Local Radio Hall of Famer lives life out loud

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By Gary Aide

Claude Jones and his five-point buck

I’ve always felt that we would all be better off if we didn’t know how old we are. Sure, it’s fun to know you’ve finally turned 16 and could legally drive a car. Hopefully you were just as excited to turn 18 and vote, or 21 and enjoy a legal beverage. But after that, few of us really enjoy knowing our age. That is, perhaps, until you are one of the exceptions and reach close to a century of being on this good earth. Such is the case with my friend Claude Jones who turned 95 this past September.

Claude is a well-known radio personality in the Greenbrier Valley and a close family friend.  He has not only defied the age actuaries but continues to not let it slow him down. Sure, he has bouts with arthritis, sore muscles, balance issues, etc., but he perseveres and keeps doing what he loves the most: bowhunting. In fact, last fall he successfully harvested a five-point buck.

Claude was born in 1921, in Rappahannock County, VA. Right out of high school, he married his sweetheart, Joyce Willys, and then joined the army during World War II with hopes of pursuing a career in electronics.

“At the time, the army was advertising for young men to enlist to learn electronics and that struck a chord with me and I joined,” said Claude. “In reality, they were teaching us to learn radar, which at the time was treated as top secret technology. They wouldn’t even let us students mention the word ‘radar’ outside of the classroom.”

After serving four years in the army, he moved to Front Royal, VA, and worked as an electrician while studying to get his 1st Class FCC Radio License. Six months later, with license in hand, Claude landed a job at an AM/FM station in Marysville, CA. Three years after that, he moved just down the road to a Grass Valley station, with the same job title.

The West Coast was quickly becoming home to the happy couple. Hoping to become parents, they applied to adopt a baby from a mother who happened to be of Catholic faith. She was very receptive to Claude and Joyce, until she learned that they were of Protestant faith. Her refusal to let them adopt strictly because of their religion left them devastated and prompted them to make a move back to the East Coast.

After a three-and-a-half-year stint at radio station WFTR in Front Royal, they moved to Staunton, VA, for about a year and then to Clifton Forge, VA, where he was employed by station WCFV.

“We stayed there for about four years until 1965 when radio station WRON (1400-AM) in Ronceverte, WV, began seeking a chief engineer, vice president and on-air talent. I applied for the job and got it. I’ve lived in the same house in Lewisburg ever since.”

In 1970, Claude fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning and operating a radio station. He was approved by the FCC to begin construction on WSLW-AM in White Sulphur Springs, and by the end of the year, his station was on the air.

Living in the Lewisburg area, he became friends with my older brother Richard and together they shared a passion of hunting and fishing. I, on the other hand, didn’t get to know Claude until he offered me a part-time job at his radio station in White Sulphur. Poor Claude. I was only 17 at the time and green as the newly sprouted spring grass. But I was absolutely thrilled to work in radio. I would have worked for free if he would have let me. But I had a lot of learning to do, and Claude was the ever-patient teacher.

Several years later, I left radio upon insistence from my father to help in the family retail business. Actually, my Dad asked Claude to “fire” me so that I would get the message! So, one day, Claude called me into his office and said, “Gary, I really hate to do this, but I’m going to have to let you go.”  I asked him what I had done wrong?  He replied, “Nothing. You did a good job here but your father called and wants you to work for him.”

I guess it’s nice to be in such demand, but at the time I was crestfallen. Even so, I’ve always appreciated Claude’s honesty and fully understood the uncomfortable position he was handed.

In 1975, Claude expanded his ownership of stations with WKCJ-FM, “all country all the time.” Several years later WKCJ provided the area’s first listening experience with automation in programming. Two giant reel-to-reel tape machines would kick on and off, on cue, to provide music, commercials and news, all without the aid of a local live DJ. I doubt most listeners back then ever realized the DJs they were hearing on air lived elsewhere in the country – far, far away. It was cutting edge technology for the time and Claude knew it was the future of local radio. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a local station that isn’t at least partly automated.

Sadly, on July 24, 2005, Claude’s beloved wife, Joyce, passed away. Joyce was Claude’s biggest cheerleader and together they raised two wonderful children, Brian and Kyle.

Over the years, Claude believed it was his civic duty to volunteer for community service to our area. He has served on numerous boards, councils and clubs – always ready to lend a hand. In 2011, he was honored with induction into the West Virginia Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Since his retirement in the late 1990s, Claude fills his days with socializing, church and learning new things. In fact, when he celebrated his 90th birthday, he held a church luncheon and entertained the crowd with his singing while playing the guitar – something he had just recently learned to play.

“I’ve always wanted to learn,” said Claude. “The process to learn something new is quite motivating. I’ll sit down and read a book just for the knowledge of it.”

One thing he recently, reluctantly, had to learn was how to shoot a crossbow. You see, he had been shooting a recurve bow for more than 45 years. But three years ago, arthritis in the shoulder finally motivated him get a permit to shoot a crossbow. Without a doubt, he has become proficient in shooting the crossbow as evidenced by the five-point buck he just harvested.

When I asked him why he hunts, Claude said there are several reasons.

“First and foremost, there is nothing like being outside on a cold, crisp autumn morning. The golden sunshine and beautiful colors of the turning leaves are a sight to behold. Add to that the sounds of the forest, from the cawing of crows to the alarming cry of the blue jays, happily giving away your position to all the game within earshot. Then, without warning, you hear the crunching of leaves that tells you it’s that buck of a lifetime approaching – only to be slightly disappointed when you find out it’s just a rascally squirrel. Finally, it’s the challenge that only a bowhunter can appreciate. Getting within an effective shooting range of 20 yards of your quarry demands that all odds have to be in your favor.”

I couldn’t conclude this story without asking the mandatory question, “What is the secret to a long life?”

“One secret is, don’t smoke cigarettes,” said Claude. “I quit smoking 47 years ago, and it’s paid off. I had two brothers and two sisters who smoked their whole lives, right up until they died. All of them died between the age of 70 to 75. The only difference between us is that I quit smoking and they didn’t. I firmly believe that.”

I’ll add one more secret that I’ve observed over the years about Claude. He always has a reason to get up in the morning.

Congratulations on your 95th birthday, Claude. And many more.