Ray Cordeiro, a Voice on Hong Kong’s Airwaves for 70 Years, Dies at 98
HONG KONG — Ray Cordeiro, a familiar voice on Hong Kong’s airwaves who was one of the world’s longest-working disc jockeys, spinning records for more than 70 years, died here on Jan. 13. He was 98.
His death, at CUHK Medical Centre, was confirmed by his manager, Andy Chow.
Mr. Cordeiro, known to fans as Uncle Ray, worked until he was 96. His durability got him into Guinness World Records, though he later lost his title to a Chicago D.J., Herbert Rogers Kent.
Countless Hong Kong residents associated Mr. Cordeiro’s husky, sonorous voice with early rock n’ roll and easy-listening standards, both when the songs were new and when they’d become sources of nostalgia.
Mr. Cordeiro interviewed the Beatles, Elton John, Tony Bennett and other stars, cementing his stature as a local authority on Western popular music. But he was also one of the first D.J.s to introduce Hong Kong’s homegrown Cantopop to English-speaking listeners in the 1970s, said Cheung Man-sun, a former assistant director of broadcasting at Radio Television Hong Kong.
“It’s rare and exceptional,” said Mr. Cheung, who did much to popularize Cantopop as a Chinese-language D.J. He said Mr. Cordeiro would translate the Cantonese lyrics into English for a weekly segment on “All the Way With Ray,” his long-running late-night show.
“His spirit of loving music influenced the other D.J.s and raised the status of Chinese music,” Mr. Cheung said.
Reinaldo Maria Cordeiro was born in Hong Kong on Dec. 12, 1924, the fifth of six children in a family of Portuguese descent. His father, Luiz Gonzaga Cordeiro, a bank clerk, left his mother, Livia Pureza dos Santos, and the children in 1930, according to Mr. Cordeiro’s 2021 autobiography, “All the Way With Ray.”
Mr. Cordeiro attended St. Joseph’s College, a prestigious Catholic secondary school, where he credited a teacher with giving him a solid grounding in English. In his late teens, during Japan’s World War II occupation of Hong Kong, he spent years in a refugee camp in Macau, then a Portuguese colony, with his mother and sisters.
After the war, the family returned to Hong Kong. Mr. Cordeiro briefly worked at a prison, then spent four years as a clerk at the bank where his father worked. To escape the tedium of that job, he played drums at night for a jazz trio.
In 1949, Mr. Cordeiro got his first radio job: writing scripts for on-air hosts at a local station called Rediffusion. Within the year, he was hosting his first show, “Progressive Jazz.”
His big break came in 1964, a few years after he’d become a producer for the city’s main broadcaster, Radio Hong Kong, which is now Radio Television Hong Kong.
In London, where he’d gone for training at the BBC,Mr. Cordeiro interviewedrock bands like the Searchers and Manfred Mann — and the Beatles, who were coming to Hong Kong.
“I heard it’s a swinging town, or city, or place,” Ringo Starr said when Mr. Cordeiro asked about their expectations of Hong Kong, according to a transcript published in Mr. Cordeiro’s book.
Mr. Cordeiro’s stature at Radio Hong Kong skyrocketed when he came back and delivered tapes of the interviews to his boss. He said he was given all of the broadcaster’s pop music slots, which meant three other hosts had to be reassigned.
Besides playing records, he hosted live music shows like “Lucky Dip,” on whichlocal singers took audience requests.They mostly sang covers of Western hits, which had more cachet in Hong Kong then, but some of his guests — notably Roman Tam and Sam Hui — went on to become major Cantopop stars.
In 1970, Mr. Cordeiro debuted “All the Way With Ray,” which he would host for more than half a century. He took requests; knowing that some callers saw his show as a chance to practice conversational English, Mr. Cordeiro often helped them with their pronunciation.
Sometimes, so many people called in that the lines crossed and listeners found themselves talking to each other, said Dennis Chan, a longtime fan.He said he and some of the people he met that way struck up friendships.
As the years went by, Mr. Cordeiro accommodated listeners’ requests for more contemporary music. But late in life, he shifted the emphasis back to the older music he preferred, always starting his show with Elvis Presley. As midnight neared, he would move further back in time, to the likes of Steve Lawrence and Doris Day.
“He wouldn’t take too much time to describe the songs or their stories. Instead, he would let the audience listen to the music,” said Mr. Chow, Mr. Cordeiro’s manager since 1985.
Mr. Cordeiro had open-heart surgery in 2010, but returned to the airwaves and kept up a five-nights-a-week schedule, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., until he retired in 2021. In his book, he said he had the best job in the world. “No matter how bad I feel, once I walk into the studio, I’m full of energy — and ready to go,” he wrote.
Mr. Cordeiro never married and had no children, and he outlived his five siblings.
Mr. Chan, a 67-year-old retiree, said he had listened to Mr. Cordeiro since he was 12. He said Mr. Cordeiro knew his voice and would greet him by name when he called.
“I would tune into the program after long days at work, and feel like my good friend was still with me,” he said.