Legendary DJ Tom Perryman Dies


Legendary DJ Tom Perryman died yesterday in Tyler. His wife and business partner of more than 70 years, Billie, was by his side.

It was just a few months ago family, friends, and fans helped celebrate Perryman's 90th birthday and his 70-year career in radio that earned him numerous awards including the National Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame, Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, Texas Association of Broadcasters Pioneer Award, and many others.

Through his recent years as a DJ with KKUS 104.1 The Ranch, he helped his fans get to know favorite country songsters from his personal relationships with legends including Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley, Ray Price, Hank Williams, Faron Young, Slim Whitman, Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Tex Ritter, and many others that he helped become country music stars.

Ray Price and Perryman kept in touch until Price passed away in 2013. A few years earlier, Price wrote the foreword in Perryman's biography, Keepin' It Country, by County Line Magazine's P.A. Geddie.

"Tom Perryman and I both dropped our cotton sacks when we were kids growing up in Texas and ran as fast as we could for something else," Price said. "We both got started in country music about the same time in the late 1940s. I met Tom back in those early days in East Texas but it wasn’t until he came to Nashville in 1956, right about the time my first big hit, Crazy Arms, shot to No. 1, that I really got to know him. He was making things happen in the radio industry with a commitment to country music. He stood out. It made me feel good to know Tom was there. He was from down  home. I knew him.

"It was good to know I had a friend that would play my records and Tom knew a good song when he heard one. He helped many entertainers like me get my music heard.  He is a natural promoter and I am grateful to him for being on the air waves and saying great things about my music as well as so many other talented artists. He was also instrumental in booking performers for concerts and shows. He helped everybody."

Tom Perryman was born July 16, 1927, and grew up in Kerens, Texas. He knew he wanted to be a radio DJ by the time he was 16 years old. He met Billie Joyce Watson in 1945 while he was attending Tyler Commercial College. By September of 1946 they were married.

Tom's first radio station job was at KEBE in Jacksonville, Texas, in 1947. While there, he started promoting entertainers in East Texas that came from regular performances for the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport like Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, and Slim Whitman.

The early 1950s found he and Billie in Gladewater at KSIJ radio — promoting country artists from the Louisiana Hayride came natural to Tom.

Close to 40 or 50 country acts gained popularity in the area due, in large part, to Tom’s efforts including Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jim Ed and Maxine and Bonnie Brown, Floyd Cramer, Hank Thompson, Bob Wills, Sonny James, Slim Whitman, the Wilburn Brothers, Bill Carlisle, Johnny and Jack and Kitty Wells, Jerry Lee Lewis, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, George Jones, Wanda Jackson, Jean Sheppard, Roy Acuff, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Billy Walker, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, Don Gibson, the Big Bopper, Al Dexter, Floyd Tillman, Charlie Walker, David Houston, Lefty Frizzel, Bob Luman, Tex Ritter, Red Sovine, Claude Gray, Claude King, Leroy Van Dyke—the list goes on and on.

During their Gladewater years, Tom and Billie brought three children into the world.

When Nashville called the first time, the family moved there for three years with Tom working as a DJ and helping book artists. It was tough on the young family so when he got an offer to come back to East Texas, they took it.

In 1959, Tom and his friend and country star Jim Reeves bought KGRI in Henderson, Texas. After Reeves death in 1965 Tom stayed on for a while as he and Billie were well immersed in the Henderson community by that time.

Around the late 1960s, Tom got an offer from Jim Reeves' widow, Mary, and the family headed back to Tennessee, settling in Murfreesboro, a suburb of Nashville. In partnership with Mary, they bought WMTS radio station and they won many industry awards.

Tom's first "retirement" came when they sold that station in 1978. But he never slowed down. He spent time in a music and booking agency business with Jimmy C. Newman, traveled, and helped Mary Reeves with Jim Reeves Enterprises and museum. 

It was August 2001 when he and Billie returned to East Texas. He developed a huge audience on The Ranch radio, some remembering him from his early days in East Texas and others of all ages tuning in to hear stories for the first time about country music history from someone who was there. He continued to delight fans and win awards for another 15 years with his show, until his last in July 2016. 

“Thanks a lot folks,” he often said to his listeners. “I’ll be back tomorrow if everything happens and nothing fails. Bye now, ya’ll here.  If you need me, I’ll call you.”

Perryman will long be remembered for recognizing genuine talent, sharing what he loved with fans, helping build the careers of many country music legends, and most of all for spicing up the radio waves in the Upper East Side of Texas with his colorful, authentic commentaries.

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