Tom ‘Cat’ Reeder, longtime bluegrass radio host in D.C. area, dies at 77


Tom “Cat” Reeder, a WAMU bluegrass and country radio host with a folksy charm, died June 30 at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. He was 77. (Courtesy of WAMU)

Tom “Cat” Reeder, a bluegrass and country radio host who was a folksy presence on the airwaves for a half-century, most recently on the public radio outlet WAMU, died June 30 at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital after a heart attack. He was 77.

The death was confirmed by a daughter, Rebecca Reeder.

Mr. Reeder grew up on an Alabama cotton and peanut farm and spent much of his youth behind a mule plowing fields and tending to his family’s cattle herd. He became interested in radio while listening to the “Grand Ole Opry,” broadcast from Nashville.

His unmistakable Southern twang was familiar to country music radio listeners in the Washington area since the 1950s. On WAMU, he most recently hosted the “Tom ‘Cat’ Reeder Show,” playing traditional country and bluegrass, including the tunes of Jimmy Dean, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.

He gave his listeners a fuller appreciation of the music’s history, once telling The Washington Post: “Classic country music always tells a story. Some people say it’s just ‘drinking and cheating’ songs, but its precursor was the English ballad of Colonial times.”

In 1990, Mr. Reeder was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in Nashville.

James Thomas Reeder was born Oct. 25, 1934, in Blue Springs, Ala. As a teenager, he led a five-piece band called Tom Reeder and His Blue Springs Playboys.

He served in the Air Force, which brought him to the Washington area in the 1950s; he was most recently a Centreville resident. Early in his radio career, he was known for his showmanship and once broadcasted for seven days straight from the top of a telephone pole.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he emceed the National Championship Country Music Contest, held at Lake Whippoorwill in Fauquier County.

“As a performer, you wanted to be on his show. You needed Tom ‘Cat’ Reeder,” said Eddie Stubbs, a longtime country radio host in Nashville. “He was the tail that wagged the dog in the Washington market.”

Mr. Reeder was a radio host at Warrenton’s WKCW for more than 20 years before joining WAMU. His final broadcast was June 19.

His marriage to Jane Pitts ended in divorce. Survivors include his companion, Judy Woodward of Centreville; two daughters from his marriage, Rebecca Reeder of Fredericksburg and Onah Reeder of Christiansburg, Va.; a brother; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.

Mr. Reeder ended all of his broadcasts with his signature sign-off: “May the good Lord take a likin’ to you. And you know what, I hope you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live. Bye-bye, darlin’.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.