Jay Grayson, 77, WBAL radio, television personality

June 22, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Jay Grayson, the versatile WBAL radio and television personality who for nearly 40 years closed his show with the admonition, "If you liked my show, buy my jams and jellies. They're on sale in the lobby," died Tuesday from complications of a stroke at Villa St. Michael Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Northwest Baltimore. He was 77.

Until he retired in 1982, Mr. Grayson had been one of Baltimore's more enduring and popular disc jockeys and masters of ceremonies, known for his witty and authoritative on-air persona.

In the early years of television, he had been co-host of "The Quiz Club," a midday live television show broadcast from WBAL's old studios at Charles and 26th streets.

"We first came together in 1950, when he was the announcer on `The Hecht Co. Shopper's Review' and I was the emcee and we often switched roles," said Brent Gunts, the pioneering Baltimore broadcaster who later headed the station.

"A year later, he was my co-emcee on `The Brent Gunts Show,' a five-day-a-week variety and breakfast club type of show," Mr. Gunts said yesterday from his Roland Park home. "He was a great guy and hard worker. He was a very talented guy who could extemporize about anything."

Mr. Grayson was especially useful each morning when it came time to write lyrics about the weather set to "Dixie," "Maryland, My Maryland" or other popular tunes.

"The whole cast opened the show each morning at 9 a.m. singing about the weather," said Mr. Gunts, laughing.

He described Mr. Grayson as a "delightful, warm and very cordial person who seemed to enjoy what he was doing."

As host of "The Jay Grayson Show" on WBAL radio in the noon-to-3 p.m. slot, Mr. Grayson attributed the show's success to his taste in records rather than a station program manager's. He also mixed his favorite jazz and big-band records with contemporary music that resulted in a musical blend with broad audience appeal.

Born and raised Jerome Bernard Goldberg in Mount Washington, he was a graduate of city public schools. During World War II, he served in the Army and was discharged as a master sergeant.

He began his career in Annapolis in the late 1940s at WANN radio with Vince Bagli and Stu Kerr, who also would become Baltimore broadcasting legends.

"He brought a real comedy aspect to `The Brent Gunts Show,'" said Jim West, now semiretired from WBAL, where he began working with Mr. Grayson as a singer in the early 1950s.

"He always wore those tortoise frame glasses without lenses, even on the radio. They were really were a prop, and once he had them on, `click,' then he was ready to go," said Mr. West who recalled him as being "quiet and introspective" when away from the microphone or television cameras.

When Mr. Grayson was host of a mystery movie show on WBAL-TV, all viewers saw of him was his gloved hands in a box of sand.

"He'd say, `The sands of time shift to make way for the hands of crime,'" recalled Mr. West, a Parkville resident.

"He had a very distinctive voice that had an unusual timbre to it," said Jack Schaum, WBAL radio personality. "There was no mistaking it for anyone else's.

"He'd be hosting his music show, and I'd go back to the booth to do the news, and there Jay would be playing away on an imaginary keyboard. He was such a delightful person to be around, and when you were around him, you knew you were in the presence of a broadcasting legend."

When it came time to retire, Mr. Grayson avoided the fanfare of an on-air farewell by calling in sick.

The explanation of his closing line, he said, was that he had heard it years ago from an old nightclub comic about rural lecturers.

"To pick up a few more bucks, wives accompanying itinerant speakers would make jellies and sell them in the lobby outside the lecture hall," he told The Sun in a 1992 interview. "There was something about that ending to things that I liked."

No services will be held.

Mr. Grayson is survived by two sons, Mark Goldberg of Columbia and Dan Goldberg of Los Angeles.

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