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Wayne Perkey, WHAS radio’s former longtime “morning man,” died recently due to complications of COVID-19, according to media reports. He was 84. 

Perkey, born in east Tennessee, began working at WHAS in Louisville in 1969 and stayed on for three decades, becoming the morning voice of 840 WHAS-AM.

“When you first met him in person, he had this tremendous baritone voice, and it was just like, ‘wow, that’s Wayne Perkey,’” said John Blim, vice president donor relations at WHAS Crusade for Children

The annual telethon that raises money for kids with special needs began in the mid-1950s. Perkey first emceed the event in 1980 and stayed on in that role for about 20 years.

“You could see he was emotionally tied to it,” Blim said of Perkey. “He would tear up on occasion, or he would pick up a child or engage them in conversation. And we have some memorable clips of him being a regular person and just reacting to the moment.”

Crusade for Children was actually what made Perkey want to come to Louisville and work for the station. That’s according to an interview he gave to the University of Louisville Oral History Center in 2012

In that same interview, Perkey said he was nervous to take over the emcee position for the event.

“I’m sick in my stomach, and I’m scared and sweating and all this stuff,” he said. “I just knew that the, you know, the show would open, the band would play, the dancers would dance, and the singers would sing, and it would be this crescendo moment, and the little child would come walking up to me, and I’d pick you up, and I’d burst into tears and choke up.”

But even after Perkey retired from the event, he’d still come back to help out.

Blim said he’d come into the studio to talk to crew, donors and kids. 

“It was still the same Wayne,” Blim said. “Even last summer, our 68th year, he was 83, and there he was. Eight o’clock on Sunday morning… and comes right up to you, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’” Blim said. 

Perkey was genuine and down to earth, Blim added.

“You’ve heard the expression WYSIWYG, what you see is what you get. Well, Wayne was exactly that,” he said.

U.S. Senate minority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he was “saddened” to hear about Perkey’s death. 

“Wayne’s upbeat voice was the sound of Louisville’s morning commute for 30 years, and his career quickly extended beyond radio to include television hosting, emceeing major events around our city – including the Crusade for Children telethon – and serving as WHAS’ voice at the Kentucky Derby,” McConnell said in a statement

Friends and past colleagues took to social media to share their memories and condolences.

“God Rest the Soul of Louisville’s greatest morning radio star Wayne Perkey,” WHAS radio host Terry Meiners wrote in a post. “Thanks for your leadership, benevolence, and encouragement to all of us at @840WHAS & @WHAS11.”

WHAS11 has been collecting people’s favorite memories

“If he met you, as soon as he shook your hand, you were his friend, and you would have to do an awful lot to lose that designation,” former WHAS11 Chief Meteorologist Ken Schulz shared. “And by the way, his name was Perkey. For all the years I worked with him, I can’t tell you the number of times the question, because he was in the morning, and he was ridiculously happy and people would say Wayne Perkey, that has to be a stage name, no it was not.”

One of Perkey’s five children, Rebecca Booth, told the Courier Journal, family was very important to her father.

“His family meant everything to him,” she said.

Recently, he had been caring for his ex-wife, who was dealing with symptoms from long-COVID-19.

“Jane Anne was one of the first victims of COVID and I’ve become one of her primary caregivers,” he told Meiners during an interview in January. “I really get upset with people who won’t wear a mask, violating their personal privilege to have to put one on. It’s a terrible disease.” 

Perkey documented his battle with COVID-19 on social media. In one of his final posts, he thanked everyone for sending well wishes and wrote: “These are the times when we are so grateful for our friends and family.”

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.