Terry Dorsey, a popular fixture in Dallas-Fort Worth radio since 1981 who retired from KSCS/96.3 FM in December after 26 years, has died, the station said Sunday. He was 66.
“It comes with deep sadness that I have to report the passing of my longtime friend and cherished colleague,” his longtime co-host, Mark “Hawkeye” Louis, said on the station’s Facebook page.
“Terry retired from KSCS in December and had hoped to live out his retirement on a farm in Illinois,” Louis said in the post. “Last night, I received a call from his family that Terry had passed away peacefully at home. Terry had not been feeling well these past few days and it was rather sudden. Tomorrow morning we’ll remember Terry and allow listeners to comment on what he meant to them. We’d like to encourage you to share this and leave comments as this would bring comfort to his family.”
Louis was coming to the end of a ski trip in Utah when he got the news. Reached by phone Sunday after he returned to DFW, he said he had spent the entire three-hour flight answering condolence texts and emails. Louis has often said that in the duo’s 26-year partnership, he and Mr. Dorsey had only one argument.
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“We talked one time about how when one of us went on vacation, we couldn’t wait to get back and just hang out together again,” Louis said. “And tell each other stories about our vacation, or something that struck us funny while we were on vacation that we would have shared on the air. And how much fun it was the day we got back from vacation. That was what it was like to hang out with Terry every day. It was so much fun in the studio.”
John Morris, Mr. Dorsey’s producer at KSCS for the past four years, said that he got word of Mr. Dorsey’s death late Sunday morning through the station’s program director and that he was stunned by the news.
“Our GM sent out an email saying it was natural causes but we’re really not sure what it was,” said Morris, who goes by “Trapper John” on the air.
“Everyone was completely blindsided by this,” he added. “Everybody’s in a state of shock. Nobody was expecting this.”
He said that although Mr. Dorsey had experienced health problems in the past, he left in December in what appeared to be good health and in good spirits.
“When he retired three months ago, we fully expected him to come back and visit with us and spend time with us and sit in on the program,” he said. Mr. Dorsey had been scheduled to call in to the show one day last week but had to cancel because he lost his voice. But nobody expected this, Morris said.
“He was a broadcast legend,” Morris said. “For a guy who was such a big star, he was just such a down-to-earth, regular guy. And that’s what everybody loved about him.”
Those sentiments were echoed by many current and former colleagues.
“Terry wasn’t just a radio host or even just a radio legend,” said J.R. Schumann, Dallas operations manager for Cumulus Media, KSCS’ parent company. “Terry was an icon that shaped an entire industry. The mark that he left on radio is something that will impact this industry for years to come. But above everything else, he was just your friend.”
By 5 p.m. Sunday, KSCS had almost 3,500 comments on its Facebook post about Mr. Dorsey’s passing. “We’ve had people reaching us on Twitter, listeners that are saying they feel like they’ve lost a family member,” Schumann said. “That was the impact Terry had on this market.”
Among the tweets was one from Denton’s Eli Young Band: “Our hearts go out to the @963kscs family. Terry Dorsey taught us kids from North Texas what country radio was all about. #countrylegend”
Mr. Dorsey came to DFW in 1981 to do mornings at country station KPLX/99.5 FM, where he had a successful run till he was hired away by KSCS in 1988. Louis, who had been working in San Antonio, was called up by KSCS’ then-program director Ted Stecker to work as Mr. Dorsey’s sidekick in what became the Dorsey Gang.
From the late ’80s to the mid-’90s, Mr. Dorsey’s show ruled the DFW radio ratings. He is one of the few people who has won “air personality of the year” awards from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and Billboard Magazine. He is also a member of the Country Disc Jockey Hall of Fame and the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.
Major country acts, including Martina McBride, Asleep at the Wheel, Montgomery Gentry and Ty Herndon, as well as sports personalites such as Troy Aikman (who called in during Mr. Dorsey’s final show) and Terry Bradshaw appeared on The Dorsey Gang. Mr. Dorsey often had something more in store for them that just an interview.
“I think one of my favorite stories is when we had Brad Paisley in when Brad was a relative newcomer,” Louis said. “We found out that his ex-girlfriend lived in Dallas. And we surprised him with having his ex-girlfriend in the studio. And Brad has never forgiven us for that. He wasn’t angry, because he’s not that kind of guy, but Brad has never let us forget that.”
