Buck Ritchey: A Northwest Country Radio Legend
The Pacific Northwest’s most storied Country/Western radio DJ – Marion “Buck” Ritchey – effectively promoted that genre of music for about 32 long years on area radio stations. Born in 1915, he was initially inspired by the recordings of America’s “Blue Yodeler” Jimmy Rodgers, & he taught himself to play the guitar. In 1930, & at the mere age of 15, he left his home in Missouri, & his wanderings eventually led him out to Tacoma in 1938.
By 1942 he’d been confined to a tuberculosis ward, but upon release he took on a gig as a radio host at Seattle’s powerful KVI station – a daily 3-hour shift that paid the royal sum of 75¢ an hour. As he made deeper connections within the area’s music scene, Ritchey ended up leading a country band – The K-VI [“K-6”] Wranglers – which also included Seattle’s star steel guitarist Paul Tutmarc, along with his young bride Bonnie Tutmarc (who would go on to later international solo fame as Bonnie Guitar). One of the Wranglers’ claims-to-fame was that they also briefly featured a singer named Jack Guthrie (the cousin of folkie icon, Woody Guthrie) who debuted the tune “Oklahoma Hills” with them – a song that went on to become a No.1 hit in 1945. The K-VI Wranglers’ high public profile was partially the result of their becoming the house-band for KVI – & thus, their records managed to receive an inordinate amount of airtime.
Controversies erupted as other local country artists saw this blatant favoritism while their own, perhaps more deserving, discs didn’t enjoy such generous support. But it must also be stated that Ritchey did help a lot of country singers along the way: it was said that the Grand Ol’ Opry’s Hank Snow once credited Ritchey with helping establish his career by being the first radioman in the nation to air his early records on a regular basis. Some of the records credited to Ritchey himself include: “A Wasted Life Like Mine” / “Only The Moonman Knows” [GRC Records 109], & “The Slave” / “Busy Signal” [GRC Records 111] – & one of his most popular recordings was the seasonal favorite, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” After 22 years at KVI, a Seattle pop station, KAYO, switched formats & Ritchey jumped ship & joined the “Kountry KAYO” crew. Around 1970 he was diagnosed with cancer & after a valiant three-year battle, Buck Ritchey died at Providence Medical Center on December 23, 1973.
Pete Blecha was raised on his father’s Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Buck Owens records. And church music. But then rock ‘n’ roll happened. His love for country music remains stronger than ever.
Original posting at Northwest Music Archives: http://nw-music-archives.blogspot.com/2011/09/buck-ritchey-northwest-radio-legend.html