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Vintage Vinyl Takes Star Turn In New Nine Network Documentary

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Provided by Tom Ray
Tom "Papa" Ray is featured in a documentary on the Nine Network, “Papa Ray's Vintage Vinyl Roadshow."

Vintage Vinyl is a St. Louis institution that somehow remains as relevant today as at its founding. It started in 1979 when Tom “Papa” Ray and Lew Prince sold records out of a booth at Soulard Farmers Market; the duo later put down roots on Delmar, where Ray leads an honest-to-goodness brick-and-mortar that still sells records today. It hosts some great live shows, too — or at least it did, until COVID-19 ended such parties.

Now the shop, and Ray, are getting their closeup. “Papa Ray's Vintage Vinyl Roadshow” —a love letter to St. Louis and the healing powers of music” — debuted on the Nine Network last week. It re-airs at 8 p.m. Sept. 8.

Prince moved on amicably from Vintage Vinyl in 2015. On Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air, Ray cited the changing nature of the business in his partner’s decision; with customers increasingly streaming their music, a record shop has become a perilously difficult business.

But Ray said he himself hasn’t been tempted to call it quits. By the time Prince left, he said, “it was too late to stop, and once more, nobody was going to give me a job” — echoing his comment in the documentary that he started the store because he wasn’t sure he could get a job elsewhere.

He added, “My retirement plan is to drop dead on the floor of the store, talking to somebody about music, and I hope it doesn’t mess them up too much.”

Ray was joined on the air by callers, many of them with stories to tell about their love of Vintage Vinyl. While other shops happily cultivated a clique of music snobs, Ray was intent on keeping his shop welcoming to all comers.

He said he cringed while watching the geekier-than-thou music clerks in the record store comedy “High Fidelity.”

“I sank down in my seat. I was just physically uncomfortable,” he recalled of seeing the 2000 film. “One of the things I say is, it’s all ear candy. That’s what all music is. It’s a balm, and a blessing, to humans. It’s like I tell my staff, ‘That person who’s buying music that you may not particularly like, well guess what? That helps pay your salary.’”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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