WILMINGTON — Lee Hendee, who brought radio back to Clinton County with the founding of nonprofit WALH 106.7 LPFM on Main Street in Wilmington, died Friday at age 66.
He recently had back surgery and had returned today to The Christ Hospital, where he apparently died while undergoing a heart procedure, according to his friend Dennis Mattingly, who had spoken to a family member.
“I talked to him at seven o’clock this morning; he was back home and feeling good,” Mattingly said.
Mattingly, who worked with Hendee at the station, got to know him more than 50 years ago. Both graduated from high school in 1969 — Hendee from East Clinton and Mattingly from Clinton-Massie.
“We grew up on the same music and connected with that,” he said. “We re-connected about five or six years ago.
“Lee was bound and determined to bring radio to Clinton County. He knew all the ins and outs, and the technical part, of a radio station.”
“He was the heart of that station,” said City Council President Randy Riley, who was stunned to hear of Hendee’s death.
Riley met him 25 years ago when Hendee was “the voice of the Corn Festival.” He said when he heard Hendee’s voice come over the speakers he said to himself, “that guy had a great set of pipes.”
After they met, the two worked together for years helping with the Corn Festival’s Corn Olympics and continued to work at the radio station.
“He loved the community. He loved keeping the people informed,” said Riley. “He also loved people. He loved finding out what made people tick.”
WALH came to life in 2015 after four-and-a-half years and “a lot of prayers,” he told the News Journal in April 2015. The station combined classic rock with talk, news and information.
Hendee said then that the road to radio had more than a few stumbling blocks on the way, such as when a Kentucky radio station filed a petition to deny WALH Radio the right to broadcast for fear that it would interfere with their station. Hendee had to hire a lawyer and an engineer to fight their claims.
He recently also had a similar battle in trying to move the station’s tower.
Mattingly added that Hendee always had a plethora of ideas and projects going at once, “from promoting concerts at the Murphy to writing his book. He really enjoyed what he was doing.”
Hendee’s passion for radio got its start back in 1967 when he did reports for East Clinton High School, he told the News Journal in a January feature story. But the influence came when he heard a voice from Hillsboro on the radio.
“His name was Willard Parr and I’d hear him say, ‘La-Z-Boy chair.’ Just the inflection and tone of his voice, he had a great bass-baritone voice. The way he did that and the way he said ‘Hillsboro, Ohio’ made me think about doing broadcasting,” said Hendee.
Through the years, Hendee conducted more than 6,000 interviews and met interesting local residents, politicians and celebrities. He remembered one particular instance where he came across a country singer not as well-known as she would be later.
“There was a time when this car came up and it had a woman and a man and a gaggle of kids,” said Hendee. “They pulled up and the woman got out carrying a guitar — it turned out to be Loretta Lynn.”
She gave them a copy of her new record she made and played them a song.
As for where the station’s call letters came from, Hendee told the News Journal, “Some would say that stands for Awesome Lee Hendee, but that’s not correct. Actually, it stands for Ann and Lee Hendee. That’s my wife and I.”
But many Clinton Countians would have agreed that “Awesome Lee Hendee” would have been appropriate.