Ray Winkler, songwriter, radio announcer, radio station owner and executive, professional baseball team manager, nightclub owner, music publisher, and businessman, was born Rayburn Franklin Winkler on October 13, 1920, in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. He was the third of four sons of Sid and Ola Mae Winkler. Winkler is known for his work in songwriting, broadcasting, radio, music publishing, and recording and producing. As a songwriter, Winkler co-wrote more than 100 songs—the most famous, “Welcome to My World,” written with Johnny Hathcock in 1961, was recorded by top country and popular music artists and received BMI’s Special Citation of Achievement Award for 2 million airplays.
As a boy and young man, Ray worked on his family’s farm, but he loved baseball and dreamed of “moving to the ‘Big City’ and becoming a radio sports announcer.” After graduation from Bonham High School in 1938, he moved to Dallas where he attended Draughon’s Business College. While in college, Winkler met Mary E. “Libby” Carmical, whom he married in 1942. After college, he took a job at Dallas Street Car & Bus Company but also pursued his dream of being a radio announcer by taking private lessons from an announcer at radio station KRLD in Dallas.
Winkler broke into the announcing field in 1941 when he went to work for country music radio station KFRO in Longview, Texas. He then announced for KRBA in Lufkin until January of 1942, when he moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to work for KWFC.
Winkler joined the United States Navy in 1942 and served for three years as a navy radio spokesman and recruiter. He was initially stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas, followed by duty stations in Dallas, and Fort Worth, Texas. After the war ended, Winkler returned to Little Rock, where he continued in radio as a sports announcer.
Then in 1948 Winkler went to work for radio station KVLC in Little Rock. However, Winkler’s love of baseball influenced his next career move when in 1949 he moved to Clovis, New Mexico, to work as business manager for Paul and Dizzy Dean, owners of the West Texas-New Mexico minor league professional baseball franchise. Winkler was elected president of the West Texas-New Mexico Baseball league in 1952 and relocated to Lubbock, Texas. From 1953 to 1954, he leased Lubbock’s professional baseball team, the Lubbock Hubbers, however, with the advent of television and air-conditioning, the sport began to lose popularity, and Winkler returned to radio.
In 1955 Winkler, along with Dave Stone and Leroy Elmore, purchased KZIP radio station in Amarillo where Winkler worked as general manager until 1964. During this time, Winkler, Stone, and Elmore “put two additional radio stations on the air”—KINT in El Paso, Texas, and classic country station, K-RAE in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
In Amarillo, Winkler met veteran songwriter Johnny Hathcock, who had “written several songs for Hank Thompson” and who worked for country music radio station, KAMQ. Winkler and Hathcock became close friends and eventually Hathcock went to work at KZIP where they began to write songs together. During this time, Winkler also recorded a number of artists at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis.
During Winkler’s early years at KZIP, he met Jim Reeves, who had come to the station for a short interview. Reeves and Winkler found they had much in common; Reeves had been a professional minor league baseball player as well as a disc jockey before becoming a country singer. Reeves and Winkler became good friends, and Winkler and Hathcock began writing songs tailored for Reeves.
Winkler and Hathcock wrote many songs together, but “Welcome to My World,” written in 1961, proved to be a timeless hit. Reeves recorded the song, and Chet Atkins, working with Reeves at RCA Victor, produced the song in Nashville. The record became a crossover hit, topping charts in both country and popular music categories. Eventually, more than 135 singers recorded the song, including Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Dean Martin, and Ray Price.
Winkler moved to Dallas in 1965, and with Bill Nelson, opened The Reveller, a popular country music nightclub on Greenville Avenue. After Winkler left the nightclub business, he managed the county music division of Abnak Records in Dallas. Later, Winkler and his wife, Libby “opened an Art and Frame business.”
Winkler’s contribution to country music has been vast. As a radio executive, he employed many country artists, and over the years he co-wrote many songs with such tunesmiths as Dean Kelley, Johnny Hathcock, Eddie McDuff, Joe Jonas, and R.W. Hampton. In 1963 Winkler collaborated with Jim Reeves on the song, “Your Wedding,” included on Jim Reeves’s posthumously-released album, A Touch of Sadness in 1965. Winkler owned two record labels, Libby Records (1955–1964) and Reveller Records (1965–1970), and a music publishing company, Neillrae Music, established in 1961 and owned and managed by daughter Bette Winkler Hodges in the 2010s. Over the years Winkler produced and recorded artists such as Karen Anderson, R.W. Hampton, and rhythm-and-blues singer, Joe Jonas. He was also a longtime member of Broadcast Music, Inc., and the Country Music Association.
Ray Winkler died of a heart attack on May 9, 1998. His work in country music has been honored with several awards, including BMI’s Special Citation of Achievement Award for the song, “Welcome to My World.” Because of his many contributions, Winkler was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame on August 21, 2010.