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Dick Pleasants, host of New England’s premier folk music radio shows, dies at 75

For about 40 years, beginning in the early 1970s, Mr. Pleasants was the premier folk music radio host in New England.handout

Perhaps fittingly for a radio host with a legendary self-effacing delivery, Dick Pleasants began his on-air career on a small scale at the age of 10 by reaching out through the airwaves to his neighbors in Groton.

His friend Peter Gammons, a future prominent sportswriter, owned radio equipment that let the boys broadcast their voices and the music they loved.

“Peter had a little Lafayette transmitter back then that would transmit maybe a mile,” Mr. Pleasants told the Globe in 1984. “So we used to broadcast around Groton School. And there were even a few people who would listen to us.”

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His audience would grow enormously in the decades ahead. For about 40 years, beginning in the early 1970s, Mr. Pleasants was the premier folk music radio host in New England. He was 75 when he died of complications of Parkinson’s disease Nov. 8 in the CareOne skilled nursing facility in Concord, the town he had called home for decades.

Principally with his longtime “Folk Heritage” show at GBH, and then for about 15 years at WUMB-FM, Mr. Pleasants created the region’s most important radio venues for folk music, helping young musicians reach audiences and build careers.

“Without him, it’s doubtful I would have been able to play in New England,” singer-songwriter Cliff Eberhardt, who grew up in Pennsylvania, told the Globe just before a 2018 concert to honor Mr. Pleasants. “He established the folk scene in Boston. He was a taste-maker.”

Numerous folk musicians have paid tribute to Mr. Pleasants in interviews and at tribute concerts since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s nearly 20 years ago.

“I am one lucky man,” he told the crowd at a sold-out concert in his honor at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge in January 2011, when he was approaching the end of his radio tenure.

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From the stage that night, singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke said simply, “I love you, Dick.” She recalled how she and Jennifer Kimball, her former partner in the duo The Story, had listened to Mr. Pleasants on the radio and hoped they would meet someday.

Many folk musicians found that Mr. Pleasants was listening to them when it seemed as if few others were paying close attention.

“He supported me from the very beginning,” songwriter Patty Larkin, one of the finest guitarists to emerge from the folk scene, told the Globe in 2018.

“Dick made a huge difference for the music community in the Greater Boston area,” said Larkin, who started out performing on the streets of Cambridge for the bills and coins that passersby tossed into her guitar case. “He was a fan of the music and a true supporter of the people involved in it.”

Part of his appeal was his demeanor, on and off the air. Over the years, it was not uncommon for musicians and fans to remark on how much his presence matched his last name.

In profiles, Globe folk music critic Scott Alarik, who died nearly a year ago, praised his “warm, low-key style,” a description of Mr. Pleasants that others in and out of the music and radio business echoed.

“He’s got one of the nicest presentations in radio,” Jim Herron, then-program director of WBOS-FM, told the Globe in 1994.

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Mr. Pleasants also helped launch, and was the founding executive director of, the Summer Acoustic Music Week camp at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, and he organized, hosted, and promoted countless concerts and festivals.

To help pay his bills, he worked at various times in record and music stores, ran the Falmouth Folklore Center, did a little carpentry, and taught radio performance at Emerson College.

“I don’t think I ever said, ‘I’m going into radio because you can make a lot of money.’ The decision was always to do folk music,” he said in 1994, adding: “I knew there would be a price to pay for that.”

When he and an announcing partner hosted a GBH Sunday folk program in the late 1970s, “we were commuting from the Cape and splitting 15 bucks for a three-hour show,” he said. “So you don’t do it for the money. You do it because you really want to do it.”

The third of four siblings, Richard Ewing Pleasants was born in Boston on Jan. 28, 1947, and grew up in Groton.

Mr. Pleasants, whose parents were Helen Ewing Pleasants and Richard Rundle Pleasants, was introduced to folk music early.

“Pete Seeger stayed at my house when I was 3,” he told the Globe in 1984. “My father, who taught French at Groton School, was doing something with the lecture circuit there when they hired Seeger, who had hardly any money at all, but was really important musically at that point.”

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At Lawrence Academy, from which he graduated in 1965, Mr. Pleasants played football, hockey, and baseball. He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College in 1970.

Early in his career, he was an announcer on WCIB-FM in Falmouth, hosting a “Ballads and Blues” program, and at WATD-FM in Marshfield, where he hosted a show called “Something Different.”

While hosting his prominent “Folk Heritage” show Saturdays on what was then WGBH-FM, he helped launch WADN-AM in Concord in the late 1980s.

His marriages to the then-Gina Pleasants and to Kathleen Shugrue both ended in divorce.

Mr. Pleasants “wasn’t that different in and out of the studio,” said his daughter, Julia of Los Angeles. “When he was on air, he was very warm, inquisitive, excited, and that’s who he was. He was extremely devoted as a dad.”

Mr. Pleasants, who also has a stepdaughter, Hilary Watt Sontag of Golden, Colo., was “inherently kind. He just had a good heart,” Julia said. “I kind of use him as a moral compass, quite honestly, to try to be the best person I can be.”

In addition to his daughter, stepdaughter, and former wives, Mr. Pleasants leaves two sisters, Belinda Smith of Manchester-by-the-Sea and Cornelia of Norridgewock, Maine, and two grandchildren.

A memorial gathering and concert to celebrate Mr. Pleasants’ life will be announced.

“As I travel throughout my career,” Larkin told the Globe in 2018, people say, ‘What’s with Boston being a huge mecca for singer-songwriters?’ And Dick has helped make that difference.”

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Mr. Pleasants measured the difference his work made to him personally by the responses of radio listeners, who called him to say how much they treasured spending time with his voice and the music he played as they raked leaves, cleaned their houses, or slowly drifted off to sleep.

“I just love it when I hear that because it meant I was connecting with their real lives, connecting with them as individuals, connecting personally. For a little while, I was a part of their lives,” he said in 1994.

In childhood and as an adult, Mr. Pleasants liked “being behind a microphone. I can see the microphone as one person, not a whole number of people. I like sharing music and sharing ideas with people,” he said in 1984.

“I have grown with the music and with what people derive from the music,” he said. “And without people who listen to the radio, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.