WOONSOCKET – One of the region's legendary broadcasters and most ardent conservators of Franco-American culture has died.
Roger Laliberte passed away Thursday after battling an illness for some time. He was 85 years old.
Though he had a long career as a policeman, Laliberte was known primarily as the silky-voiced host of “L’écho Musical.” The program, in which Laliberte aired traditional French-Canadian music and spoke to listeners exclusively in French, has been running on Rhode Island radio stations for more than 60 years – the last 35 of them on WNRI on Diamond Hill Road. Laliberte was also part-owner of the station, and it was his partners who announced his death.
“It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Roger Laliberte,” they said. “His radio broadcast partners here at WNRI, Roger Bouchard and Dick Bouchard and David St. Onge will miss him deeply.”
Several years ago, Laliberte told The Call that nothing would please him more than to see “L’écho Musical” outlive him, and it looks as though he's going to get his wish.
In a brief interview, Roger Bouchard said WNRI has enough material to continue airing “L’écho Musical” at least until the end of the year, if not longer.
Despite his illness, Laliberte had continued packaging material for the show right up until his death, working from his home in Coventry with assistance from his daughter Nicole. The show airs on Saturdays from 11-1 p.m. and Sundays, noon-2.
Known as much for his taste in French-Canadian music as his velvety, perfectly-articulated French, Laliberte wasn't the only voice of “L’écho Musical,” however. The other belonged to his wife, Claudette, who did the commercials – also in French.
Just from listening to his delivery, it was plain that Laliberte loved speaking French. He once told a reporter that preserving the language and French-Canadian culture was a personal mission.
“I think that’s important,” he said. “Apart from my determination, the love, I think, of French culture is what has kept the program going all these years.”
Born in Manville, the son of French-Canadian immigrants, Laliberte grew up speaking French at home – and never stopped.
He may not have been well-known outside of the French-Canadian enclaves of Woonsocket, Pawtucket, West Warwick and Central Falls, but in 2017 his broadcasting colleagues paid homage to Laliberte's contributions by inducting him into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.
Club Richelieu, a local Franco-American cultural organization, also honored him with the Gov. Aram J. Pothier French Heritage Award for his work as a conservator of French culture.
While “L’écho Musical” has been running on radio station WNRI for as long as most listeners remember, Laliberte founded the show in 1957 on radio station WWRI in West Warwick. He brought the program the former WWON in Woonsocket – now WOON – in 1963.
He took the show to WNRI in 1985 and became a part owner of the station in 2004, according to a press release issued by the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame around the time of Laliberte's induction.
His audience of live-radio listeners was mainly confined to pockets of Franco-American culture in Rhode Island, but he gained a devoted following in Canada and northern New England after the advent of wnri.com – the internet version of WNRI. Bouchard says he knew how strong the listenership was, because the complaints came pouring in by phone in whenever a digital glitch interrupted the show.
Lalilberte had been so well-known as a radioman, for so long, that his work in broadcasting all but overshadowed his other career – in law enforcement.
A longtime Coventry resident, Laliberte joined the town’s police department in 1969, rising through the ranks to land the chief's job, a position he held for 12 years before retiring in 2001.
Were it not for radio, however, he might have never embarked on a career in law enforcement. He was offered his first job on the Coventry Police Department as a civilian public relations officer after interviewing a former chief on the air and setting the record straight about a baseless rumor.
Besides Claudette and daughter Nicole, Laliberte leaves another daughter, Gisele. According to WNRI, his funeral will be held at the Potvin-Quinn Funeral Home in Coventry, with a viewing on Friday, Nov. 27, followed by a memorial service at Saints John & Paul Church, also in Coventry, at 10 a.m.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo