Iowa City radio icon Dottie Ray dies at 93

Broadcasting pioneer was on the airwaves for 55 years

Radio personality Dottie Ray of Iowa City smiles as she sits at the table in her home where she conducts her daily radio show Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008 in Iowa City. Today marks the 50-year anniversary of the “Dottie Ray Show” on KXIC AM 800 and Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey has proclaimed today “Dottie Ray Day” in her honor.  (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
Radio personality Dottie Ray of Iowa City smiles as she sits at the table in her home where she conducts her daily radio show Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008 in Iowa City. Today marks the 50-year anniversary of the “Dottie Ray Show” on KXIC AM 800 and Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey has proclaimed today “Dottie Ray Day” in her honor. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Dottie Ray, the woman who united and informed Eastern Iowans for 15 minutes each day on KXIC 800 AM radio for 55 years, has died.

Station officials announced Ray’s death Tuesday. She was 93.

Until her 2014 retirement, Ray was host of a show that aired right before noon each day, updating Eastern Iowans on local events, artists and organizations.

“That’s an Iowa City icon lost,” said Lyle Muller, former editor of The Gazette and executive editor of IowaWatch, who knew Ray while he worked as a news director at KXIC in the late 1970s.

When the radio station was sold in 1980, the new owners decided they wanted to cancel Ray’s show because they didn’t see the value in it, Muller said.

“The action from advertisers was swift,” he added. “Advertisers called up the radio station and said we’re pulling all of our advertising.”

The Dottie Ray Show, which first aired in 1959, was back within a week.

“If anybody had anything going on in the community in Iowa City, they had to be on that Dottie Ray Show because that was where they heard about it,” Muller said.

From a post in her Iowa City apartment, Ray welcomed more than 32,000 guests into her living room through her always-open apartment door, waiting with a cup of coffee before she interviewed them for 15 minutes. Ray brought on guests to talk about fundraising events, non-profits, the arts and culture.

Children were among her favorite subjects.

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“If I’d had my druthers, I would have only interviewed children all my life,” Ray said during her retirement radio broadcast at age 91.

Ray was a journalist for 62 years, and a film about her life was released this June at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts.

Ray got her start in journalism as the fifth editor-in-chief of the Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa’s student newspaper. Ray’s editorial staff was comprised completely of women. She met her husband Robert Ray at the paper. She offered him a job writing editorials when he came in to complain about the editorial page.

Bill Casey, publisher of the Daily Iowan since the late 1970s, said Ray remains a legend; her picture from her time as editor in 1942 still hangs in the office of the student newspaper.

She was someone everyone at the Daily Iowan knew, Casey said.

“She was a gracious, wonderful woman,’ Casey said. “When you sat down with her, she would ask where you were from and get to know so much about you before you got a chance to ask her a question. She’s an inspiration to people, especially young women.”

Lily Abromeit, editor-in-chief of the Daily Iowan, said she was planning to meet Ray this fall, and that Ray’s role as one of the first female editors of the paper is empowering.

Abromeit, a senior, said the editors of the paper for the last three years have been women, and she credits women like Ray for paving the path.

“Everyone that’s at the DI speaks of her being a great leader,” Abromeit said. “Women who are in leadership roles are powerful women. But she made it so that it was, ‘Why shouldn’t women be in charge?’ That’s a great mind-set we continue to have.”

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