Bill Heywood’s illustrious broadcast career spanned 50 years. His smooth, iconic voice nurtured and entertained generations of Arizonans. Bill held the rare distinction of hosting a top-rated radio show for five decades in one market, and was subsequently inducted into the Broadcaster Hall of Fame in 2004.
He was born William Charles Embry August 12, 1936, in Newton, Kansas, an only child. With a mother who travelled extensively, Bill began living permanently with his grandparents by the age of 10. Grandma Hahn, a staunch Catholic matriarch, ensured a well-behaved upbringing by enrolling Bill as an altar boy. Bill’s favorite sport was basketball which he played from an early age but his passion was music. Once school was out, and his chores were done, he could often be found at the nearby Ray’s Jukebox Restaurant. While attending Newton High School, Bill formed a rhythm and blues singing group known as the “Polka Dots,” where he was the lead singer. The group made it through some auditions and eventually on to the network show, “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.” As high school concluded, Bill made “All-American” in basketball which gained him acceptance to a number of universities. One of the many scholarships offered to him was to play basketball at the University of The Pacific (CA), which he chose “because they had a fine art department.” Though Bill was on a basketball scholarship, Disc Jockey Don Sherwood who broadcast out of San Francisco, was Bill’s hero and made an enormous impact on him. So, after graduation Bill returned to Kansas, where he started his first radio job at KSOK in Ark City, Kansas. It was in 1961 that Bill moved to Phoenix and was offered a job at KPHO, beginning his long, successful broadcast career in Arizona.
In those early years, Bill played ‘driver’ to entertainers arriving at the airport who were coming into the Valley for a show or concert. This was how he got those wonderful first hand interviews. As the ‘driver’ who was also a DJ, he gained a captive audience with musicians like Santana and it helped develop his friendship with Dick Van Dyke that had started during his radio time in Las Vegas. It was in 1968 when Bill, for creative reasons, changed his last name from Embry to Heywood. The last name Heywood came from Bill’s favorite pianist/keyboardist.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he was the morning man for KOY Radio. Except of course, for that one day when Bill took over the morning show on KNIX as an April fool’s joke. It was during that 14-year run at KOY that he created many of his beloved characters for his many radio skits and ran all of those marathons. It was also during that time that Bill was named the Billboard Magazine International Disc Jockey of the Year.
Bill also lent his vocal talents to KTAR-AM and a morning program on KFYI-AM. Bill loved being an entertainer. He loved his audience more than his bosses. He was irreverent in a time when one didn’t have to be cruel or crude. He was that soothing voice often called “Sweet William in the morning”, that told you each day “is gonna be a good day…or at least a hoot.” “Bill Heywood is to Valley radio what Johnny Carson is to national TV,” was an often used phrase to describe Heywood to Valley newcomers. While Bill’s career had always been radio-based, his diversity was as strong as his talent, leading him to jobs as a spokesman for Mel Clayton Ford for a record-setting 30 years, the host of PBS specials, the voiceover for national infomercials, the emcee for numerous local charity and business events and in 2003 he added a real estate license to his repertoire. The entertainment industry that loved Bill so much always teased him that it was wholly unfair that he had a voice made for radio and a face made for TV.
Bill and his wife, Susan, were inseparable during their 38 years together. They shared a daughter Nicole Heywood and Bill’s three other children Kelly Wopershall, Stan Embry and Chris Heywood. Bill and Susan were dedicated partners in everyday life, as well as business partners in each other’s careers. Together they founded the successful Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Awards, a non-profit pet organization that granted donations to, pet therapy programs, no kill shelters, the Arizona Humane Society and brought awareness to animal abandonment.
Bill’s favorite excerpt from Nelson Mandela’s Inaugural Speech, is for those who loved him, reminiscent of Bill himself:
“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God, your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Bill Heywood passed away with his wife Susan Heywood January 4, 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He had a celebrated and lengthy career in Valley radio. He was loved by friends and family, fans and colleagues. Bill Heywood remained true to himself, he was always grateful and he always remembered where he came from.