As It Happens

This Texas DJ has been on the radio nearly 72 years — longer than any other woman

Mary McCoy landed her dream job when she was just 12 years old. More than seven decades later, she has earned the Guinness World Record for longest-serving female radio presenter.

Mary McCoy, 85, claims Guinness World Record for longest-serving female radio presenter

An elderly woman with teased black hair and big dangly earrings sits behind a microphone and smiles. Behind her, a sign reads: "K-Star Country, 99.7"
Mary McCoy, co-host of Country Classics on K-Star Country in Texas, has earned the Guinness World Record for longest-serving female radio presenter. (Guinness World Records)

Mary McCoy has known what she wanted to do for a living since she was three years old.

"I would listen to the radio on Saturday night, out on … the front porch of my house. My daddy was working on a farm, and we'd sit there and listen to the Grand Ole Opry," the 85-year-old Texan radio presenter told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

"I wanted to sing and make records. But most of all, I wanted my own show on radio."

McCoy landed her dream job when she was just 12 years old. Now, nearly 72 years later, she has earned the Guinness World Record for longest career as a radio presenter/DJ (female).

"It was the determination that I had that kept me going," she said. "And of course, the good Lord above."

The longest serving male radio presenter record belongs to the late Herbert Rogers Kent — a.k.a. "The Cool Gent" — who DJ'd on various Chicago stations from 1944 until his death in 2016.

12-year-old radio star

McCoy's radio career began in 1951 at the age of 12 when she signed up to sing for a talent contest on Texas radio station KMCO She still remembers her first conversation with the radio manager.

"He said, 'Do you know enough songs to do 15 minutes?'" she said. "Well, 15 minutes sounded like an eternity to me, but I said, 'I think so.'"

She recorded her segment, then rushed home to listen to herself on the air.

"I was so sorry, because I thought that was the worst thing I ever heard in my life when I heard myself sing. Of course, my momma told me right the opposite," she said. "But I didn't give up."

A black and white photo of a young, bespectacled woman smiling for the camera as she fetches a record from a shelf.
McCoy has been taking to the airwaves for nearly 72 years. (Guinness World Records)

The station seemingly disagreed with her self-assessment, as they invited her to come back and perform a weekly 15-minute singing program. 

"But I wanted to play records," she said. "I wanted to play the artists that I would hear sing."

A few months later, the station granted her wish, and she began hosting her own show. 

KMCO has since changed owners and become K-Star Country. But McCoy is still there, co-hosting Country Classics six days a week with her colleague Larry Galla.

Her seven-decade career has landed her in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, and allowed her to rub shoulders with some of the world's biggest musicians.

A career highlight is when she met an up-and-coming Elvis Presley in 1955, and shared the stage with him. His band even backed her up as she performed several songs for the audience.

"I used to say, 'Girls, eat your heart out,'" she said with a chuckle, before adding: "I'm glad that I got to know him because … you couldn't ask for a better person."

Canadian debut

When McCoy was a kid, she hosted the radio while attending school full time. Now, she says she still works a sales gig on the side, and makes sourdough bread for her clients in her spare time.

"I have to be busy," she said.

But the radio has been a labour of love — specifically a love for her colleagues and listeners.

"I can cheerfully say it's the people I love where I live," the Conroe, Texas, woman said. "I couldn't ask for a better place.

She's also excited, she says, to make her debut on CBC Radio with this interview.

"I've always heard so much about Canada and I've always wanted to visit Canada," she said. "I may never get to, but my voice will be there."

Interview produced by Chris Trowbridge.

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