Mary Dale Vansant




Featuring Mary Dale Vansant, Ray Ragsdale and

The Record Hop on WGPC

Vintage 1954!

Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed may have been the first to break on the scene with the term "rock-n-roll" in 1951, but Southwest Georgians will remember Albany's own Mary Dale Vansant ('56) as the vibrant sweet 16-year-old who - along with her classmate Ray (Ragsdale) Stevens ('57) - helped bring the newest music sensation to radios around the Good Life City as part of the popular Saturday afternoon show, The Record Hop, on WGPC

It was the summer of 1954. Marilyn Monroe was married to Joe DiMaggio. A postage stamp cost 3 cents. You could buy a brand new car for just under $2,000. And Mary Dale Vansant, now Mary Dale Kea, was a rising junior at Albany High School. When it became evident that rock-n-roll was here to stay, WGPC owner Milt George asked Mary Dale and classmate Ray Ragsdale - the now-famous Ray Stevens - if they would host a radio show dedicated to the new music.

It was a dream job, Kea recalls. "Back then, we felt we were on the cusp of big change when we started the show." Up until about 1953 or 1954, popular music was still very similar to their parents' music ... Frank Sinatra, Big Bands and ballads, Kea says. "We felt we brought in rock-n-roll. And our parents didn't understand it a bit!"

Kea had always been a big radio fan, growing up around the family's radio - as large as a piece of furniture -located in her parent's bedroom. "I listened to it from the time I was aware of the world, especially on Sunday afternoons and after church that night, since we couldn't do anything else fun on Sundays!" When she wasn't at the games, Kea listened to all the Albany Cardinal Class D baseball games, and spent hours on end as a youngster fascinated with shows like "Let's Pretend" and Orson Wells' "The Shadow,"

"It was just a fantasyland, shows we would listen to on the radio. It was definitely a very big part of my life," says Kea. Suddenly finding herself a part of an actual radio program she found fascinating.

Kea and Stevens would arrive at the station -located in a small building on Jackson Street next to the new Albany Hotel - about 9 a.m. each Saturday morning to pull and time records, cut and time commercials, and get the show in order to be on the air from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It was WGPC Program Director Walter Flint who showed them the ropes.

"Walter was a life saver when we began the show. He was the person at WGPC who knew how to do everything. He trained Ray and me for a couple of weeks prior to our beginning The Record Hop - helped us learn how to be our own engineers and how to learn radio signals for going on the air and coming off the air," Kea remembers of her mentor and longtime friend.

"I put the first microphone in front of Mary Dale," remembers Flint, who still-calls Albany-home and remains one of the area's best loved former radio personalities. "Mary Dale always stood out, was on the cutting edge of everything. She was wonderful on the show." And even in those days, he could tell Ray (Ragsdale) was destined for something bigger, he says.

"You could just tell," Flint says. "He was very creative. Dynamic. They had a lot of fun." A radio veteran himself, Flint, a New York native, had come to Albany after building radio stations in India and Burma during time in the U.S. Army alongside pal Milt George and others. Today, the 86-year-old is pastor of Presbyterian churches in Fort Gaines and Elmodel, GA, happily using his still-strong, distinct voice to spread the gospel.

Flint remembers The Record Hop as an ideal opportunity for a teenager of the time, and Kea recalls it was definitely fun, but hard work, too. She and Stevens were each paid $2 an hour, but only for time they were actually on the air. She even remembers what she did with her very first paycheck. "I bought a brown sweater from The Style Shop on Washington Street," she says with a laugh.

Though the idea behind the show was to attract a teenage audience, George and Flint drew the line at playing what some called "raunchy" music like "Work With Me, Annie" by Hank Ballard and "Sixty Minute Man" by The Dominoes, Kea says.

"Ray would try to get us in trouble and would always make faces at me, especially if he thought I was being too nice," she remembers. "He wanted to play lots more rock-n-roll songs with suggestive lyrics. He always said that one day I would be playing his records ... and sure enough, I have!"

Working with Stevens was memorable and "always fun" she says, but Kea has one distinct memory of the show that she says won't soon fade. Record producers sent new recordings to radio stations in hopes they would play them, and one particular Saturday Stevens suggested they playa cut or two off of a new singer's album.

"We had never heard of him, but Ray suggested we playa cut or two off his LP that afternoon," she says. "After introducing the singer and playing the songs for our radio audience, I rapidly ventured my opinion and prediction on the air that this new recording artist from Mississippi will never amount to anything in the music industry. You guessed it - his name was Elvis Presley!"

Admittedly, she soon became an Elvis fan, but there were many other artists Kea admired. "I drove Ray crazy wanting to play "Cry Me A River" by Julie London. She had such a sultry voice and great diction," she says. Dedications were a big part of the show, too, and Kea remembers dedicating a Hoagy Carmichael song to her parents for their anniversary.

"Sometimes I think about lyrics of songs back then and some of them were just so ridiculous," she says with a laugh. Still, she could never have imagined there would be today such a thing as Rap music or groups called The Sex Pistols and Black Eyed Peas, she adds. She does love some of the music today, though.

"Lady Gaga rocks!" she exclaims. "I do wonder what the music industry will be like when our grandchildren are our age now."

After a year and a half on The Record Hop, Kea, then 17, decided it was time to move on and spend her Saturdays doing other things. "I was a senior, and at that time there were so many senior parties that I wanted to go to," she recalls. Stevens, who is a year younger, continued on with the former Diane Flowers, now Diane Royal, next to him at the microphone.

Celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary this year, Kea is married to the Rev. Don Kea, and has happily lived the life of a Methodist minister's wife for 50 years.

"My husband used to say that Ray went on to fame and fortune, and I married a preacher and faded into oblivion, but I have loved my life as the wife of a minister. And we are so happy that we stayed in Albany when we retired from First United Methodist Church in 2000."

Their daughter, who is a poet, and son-in-law live in Macon and have two children in college. , Still a fan of radio, Kea keeps one on in the house or in her car most of the time, listening to classical music on public radio and shows like "Talk of the Nation" and "Fresh Air" while she's cooking or running errands. It's a comfort to her, she says.

She also keeps up with the other half of The Record Hop duo every chance she gets. She last saw Ray Stevens when he was in town for his 50th Class Reunion at Albany High School, and will see him again this month when she and Don visit friends and go to one of his concerts in North Carolina. Soon after, they will travel with their family to Israel to celebrate their 50th anniversary. "We are keeping busy," says the former teenage disc jockey who helped introduce rock-n-roll to Southwest Georgia. "Life is good."


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