WAMU Radio's 'Stained Glass Bluegrass' Host Robert Shipley

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Robert "Red" Shipley, 70, a radio host who specialized in country, Southern gospel and bluegrass music and was a fixture of the Washington area's airwaves for four decades, died Oct. 6 at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. He had cancer.

Until last month, Mr. Shipley spent 25 years emceeing WAMU-FM's "Stained Glass Bluegrass" Sunday program. The International Bluegrass Music Association named him the 2006 Broadcaster of the Year, based on voting by his peers.

Bob Webster, who succeeded Mr. Shipley as host of "Stained Glass Bluegrass," said Mr. Shipley was "uncompromising" in proselytizing for nontraditional bluegrass sounds and was a keen judge of which musicians had staying power.

For example, in the mid-1980s, Mr. Shipley promoted on his show the Isaacs, a band that plays contemporary bluegrass gospel, when few others saw them as fitting easily into the bluegrass mainstream. One of the performers, Sonya Isaacs, was an International Bluegrass Music Association finalist for best female vocalist last year.

Over the air, Mr. Shipley was known for a succinct baritone. He once told The Washington Post that his listeners did not care for windy introductions to the music, adding, "They don't need my dulcet tones, particularly."

Robert Grant Shipley, who earned his nickname from his hair color, was born in Johnson City, Tenn.

His early radio exposure to country and bluegrass music led to his first broadcasting job over a 250-watt station in Orange, Va., where his family had relocated. At his death, Mr. Shipley was an Orange resident.

Starting in the late 1950s, he emceed a series of morning shows on Fauquier County stations, including WKCW-AM. He was a host at WPIK-AM in Alexandria before taking over "Stained Glass Bluegrass" from Gary Henderson.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Mr. Shipley and veteran radio host Tom "Cat" Reeder co-emceed the Fauquier-based National Championship Country Music Contest.

His marriages to Nancy Bailey Shipley and Mary Shipley ended in divorce. He tended medically to his first wife before her death in 2003.

Survivors include four children from his first marriage and three grandchildren.

-- Adam Bernstein

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