Linda O’Brian, a former KSCS personality who now works for Cumulus-owned Westwood One, recalled a chili cookoff involving Mr. Dorsey, Louis, Bradshaw, Herndon and then-American Country Countdown host Bob Kingsley.
“We got into this joke about Texas chili being better than anything else,” O’Brian said. “Of course, Terry said, ‘Oh, no — Cincinnati’s chili is better.’ So we did a cookoff and I got Terry Bradshaw, Bob Kinglsey and Ty Herndon to come in and be our celebrity judges. We had all these Crock-Pots in the studio, and Terry ate his Cincinnati chili, which we joked with him was more like a dessert topping because it had cinnamon in it.”
O’Brian says Mr. Dorsey always had that sense of playfulness.
“There was nothing different about him of the air,” she said. “He was the same guy standing next to you in line at Albertsons as he was on the radio.”
Steve Harmon, who co-hosted the rival Harmon & Evans show with Scott Evans on KPLX/99.5 FM from 1988 to 1996 — The Dorsey Gang’s peak years — said Mr. Dorsey was naturally funny.
“I flew with Scott Evans, Terry and Hawkeye to Nashville our first year here to the CMA Awards,” Harmon, who is now with iHeartMedia in the Miami area, said in an email. “When we arrived, Scott and I grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel shuttle. Behind me I heard, ‘Harmon what the heck are you guys doing, you’re in the big time now, get a cab!’ Just then their cab showed up, I said can we ride with you Terry? ‘He** no, get your own, you tightwad!’ He laughed so hard, I laughed … and that is how I will remember him … just plain funny.”
Candace Havens, a Fort Worth-based author who contributed entertainment reports to Mr. Dorsey’s show, remembered his humor as well, but also his nurturing side. Sometimes the two overlapped.
“Every time I had a book come out, he would read a passage on air,” Havens said via Facebook email. “Usually the beginning of something sexy that would make us all blush. He’d admonish me on air, making fun. We’d have a big laugh. But off the air, he would hug me and say, ‘I’m proud of you, kiddo.’ He was a naturally funny man, and one of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.”
Tom Tradup, vice president of talk and news programming at Salem Radio Network, based in Irving, said he was deeply saddened by the news.
“Terry Dorsey’s untimely passing has impacted my family in a deep, personal way,” he emailed the Star-Telegram. “Not only was he a superbly talented broadcaster … but on Valentine’s Day 1991 — as President/GM of WLS in Chicago — I appeared on Terry’s morning show on our sister-station KSCS/Dallas to ask Lori Lovett — then an account executive at KRLD/Dallas — to marry me. (Then GM Victor Sansone let me buy 60 seconds of airtime at a special ‘insider rate’ of $1 to broadcast the commercial message.) She heard the announcement on the air — almost drove off the road on her way to work — and this year we will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. So we literally got engaged as part of the ‘Terry Dorsey Gang’ morning show.
“It was a great testimonial to the power of radio advertising … and so today’s news was especially sad at our home.”
Louis says that Monday morning’s tribute show on KSCS will feature listeners calling in to share their memories of Mr. Dorsey, as well as former Dorsey Gang members and several DFW radio and TV personalities. Louis did not want to divulge any names, because he was uncertain how many would be able to fit into the program.
“There’s so many that have reached out,” Louis said, “I don’t know how many of them we could use.”
By the Sunday afternoon phone call, Louis said he had adjusted to the news about his longtime colleague’s sudden death. But he said it had been a roller-coaster day.
“I’ve been crying since about 10 o’clock this morning,” Louis said around 4:30 Sunday afternoon. “The people who sat on either side of me on the plane, they probably thought it was pretty strange, because I could not stop crying on the plane. I feel like I’m a bit cried out already.”
Arrangements are pending. Mr. Dorsey, an only child, is survived by his wife, Claudia; daughters Elizabeth “Libby” Dorsey and Tiffany Lance; sons, Dan Dorsey and Adam Dorsey; stepchildren, Chrissey Piatt, Randy Schroer and Jamie Schroer; and grandchildren.
The Star-Telegram recorded Mr. Dorsey’s final day at KSCS in December. You can read that sendoff here.
Staff writers Tom Uhler and Bud Kennedy contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.