With his signature baritone voice and flat cap, Uncle Ray Cordeiro, who has died at the age of 98, was a fixture of Hong Kong broadcasting.
Reinaldo Maria Cordeiro was born in Hong Kong on December 12, 1924. Uncle Ray was one of six siblings, but one sibling, his older brother Armando, was particularly influential on him.
“I used to follow my older brother when I was young, when I was a teenager, in fact, younger than a teenager," Uncle Ray said on his retirement in 2021.
"And my brother was playing his 78 RPM records, the old fashioned thing, you know with one record one song, and very easily broken. So I loved what he was playing. So I was a fan of people like the Mills Brothers, like “I wanna buy a paper doll that I can call my own”, that kind of music, and that was how I got started actually.”
He briefly worked at HSBC and also as a warder in Stanley Prison after the second world war. But music was his true calling. He had played in big bands as a drummer, and in 1949, he started working as a scriptwriter for Rediffusion at the age of 25, before going on to host his own show.
That gave him the chance to meet and speak with some of the biggest names in the music world, including The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Tony Bennett, and Elton John.
But his talents weren’t limited to just spinning discs and interviewing celebrities. Ray also had a hand in nurturing local talent, among them Sam Hui and Teddy Robin & The Playboys.
With his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, educating the public about music he loved was something he was very good at. In 1960, he joined RTHK as Head of Light Music, and started his show Lucky Dip – where listeners, mostly teenagers, would send in song requests, and also be part of the live audience to see new artists perform.
The show was so popular that Uncle Ray had to ask his bosses if they could record the show in a slightly bigger venue to accommodate more people:
“I was with Radio Hong Kong then in Mercury House in Central, and the studio, the concert studio at Radio Hong Kong was very small, the capacity crowd was 60, 60 people and it’s full up. So I said ‘no I must have a bigger place’," he recalled.
"Opposite Radio Hong Kong was a government concert hall, which could fit 1,000 people. I said that’s where I want to go, so I made arrangements with the manager to hire the big hall for all my parties. And he said well why not, we’re free. So Lucky Dip got transferred from Radio Hong Kong to the City Hall, and it broadened the amount of people, get more and more popular, I was very happy.”
In 1970, he started his own late-night live radio show “All The Way With Ray”. It ran five nights a week, played a selection of nostalgic hits dating all the way back to the 1940s, and went on to become RTHK’s longest-running radio programme.
His dedication to the development of local radio and broadcasting was not unrewarded – he was honoured with an MBE in 1987, a Bronze Bauhinia Star in 2008, a Silver Bauhinia Star in 2022 and in 2000 was recognised by the Guinness World Records as 'The World's Most Durable Radio DJ'.
On May 14, 2021, he announced that he would hang up his headphones and retire at the age of 96. Fans around the world were quick to jump onto social media to leave retirement wishes for him. Some called his departure from radio “the end of an era”. At the time, he admitted the decision to call it a day was not an easy one.
"I have two feelings about it: I'll miss going back and do my show because I know I am pleasing a lot of people around the world, but I also feel that I am getting tired, after all I’m getting on 96 and going to be 97 in December, so I think it’s time I call it a day and relax," he said.
"I think I’ve had the best in life and I’ve had everything I wanted to be, everything I wanted to do... I don’t think I have any regrets.
When asked at the time if he could relive one day of his life, he simply said: "I’d like to be Uncle Ray again, starting from the very beginning."