By Morgan Bryce
Family, friends and fans alike came together July 30 at True Deliverance Holiness Church in Auburn to celebrate the 30-plus year career of radio legend Richard LaGrand.
A crowd of more than 100 came to the ceremony, which included music and tributes to LaGrand. He also received proclamations from both Auburn and Opelika, and both cities agreed on naming July 30 “Richard LaGrand Day”.
“The way everything came together, and having all of those people come that day, it meant the world to me,” LaGrand said.
Originally from Chicago, Ill., LaGrand got his first chance to be on the air at six years old.
At the age of 15, LaGrand and his family moved to Alabama, to take care of his grandmother, as well as to get away from the dangers they faced in their part of Chicago.
“I cried all the way on the train down here, because I didn’t want to leave. I was attached to the area, my school and my friends, so that was tough to leave behind,” LaGrand said.
He spent his first year in school at Tuskegee Institute High, before transferring to Beauregard.
One aspect of LaGrand’s life that didn’t change in the move was his passion for sports, and at Beauregard he played both football and basketball, receiving All-State honorable mention and permanent team captain status in football.
Following high school, LaGrand planned on attending Tampa University in Florida, but a change in his life plans resulted in his pursuing a job, and he started working for Eagle Budweiser, which was located near Opelika.
LaGrand worked in both sales and marketing for Eagle, and would piece together commercials for the company in the WBIL studios in Tuskegee. According to LaGrand, the radio station owner saw some radio potential in him.
“After I’d been doing commercials for a little while, George Clay, the owner of WBIL, liked what he heard and soon I was doing a show – the Hometown Review,” LaGrand said.
The Hometown Review was a sponsored, weekly program dedicated to keeping listeners aware of what was going on in Tuskegee as well as playing current hit music. Despite his overall lack of radio experience at the time, LaGrand said the transition into radio was a smooth one.
“I never really had to think about it. Doing radio was just a matter of getting in there and doing it for me,” LaGrand said.
A couple of years into doing the Hometown Review, LaGrand received a call from Joe Marshall, a sales manager for the WZMG radio station, who informed him that radio station owner Gary Fuller was looking to start Lee County’s first African-American radio station.
In 1986, LaGrand began working for Fuller, and hosted his first radio program, which was dedicated to playing R&B music.
“When Gary owned the station, I did a little bit of everything. I had my show, but I also did sales, marketing and live remotes, too. I’m grateful for Gary’s vision and confidence in me,” he said.
Shortly after the start of his radio program, LaGrand’s program switched from being R&B to gospel, and has remained the same ever since.
More than 30 years later, LaGrand is still hosting his show, playing gospel music and keeping listeners aware of all the local happenings.
“It doesn’t feel like thirty years. I’m still having fun doing this,” LaGrand said, reflecting on his radio career.
Critical to Richard’s success over the years is the way he said he tries to make his listeners feel when they are listening to his show.
“Getting to match faces with the voices that call into this show is awesome, and I have people come and tell me that they’ve been listening to me for years, because their mom or grandma wouldn’t let them change the channel,” Richard said. “Every day that I prepare for the show, I try to treat it as though I’m sitting on the porch, talking to family and friends. My goal is to touch one person’s life every day, and if I’ve done that, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
Besides meeting fans of his show, Richard has also had the opportunity to sit down and talk with various celebrities, such as Tuskegee-born musician and Commodores lead singer Lionel Richie, Judge Greg Mathis, Joe and Catherine Jackson, the parents of the late Michael Jackson, Morris Day and Auburn University stars like Coach Pat Dye, Cam Newton and Charles Barkley. When asked which was his favorite to talk to, he did not hesitate to name Barkley.
“Charles is one of the funniest guys you’d ever want to meet and he never meets a stranger. He’ll always take the time to talk to people and pose for pictures,” LaGrand said.
Now at 61, Richard and his wife Katie have been married for more than 29 years, and have two children.
Thinking ahead, LaGrand said his love for both the area and work he does is motivation enough to keep doing the things he loves.
“I have a deep love and appreciation for the Auburn/Opelika communities. I plan on working in radio for another 30 years. I wake up every morning looking forward to what I have to do that day,” he said.