A Life Lived: Cleo Reed legend at WBEJ-Radio

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Cleo Reed was a pioneer in radio for women everywhere. At the time of her death she had been employed by WBEJ-Radio for 66 years. Cleo knew the ins and outs of radio, having begun her career as a copywriter in 1953, which essentially was writing ads.

She later became music director. “During that era, radio station managers were careful not to play songs with off-color lyrics. Cleo’s job was to listen to the records, and make sure no records were played with offensive lyrics,” said David Miller, WBEJ’s program director.

She succeeded Clyde Roberts as general manager in 1982.

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“At the time of her death, she not only managed the employees and the work at the station, but did most of the billing,” said Miller.

“Cleo had been here longer than any of us. Heck, she was working here when most of us were born. She was like a mother hen to all of us, but was quick to step in if we weren’t doing things the way they should have been done. She was very kind and loving to all of the staff,” said Miller.

She came early and stayed late “eight days a week,” Miller shared of Cleo’s work ethic. “I never knew of her missing a day due to sickness until about three years ago when she was out five days with pneumonia.

“Cleo loved this town and promoted it everywhere she went. She loved her church family at East Side Free Will, and even though she had no family of her own, she had a host of friends through her associations and work,” Miller said.

She was very active in the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce and Main Street, Elizabethton, when it was active in the 1990s. She was a past president of both organizations.

Cleo was a member of the Kiwanis Club, and was active as a member of the Fraser Fir Lighting Committee. “She knew every business downtown, the owners, every club and organization and the president of each. She stayed on top of things,” said Miller.“She was one of those people who was busy all the time, and she worked to make a difference in the community.”

When Cleo began her career at WBEJ-Radio, the station was located on E. Elk Avenue, upstairs across from the old Lynnwood Hotel. She worked with some great people in radio — Mack Morris, Curley White, who had the Mailman Show in the afternoon, Hap Henley, Bill Hale, and others. For years, she and Ruth Ritchie worked together at the radio station and enjoyed a close working relationship. “She dealt with a lot of different personalities,” noted Miller, who noted that WBEJ is a bit different than most stations. “It’s family oriented, and we all loved Cleo,” he said.

Cleo was a long-time member of East Side Free Will Baptist Church, where she formerly taught a youth class and was a member of the choir.

In 2006, the station moved off Elk Avenue to a new and more modern location on Broad Street.

Cleo Reed was like a walking history book. She knew much about Elizabethton’s past because she had lived it and had known many of the people who owned the businesses and had worked in them.

She was honored by the Tennessee General Assembly with a proclamation on her 50th year at WBEJ Radio.

Cleo Reed died Nov. 13 at the Ivy Hall Nursing Home after a brief illness.

“Cleo was a bit fiesty, but she was a lady in every respect, and she knew her job. She worked to make each of us better at what we did. Cleo was devoted first and foremost to God, then to the people around her, and last, but not least to this community and her work,” said Miller.

Cleo Reed…she gave life, her work, her church, and her community the best of who she was and what she knew.