Founder of Reel Radio audio museum passes
Richard Irwin was a former radio personality and program director at stations including KAFY/Bakersfield and KROY/Sacramento. He is perhaps better known as the man behind the top-40 radio online museum called ReelRadio, aka Uncle Ricky’s Reel Radio Repository, a site that featured hundreds of recordings of radio stations from around the United States and a few from Canada.
Irwin passed away last week after a long battle with health issues that were causing him great pain. He will be missed.
After leaving radio he became a software engineer and webmaster. It was his expertise in both that allowed him to set up a site for one of his hobbies, collecting airchecks of radio stations, and sharing it with the world.
ReelRadio was the site that got me hooked on the internet more than a quarter century ago. I even had to buy a faster dial up modem – remember those? – in order to hear the recordings encoded in RealAudio – remember that?
For a radio junkie like me, ReelRadio was even better than being a kid on a candy store. I could relive my youth and more … there were recordings of KHJ from the Boss Radio years through the amazing comeback days of programmer Chuck Martin. The Mighty 690. KIIS and KIIS-FM. Chicago’s WCFL and WLS. Everything.
Over the years the site expanded and improved. Unedited airchecks were added, and Irwin even restored some recordings to full length, taking the time and care to match the music to the original recording in speed and sound — not easy work. He even added the same processor as used on many stations of the era to add to its authenticity.
The site itself had its ups and downs, relying at various times on donors and subscribers, eventually becoming a nonprofit organization. Irwin and the ReelRadio Board of Directors made sure music licensing fees were paid, even though realistically they probably wouldn’t be needed.
A few years ago Irwin thought he’s run afoul of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and he thought the site would have to drastically change; I am happy that I was part of the resolution to the dispute through personal contact with Jonathan Lamy of the RIAA. It was the least I could do for Irwin, considering how much entertainment value he provided me over the years.
More recently Irwin’s health declined and he was in intense pain most of the time. He never had a chance to update the site the way he had hoped — including re-encoding the audio files into something more modern. So he placed it in limp-mode, and was searching for someone “qualified” to take it over. I — and I am sure others — offered to help do so, but I soon realized that he was not ready to give it up … yet … it was his baby, after all and I understood his reluctance.
When he entered the hospital for surgery that promised to alleviate his pain, he shut the site down temporarily until he recovered. unfortunately, he never had the chance: tests got delayed and he passed away before the surgery could be scheduled.
Irwin’s passion in preserving access to radio’s history cannot be denied. His site was extraordinary well-done and was unmatched anywhere else on the internet … or anywhere else off the net for that matter. Nowhere else could you find the depth and breadth of the collection he put together. His presence will most definitely be missed.
I personally hope the remaining members of the ReelRadio Board or Irwin’s family will let his legacy live on, either through reopening the present site or finding someone who can take over operations and update it and run it in the way Irwin intended. I would love to be part of it, if I can help in any way.
In the meantime, I am going to take some time to reflect on the wonderful person who was Richard “Uncle Ricky” Irwin. The man who gave me and uncounted others world-wide over a quarter century of camaraderie and friendship thorough what I consider the best website ever conceived. Rest in peace and without pain, Uncle Ricky, you will be missed.