Susan Bray DeLong, whose broadcasting career carried her from Radio 2MG in Mudgee, to stardom on powerful big-city radio stations in the United States, has signed off for eternity.
Susan passed away peacefully in her sleep shortly after dawn on January 14 in Mudgee after a six-month illness. Her American-born second husband, international journalist and editor Edward K DeLong, was by her side. The night before, she had rallied to spend a joyful evening visiting with Ed and her daughter Chavaleh (CK) Braddick.
Throughout her career Susan was a trailblazer for women in radio. On station after station, first in Australia and then in America, she was the first woman to earn a solo radio show of her own.
In America her sassy personality, Australian accent, quick wit and willingness to tackle controversial topics head-on earned her the nickname "The Saucy Aussie." Hundreds of thousands of listeners loved her - or loved to hate her. A few sent her death threats.
Susan interviewed American presidents, movie stars, famous authors and captains of industry starting on 50,000-watt "clear channel" station WHO-AM in mid-western Des Moines, Iowa. Then came her advance into the bright lights of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, America's fourth largest market, at powerful stations WCAU-AM and WWDB-FM, and at WRC-AM in Washington, DC, the nation's capital.
In a book she was writing about her life Susan said her favourite among five presidential interviews included Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. She listed movie star Patrick Swayze as another top interview, saying he came on her show the morning the space shuttle Challenger blew up and told her: "I feel foolish talking about my movie after listening to you talk about the space shuttle." He then explained what space exploration meant to him before talking about his movie and his life.
The youngest of three sisters, Susan was born to Ken and Esme Bray on August 30, 1942 in the Australian Riverina town of Hay, NSW.
She credited much of her strong personality to learning how to hold her own as the baby of a family where her father dished out harsh punishments, how to cope with insensitive treatment life-long due to the physical handicap of being born without a right hand and how to succeed in the kind of male dominated industry where, for instance, a manager at one station where she worked loved to say: "Get the broads out of broadcasting!"
In Hay Susan's father, a veterinary inspector with the Pastures Protection Board, planted a one-acre vegetable garden in the back yard and along the back fence planted many types of fruit and nut trees - except for loquats and quinces, which he considered not worth eating.
"Around the perimeter, against our boundary fences, the fruit trees," she recalled in her book. "I can still see them. A nectarine tree heavy with delicious fruit, particularly sweet with juice running down my chin when I sneaked out at night when the moon was full. Next to it peach trees - white peaches, the best for eating ripe right off the tree, and the yellow peach tree next, then a plum, a red apple, a Johnathon, and then my favourite off by itself, the Granny Smith tree with our swing right under it.
"Then against the other fences were the walnut tree, a couple of almond trees, a pear tree, another plum and my favourite, the apricot tree. Then there was a row of citrus. A lemon, a grapefruit, lots of orange trees and two different mandarin trees. It was a paradise for kids.
"Often on a hot summer night when Mum didn't feel like cooking, she would say: 'It's around-the-garden tea tonight kids!' So we would try to eat a piece of fruit from every tree, and nuts and grapes, until we scarcely had room for carrots and strawberries."
And then, displaying the competitive spirit as a child that helped her succeed as an adult in the fiercely competitive world of broadcasting, she added: "We made a game out of who could fit the most sultana grapes in her mouth. I won with 12. Almost choked, but it was such an achievement!"
Susan learned to read at home before starting school. As a result her father placed her into Year 1 when others her age and even older were starting kindergarten. She remained young for her class year after year and went off to New England University at the age of 16 - too young, she later said, to be leaving home for the first time.
Work took Susan's father to Mudgee while she was in university and her years behind the microphone started on the DJ desk at Radio 2MG after she joined them. From there she went to 2GZ in Orange, NSW, and then to 2CA in the nation's capital where she met her first husband, journalist Ken Braddick. Ken was posted to Manilla, where the couple's son Jason was born, and then to Saigon where Susan filed reports from war-torn Vietnam back to Australia using her maiden name.
Ken Braddick's job with United Press International took the family to San Francisco, where daughter CK was born, and eventually to Des Moines in the mid-American state of Iowa, where Susan's rise to American radio stardom began as co-host with a male presenter on WHO and took off when she was given her own Susan Bray Show.
Susan met Ed in Des Moines after a divorce from Ken. Then came her move to the bright lights of Philadelphia. She routinely topped the charts in that competitive talk radio market for almost 20 years before retiring when her station switched to all-music.
In 2001 Susan and Ed bought a property near Mudgee which they named "Ardrossan" to reflect their mutual Scottish heritage. They moved there with CK to help care for Susan's Mum and her middle sister Jane, who has since passed away after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Susan's son remained in America.
"Despite spending the last 20 years of her life on a small farm only minutes from Mudgee, Susan's graphic life story is mostly untold to the many locals who knew her just as Susan or as the wife of former Mudgee Guardian Editor Ed DeLong," said respected Mudgee journalist Elwyn Lang, like Ed a former Guardian editor.
Susan is survived by her husband Ed and her daughter CK of Mudgee; by her son Jason and his wife Kristin of Orlando, Florida; and by her eldest sister Margaret Clark of Buderim, Queensland.
She requested that her ashes be scattered beside Lake Esme at "Ardrossan", where her Mum's ashes were also placed. A memorial service for family and close friends is planned for the future when COVID-19 poses fewer problems for travel.
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