2019 Newsmakers: Kirby Ray

River Radio 99.3 Real Rock program director. Radio personality. Founder of the heavy metal band Emaciation. Co-founder of the annual Scoutfest. Judge of the Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics. Board member of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri. Lover of nature, animals and all types of music (yes, even the Country genre.) Photographer. Arrowhead finder. Falconer apprentice. Libra.

A line from Kirby Ray's Newsmaker nomination sums it up perhaps more succinctly: hard-core rocker with soft, fuzzy vibes.

And that's Kirby Ray for you. The River Radio 99.3 Real Rock program director and radio personality plays rock music to make listeners' days better and also creates change in Southeast Missouri communities by working closely with numerous organizations throughout the region to spread the word on his radio show about fundraisers and events. He champions numerous organizations, including the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the City of Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department, the Cape Girardeau Police Department, Special Olympics and the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, to name a few.

He is also the co-founder of Scout Fest with the Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation Department, an event at which Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts gather to perform two hours of public service for the Parks and Recreation Department, cleaning up the local parks and trails. After completing their public service, the scouts get to enjoy a private, after-hours pool party at Cape Splash, complete with music and a bicycle giveaway. Kirby Ray says the event, which he created to help young people communicate face-to-face outdoors, has created more of an impact than he could have imagined: many of the scouts' parents have told him their children now enjoy picking up trash each time they go to the trail and feel an ownership in the trail.

It all began in San Francisco in 1994, when a friend offered Kirby Ray his first radio show on the University of California, Berkeley's radio station. The show was the midnight shift, and each night, Kirby Ray would ride the subway under the bay to walk through Oakland for his show, afterward going to his day job each morning. He did this for two years, and just as he and his band were leaving to come back to the Midwest due to the cost of living, he got two calls from other California stations asking him to do a regular, paid rock show on their stations. Kirby Ray turned these offers down, telling himself that when he got back home, he would try to get a job on Real Rock 99.3, the new name of Q 99, the radio station he listened to during the summers as a kid swimming in the Perryville, Missouri, city pool. He did, and in 1997 began working as the webmaster for Zimmer Radio Group in Cape Girardeau. Within a few years, Kirby Ray was the program director.

"Everyday it's a dream come true," Kirby Ray says. "I can't wait to get down here and see what's in the email and find out what I can reveal to the listeners."

He is passionate about the power of radio and remaining an independent, real programmer who creates shows himself rather than simply plugging in the cookie-cutter programming used by some radio groups that have multiple stations of the same format instead of catering to each market.

"When you're listening to a CD in your car or Bluetooth music, you're alone. When you're listening to the radio, you feel like you're part of a group," Kirby Ray says. "So people are drawn to that. You hear the weather, you hear the local events that are going on, we announce concerts to tell people what's happening ... also, they can win prizes, and people want to win. So people still listen."

And, of course, let's talk about the hair. Kirby Ray has been growing it for 22 years; he cut it because he thought he needed short hair to get the job at River Radio. When he realized he could grow it again and still keep his job, he said it was "open the gates on being able to have a job with long hair." Inspired by his 1970s childhood dream of having long hair spurred by the album cover for the soundtrack of "Hair," he's been growing it ever since.

"I also believe it's an extension of myself putting the energy out," Kirby Ray says. "And I like long hair."

For Kirby Ray, it's all about making the world a more positive place through his words, actions and very being.

"You could create enemies everyday; the world is full of people who are just ready for that. So I feel like just putting out that positive power and energy and encouraging people to do what they want and communicating to people face-to-face, that's very important to me, because I think maybe that's my way of helping," Kirby Ray says. "I want to inspire people and put positive energy out there, and I want to be as happy as I possibly can be. I get just overjoyed everyday thinking about that, you know? Why not?"