The man who helped introduce Elvis Presley to worldwide audiences through the Louisiana Hayride — the state’s version of the heralded Grand Ole Opry country radio show — has died. He was 87.
Veteran radio broadcaster Frank Page died late Wednesday after suffering a severe respiratory infection while hospitalized at WK Pierremont Health Center in Shreveport.
Page retired from KWKH in 2005 after 65 years of service. He was best known for introducing Presley on the show in 1954, but he was also credited with launching several other country music stars’ careers.
They include singer-songwriter Nathan ‘‘Nat’’ Stuckey whose hits included ‘‘Sweet Thang’’ and ‘‘Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line,’’ and James ‘‘Gentleman Jim’’ Reeves, whose songs included ‘‘I Love You Because’’ and ‘‘Welcome to My World.’’ Both men worked as announcers at KWKH with Page.
‘‘He had a great sense of humor and was extremely kind and courteous,’’ said longtime friend and colleague Tom Pace, who worked with Page at KWKH for nearly 25 years. ‘‘I don’t think he ever uttered a harsh word to me or anyone and he always took time to mentor anyone wanting to make broadcasting a career.’’
Pace, now the producer and host of ‘‘The Talk of the Town’’ daily show on 90.7 FM, said he often thought of Page as a father figure.
Tim Brando, radio host and CBS Sports studio host and play-by-play announcer, said he grew up knowing Page as a longtime friend of his family.
‘‘He was unlike anyone you would meet in the media,’’ Brando said. ‘‘He was somewhat shy. My father, Hub Brando, was a peer and worked at the competing station, KCIJ, and he often joked about how humble Mr. Page was. But he had a glorious set of pipes, a strong ‘voice of God’ type of voice, a memorable voice.’’
Page’s radio career began at KGHI in Little Rock, Ark., while in high school and he soon began working at KLRA there. He served in World War II and at the end of the war was on Armed Forces Radio, Berlin.
In 1947, he started at KWKH and became an announcer for the Louisiana Hayride two years later.
The Times in Shreveport (http://bit.ly/V1qfnC) reported it was through one of his radio personas, ‘‘Brother Gatemouth,’’ that Page brought blues to a generation of middle-class youths. One of the people listening was Robert Zimmerman, of Hibbings, Minn., now known as Bob Dylan. Several Dylan biographies credit Page with influencing the musician.
‘‘His life really resonates,’’ Pace said. ‘‘To think that he touched so many lives from Hank Williams Sr. to George Jones to Jimmie Davis to Johnny Cash to Loretta Lynn, when country music was at its heyday. Frank would revel in telling those stories about the live performances on the Hayride.’’
Page was a member of the County Music DJ Hall of Fame and received the Louisiana Association of Broadcaster’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Page’s survivors include his wife of more than 60 years, Helen Page; a daughter, Patty Stephens, of Denver; a brother, Larry Page, of Shreveport and a grandson.
Rose-Neath Funeral Home in Shreveport was handling arrangements and services were pending.