Lower Columbia radio reporter and producer retires after three decades

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LONGVIEW — Before podcasts, near-global access to the internet, or even iPods, Ray Byers was getting up at 2 a.m. to sort through police reports and weather data to give Lower Columbia radio listeners the news.

On Oct. 28, Byers turned the “on air” switch off for the last time in his radio career, after 30 years and seven months with the Kelso-based station KLOG.

“Being able to work for this home-owned facility, with total focus on the community where they live and thrive just gives you a focus,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re getting the information that people need out there.”

At age 34 in 1988, Byers said he began to pursue a career in radio — first at KBNP in Portland, and then Northwest News Network in the same city.

When he first started in the industry, Byers said he used wire machines, like teleprinters, that dispensed news reports on a device that looked similar to a typewriter. When he left, he was using social media apps like Twitter for on-the-spot updates.

“We are light years from where this industry was when I started,” he said, “but the future is just beginning.”

By 1992, Byers joined KLOG, hired by then owner Steve Hanson, who passed the business — which includes KLOG 100.7, KUKN 105.5 and 101.5 The Blitz — to his son Joel, who sold the business to new owner John Paul in August.

Paul said Byers was known to sources as a trustworthy reporter.

“It was so common to hear from local leaders and elected officials about how much they trusted and respected Ray’s work,” Paul said. “We would joke a lot in the halls that ‘Ray was the hardest working man in radio.’ He proved that time and time again.”

Byers said, to man the morning radio program, he would rise at 2 a.m. to make it to air on time. Later, he would take a nap, giving him enough rest to head to a local city council or port commission meeting in the evening.

During disasters or significant police events, live updates went on for hours. During the 1996 area floods, he was on the air for 24 hours straight, he said. He met two presidents during his tenure.

In retirement, Byers has simpler plans.

“Not getting up at 2 a.m. is my main goal,” he said.

The Oregon native is used to getting up early though. As a kid, his family worked the morning paper routes for the Oregon Statesman, he said.

He said he graduated from Central High School in 1974 in Independence, Oregon, then “walked onto the football team” at the University of Oregon “and was cannon fodder on the scout team for two years.”

He spent the next few years working on his degree, “before deciding that it was time to start living life,” he added. He worked for the Oregon Health Authority for a decade in the mail and stockroom before pursuing a career in radio.

In retirement, Byers plans to join a spring production of the Cabaret Follies of Lower Columbia in Longview, and substitute for KLOG producers when needed.

What he will miss most about 506 Cowlitz Way West are the station employees, like Kirc Roland, the most prepared, professional broadcaster Byers said he’s ever been associated with, and Noah Homsley of KUKN — “one of the seriously cool people you’re ever going to meet.”

Paul said Hallie Blodgett was hired more than a year ago to take over for Byers, who gave 18 months notice.

For his successors, Byers has advice that saw him through three decades: “Make sure you get it right; get it straight and be fair.”

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