Ray Dilley, VPR founder, dies at 67

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(Host) One of Vermont Public Radio’s founders has died. Ray Dilley started VPR in 1975 with the late Raymond Phillips and the late Reverend Howard Stearns. Dilley died unexpectedly last weekend at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was 67. VPR’s Steve Zind has this remembrance.

(Dilley reading VPR’s legal ID) “You’re listening to public radio at 89.5 FM, WVPR in Windsor Vermont.”

(Zind) It was Ray Dilley’s voice that identified Vermont Public Radio in those early years, but it was his interest in hearing many voices that shaped the station.

(Betty Smith) “He loved conversation, discussion.”

(Zind) VPR commentary producer Betty Smith.

(Smith) “Because he was a native Vermonter and he grew up in Saint Johnsbury and then spent time Burlington, he knew a lot about the culture, the statewide community. He’d been thinking for a while about what a value it would be if there were, in fact, a way to network all the towns in the state, all the experts in the state, and even from the surrounding region.”

(Zind) Dilley was VPR’s chief executive officer for 18 years. Working on a shoestring at first – he and Smith sometimes had to decide which of them would get a paycheck that week – Dilley built the station into a statewide network of transmitters.

He was responsible for programs that continue today: The Eye on the Sky forecast was born out of a childhood fascination with the Fairbanks Museum in his hometown.

Most of all, says Smith, Dilley was an idea man.

(Smith) “He didn’t look terribly busy sometimes but then you’d find out that he’d been thinking about something that hadn’t occurred to anybody else.”

(Zind) Smith says Dilley was constantly listening, constantly pushing to improve the station’s programming and acquire the best technology.

Steve Olson was VPR’s program director from 1987-1991. Olson says Dilley was smart, funny and…

(Olson) “Stubborn. In all the good ways in terms of wanting the best for VPR and for the audience, which led to setting goals, sometimes that seemed out of reach. But he always challenged people to meet them. Unlike a lot of people in management, when he was convinced change was necessary, he embraced it rather than being fearful of it.”

(Zind) Dilley served as VPR’s CEO until 1993.

His successor and current VPR President Mark Vogelzang says Dilley was reserved off the air, but he was at ease behind the microphone.

(Vogelzang) “Ray was a Vermonter. He talked through sort of a clenched jaw, very quietly, but on the radio he was a broadcaster and he was good at it.”

(Dilley) “802-674-2726, and the telephones are ringing…let’s see, this is Thursday…”

(Zind) Vogelzang says Dilley is responsible for most of what Vermont Public Radio is today.

Dilley went from VPR to National Public Radio, where he helped launch NPR’s international service. He went on to reinvigorate a flagging public radio station in Baltimore and, more recently Dilley had been a manager for Nebraska Education Telecommunications.

Betty Smith says Dilley had a restless intellect that embraced many interests. Dilley said as much in a 2002 interview.

(Dilley) “I guess I’m the kind of person that has all of these rivers you have to cross as you move through life.”

(Zind) Dilley is survived by his mother, Bertha, and two grown children, Joshua and Sarah. Ray Dilley was 67.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

Ray Dilley was an advocate for news and classical music. VPR’s first regional program was Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. The music that accompanies this story is from the first opera that went on the air, Rossini’s La Cenerentola – the Cinderella story.

Read more about Ray Dilley

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