Ron Walters, an actor and broadcaster, who was known as the Voice of Petaluma, died of congestive heart failure on Saturday at the age of 84.
For more than three decades, Walters could be found most mornings before sunrise in the DJ booth at KTOB, where he would wake up Petaluma residents with jazz and adult contemporary records.
Born in Iowa in 1932, Walters migrated to California with his family at the age of 4. After graduating from high school in Healdsburg, he attended several colleges where he excelled in sports, music and drama. He graduated from Gonzaga University, where he starred in basketball and track.
After graduation, he returned to California where he held several jobs. He met and married Judy Paige and the couple had three daughters, Leigh, Juli and Erin.
Walters worked at Petaluma’s radio station from 1963 until early 1990s, most of the time as the morning DJ. Leigh Walters Manning, his oldest daughter, said she remembers her mother coming into her bedroom in the morning and turning on the radio so she could hear her dad’s broadcast.
“He would say ‘OK folks, time to get up and get going.’ We knew he was talking to us,” she said.
She said her father was a huge fan of Bay Area sports teams and loved to hike. A creative spirit, he was not cut out for menial office work, she said, but he found his calling on air.
“He did not have the temperament to do mindless corporate work,” Walters Manning said. “He loved radio. In radio, he found his raison d’être.”
Christopher Linnell, who worked with him at KTOB, said that besides a career in broadcasting, Walters was an accomplished musician and sang with the Harmoneers and Harmonettes.
In 1978, Linnell remembers seeing Walters starring in “The Music Man” at the Phoenix Theater.
“He was a great guy to work with, very mellow,” Linnell said. “He had a very beautiful voice.”
Walters is remembered for doing the radio play-by-play for Petaluma high school sports. He was also the master of ceremonies for many local nonprofit fundraisers.
It was Walters’ smooth voice emanating from the Washington Street KTOB studios that inspired a generation of broadcasters. John Bertucci, executive director of Petaluma Community Access, which is starting the first radio station in Petaluma since KTOB went off the air, said he remembers going down to the studio to watch Walters broadcast.
“He’s a Petaluma touchstone for community radio,” he said. “It’s a loss for Petaluma. He’s an inspiration for what we are trying to do.”
Argus-Courier columnist Don Bennett wrote that Walters had developed quite a fan base.
“A noted jazz singer and community theater activist, Walters had his own following,” he wrote. “Was it your birthday? He’d sing happy birthday. Did you hate Blossom Dearie? Tough. So did most everyone else. He’d play her records anyway.”
Though he never worked with Walters, Petaluma Mayor David Glass, who also had a career in broadcasting, said he knew him through family friends. Glass described him as a “positive, warm human being.”
“He was legendary in the city of Petaluma,” he said. “His heart was as big as his body.”
In his later years, Walters cared for his wife, Judy Walters, who has Alzheimer’s. Besides his wife and daughter Leigh Walters Manning of Seattle, he is survived by daughters Juli Walters and Erin Walters, both of Petaluma, and four grandchildren. A celebration of life will be planned for a later date.
Walters Manning said that her family was recognized everywhere they went in Petaluma. Walters’ fame even extended to the halls of Congress. In 2001, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey introduced a resolution on the House floor honoring Walters.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today in order to honor a man in the city of Petaluma, where I proudly reside, who embodies the spirit and best qualities of that town,” she said. “He is a man who attracts people through his gift of music and humor, and has used his special voice to make Petaluma a better place to live. Petalumans would know that I’m talking about Ron Walters.”
According to Woolsey, Walters’ trademark KTOB sign off was: “This is Ron Walters saying thanks a heap and don’t forget what I told you yesterday.’’
Woolsey ended her resolution by saying: “Mr. Speaker, I would like to say to Ron on behalf of all the people his life has touched, ‘Thanks a heap, and no, we won’t forget.’”