Reinaldo Maria ‘Uncle Ray’ Cordeiro, BBS MBE
Longtime Club Lusitano Senior Member, Ray Cordeiro is known by the Guinness Book of Records as the “World’s Most Durable DJ”. In a career that spans nearly seven decades, he has devoted his life to the development of radio broadcasting and the local Hong Kong music scene.
Reinaldo Maria Cordeiro, or “Uncle Ray” as, he is known to all, was born in Wan Chai on 12 December, 1924 to Portuguese parents in a family of six children – two brothers and four sisters.
He took an early interest in music, particularly with the drums (and drew on his ‘Bass Drum Skin’ – see right). During the war years at a refuge centre in Macau where his mum was head chef, he would practice on the cooking pans and woks while he cooked rice for 140 people.
After graduating from St. Joseph’s College, one of his first jobs after the Second World War was a warden at Stanley Prison. He and his friends made their way to Stanley on foot and presented themselves at the prison gate looking for a job. They were hired. He then spent four years as a clerk at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation where many Portuguese worked, including his father and brother. While at the bank he moonlighted as a drummer with his own jazz trio at the Chantecler restaurant near Hillwood Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.
It was clear to Uncle Ray that he was not suited to life as a bank clerk and in 1949 encouraged by his brother Armando, he joined a then fledgling company called Radio Rediffusion, as a script writer. Radio Rediffusion was the first radio station in Hong Kong and proved a huge success with its radio broadcasts being popular in local tea shops. Later Radio Rediffusion would launch Hong Kong’s first television station that was to later become Asia Television or ATV.
This marked a turning point in his career and at the age of 25 he had found his lifelong passion and threw himself into the business, learning how to read the US and UK music catalogues and transcriptions so he could write scripts for the Diamond Music Show and Shiro Hit Parade. Soon Uncle Ray was given the chance to start his first radio show, Progressive Jazz . The show was a huge hit with listeners and ran from 1949 to 1960. He then launched and presented more live radio shows at Radio Rediffusion Talent Time (1950 – 1956), and Rumpus Time (1950 – 1956).
Uncle Ray loved being in the radio business and was able to interact with many well known entertainers. An early instance was Perry Como, an idol of Uncle Ray’s and after he joined Rediffussion, he wrote to Perry Como asking for an autograph. To his surprise, an autographed photo was sent to him in return (see right).
Uncle Ray started to become a celebrity in his own right and was extremely popular with both his listeners and the artists he helped promote via his live radio shows in front of live audiences. One of the biggest successes was a band called The Fabulous Echoes a pop group made up of young Filipino men that became a sensation in Hawaii for 25 years as the Society of Seven aka SOS. They were produced by Uncle Ray’s show Rumpus Time and are arguably the most successful Hong Kong music export to the West.
“When they first appeared on my show these teenage boys were so poor they couldn’t afford uniforms. But they played and sang very well. So I introduced them to Ren da Silva, the owner of Diamond Records, who signed them, gave them a new name and recorded the big hit Dancing on the Moon, That’s how they got started.”
An example of Uncle Ray’s lasting impact on the music industry not only in Hong Kong but also globally, was a man called Terry Parson, who went by the stage name of Matt Monro. During the time Matt was serving in the British armed forces in Hong Kong he became a regular guest singer on Uncle Ray’s Talent Show. Matt was a multiple winner in the show, and become so popular that Uncle Ray finally made him an offer to appear in his own show, provided he did not return to Talent Show in order to make way for others to compete. Matt performed his first on-air concert for Rediffusion on June 27, 1953 and eventually returned to UK and developed himself to a superstar in the United Kingdom during the 1950s and 1960s. He was known as “the Man with the Golden Voice”, singing “On Days like These” for the 1968 film “the Italian Job” and the title songs for the films “From Russia with Love” and “Born Free”.
In 1960 Ray joined Radio Hong Kong as Head of Light Music. Over the past 58 years at RTHK he has presented Just For You (1964 – 1969), From Me To You (1964 – 1969), Hit Parade (1964 – 1969), Lucky Dip (1964 – 1969) and since 1970, All the Way with Ray.
One of the most dramatic events as an RTHK employee was in 1967 when Ray was asked by Donald Brooks the First Director of Radio Hong Kong to present his radio show “the US Hot 100 Hits” live from the then Radio Hong Kong headquarters in Beaconsfield House, Garden Road Central. The army had mounted four huge horn speakers on the roof and the plan was to drown out the Riot Propaganda music played from the old Bank of China Building situated opposite. In doing so they would divert the attention of the leftist protesters during the height of the riots that plagued Hong Kong that year. This was a violent time and some members of the press that had opposed the rioters violence had been killed. So Uncle Ray was taking some considerable personal risk by performing such a high profile broadcast and making himself a target of the leftists. Uncle Ray’s broadcast was so loud from his heavy bass speakers that the music could heard from the Star Ferry and shortly thereafter the Bank of China shut down their propaganda music.
Throughout his career Uncle Ray has promoted local artists and he presided over the birth of pop music in Hong Kong. Many local artists owe their starts to Uncle Ray who would promote their music on his hugely popular shows. He also worked tirelessly and selflessly for many charities and local foundations with his local musicians to help all sections of Hong Kong society. It is one of the many reasons why he is so loved by his fans,
He has presented the live show All the way with Ray, since 1970 and for more than two generations it has been part of the evening routines of the people of Hong Kong to tune into his show, request a song and relax after a hard days work. Broadcasting from 10 pm to 2 am Mondays to Fridays, it remains RTHK’s longest running show.
During his career, Uncle Ray has interviewed many famous international musicians including the Beatles, Cliff Richard, Tony Bennett, the Bee Gees, Connie Francis, the Carpenters, Patti Page, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones, Pat Boone, Elton John, Oscar Peterson, Henry Mancini, Diana Ross, Paul Anka, Don McLean, Ella Fitzgerald, Peter Paul & Mary, the Platters, the Rolling Stones, and Boney M.
Local musicians he has interviewed include: Sam Hui, Michael Kwan, Teddy Robin & The Playboys, Mona Fong, Rebecca Pan, Jacky Cheung, Wynners, Roman Tam, Leslie Cheung, Chopsticks, Teresa Carpio, Frances Yip, Joe Junior, Christine Samson & D’Topnotes, Romy and Danny Diaz & the Checkmates, Irene Ryder, Michael Remedios and the Mystics.
In recognition of his long and storied career, Uncle Ray was honoured with an MBE in 1987 and a Bronze Bauhinia Star in 2008.
Paul Anka presented him with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” on behalf of RTHK in 1997, the Charity Gold Songs Gala Dinner All the way with Ray for Yan Oi Tong Cancer Fund in 2010 marked Uncle Ray’s 60th Anniversary in Radio Broadcasting, and he was recognized in 2000 by Guinness World Records as “The World’s Most Durable Radio DJ”. In 2012, he received an Honorary Fellowship from the Academy for Performing Arts.
The year 2018 not only marks the 90th Anniversary of RTHK, but also one step closer to Uncle Ray’s 70th Anniversary in broadcasting in 2019.
In March 2019 Club Lusitano will be hosting a dinner event an “Evening with Ray”