WOONSOCKET â€“ As a broadcasting jack-of-all-trades, radio station owner Dave Richards of WOON-AM 1240 has won awards for his innovative coverage of the Autumnfest Parade, but this year he really has his work cut out for him.
He has to figure out a way to cover the parade as a radio reporter and serve as its chief dignitary at the same time.
Richards learned of his selection as the grand marshal of the 35th annual Autumnfest celebration during a surprise announcement at City Hall Friday morning. Mayor Leo T. Fontaine didnâ€™t tell Richards why heâ€™d been summoned to his office, but he figured it out as soon as the door opened and he saw members of the Autumnfest Steering Committee, clad in their trademark orange jackets, waiting outside.
He was both stunned and humbled.
â€śThank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,â€ť Richards said, as he began hugging members of the committee. â€śAnybody who gets this honor, and there have been a bunch of them, they were all people the committee has wanted to thank for making the community what it is.â€ť
In a tradition as old as Autumnfest, Linda Plays, the parade chairwoman, presented Richards with his personalized grand marshal jacket.
Richards has been a member of the steering committee for many years in the past and has provided live and in-depth coverage of the weekend-long Autumnfest celebration on his radio station since its inception.
Many of the steering committeeâ€™s 19 members were on hand for the celebratory announcement, including Autumnfest Chairman Timothy Paul; Police Liaison Kevin Greenough; Parks Manager Joe Barroso; Nancy Phillips, coordinator of the Kidsâ€™ Challenge, accompanied by her husband, State Rep. Robert Phillips (D-Dist. 51); Call Publisher Mary Lynn Bosiak, media and marketing; Victor Ramos, marketing; Steve Morse, financial officer; and Jeff Gamache, entertainment and media.
Plays said the Autumnfest Steering Committee actually voted to make Richards grand marshal over two weeks ago after receiving a list of some very worthy candidates.
â€śWe were given a list of very impressive names,â€ť Plays said, â€śbut Dave Richards was the hands-down choice.â€ť
Richards, 58, said Autumnfest is â€śthe biggest broadcastâ€ť of the year for WOON, headquartered on Park Avenue. The parade is the capper for the annual fest of food, fun and music, which takes place on Columbus Day weekend.
After a few years of covering the parade from a distance, much like a live sports event, Richard said he decided some time ago to actually march in the parade with a wireless microphone so he could interview the dignitaries and other participants as they were taking part in it.
It turned out to be a great way to bring the radio audience closer to the action, and the broader community of professional broadcasters has recognized the station for it.
â€śWeâ€™ve won awards from the Associated Press for that,â€ť said Richards, flanked by his wife and radio co-pilot, â€śThe Fabulous Deniseâ€ť LePage.
In the radio business in Woonsocket since he was a teenager, Richards uses WOON as a way to keep city residents in touch with each other and their local institutions, from little league ball to the City Council. He also writes a weekly column for The Call.
Fontaine said Richards richly deserves to be grand marshal of Autumnfest for doing all he does to put Woonsocketâ€™s best feet forward.
â€śWhen I found out Dave was named, I was very happy,â€ť said Fontaine. â€śHeâ€™s one of the pillars of the community who keeps things going and heâ€™s always so positive about everything.â€ť
Richards left the ceremonial announcement proudly wearing the grand marshalâ€™s jacket, but he was still scratching his head trying to figure out how he was going to be in the parade and cover it, too.
â€śIâ€™ll find a way,â€ť he said.