She spent part of her childhood growing up in a tent without electricity or running water, became a voice on the radio at the age of 12 and once shared a stage with the king of rock’n’roll.
Now Mary McCoy’s remarkable life and career have taken another turn. Guinness World Records announced on Tuesday that it had recently verified McCoy as the globe’s longest-serving female radio presenter after nearly 72 years on the airwaves.
The 85-year-old native of Texas met the news with a bit of an understatement, telling Guinness: “Radio has been my life for as long as I can remember.”
As McCoy has told it, the path to her record began after her family moved to Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles (64km) north of Houston, in the late 1940s. She recalled living in a tent with no basic utilities for a time and would take breaks from that rugged existence by learning to yodel and singing at talent shows.
She got her big break in 1951 at the age of 12, when she signed up to participate in a talent show at the KMCO radio station and told the presenters she wanted her very own show.
“They liked what they heard,” McCoy told Guinness, and KMCO gave her a 15-minute singing show. She reported to her first day of work at the station on 20 April 1951.
Four months later, the station promoted her to the position of presenter, or DJ. She has held on to that job ever since, even as the radio station changed owners and names, first to KIKR and now KSTAR.
One of the more remarkable episodes during her run on the air was when she performed several numbers for an audience in 1955, and Elvis Presley’s band backed her up. McCoy once told the Bulletin newspaper that Presley tripped and hit his head while walking up to the stage that day, and he performed with a visible bump on his forehead.
Presley’s first hit, That’s All Right, had come out the previous year and he was an obvious up-and-coming entertainer at the time. Of course, he went on to establish himself as one of history’s most successful musicians.
“He was one of the nicest and most polite gentlemen I’ve ever met,” McCoy said to Guinness of the late Presley, with whom she took a picture. “I’m happy to have had the pleasure of knowing him personally. He was the greatest in my book.”
As part of her job with KSTAR, McCoy hosts a two-hour show of country music classics six days a week, according to Guinness. She had already earned induction into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame before Guinness confirmed her new record on 15 February.
Guinness’s announcement noted that McCoy beat the previous holder of the record for longest career as a female radio DJ by three years.
In an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday, McCoy said she was particularly proud to have achieved a world record. She added that her affection for her community in Conroe has been the primary motivation for her to keep her role for so many years.
“It’s just love for the people, and the way they’ve always had a lot of respect for me,” McCoy said. “That’s why I stayed.”
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