Ray Taliaferro's makeshift scrapbook is the size of a phone book -- a phone book that would cover the greater New York metropolitan area.
He flips through the pages, occasionally stopping at a press clipping, a memorable photograph, something that proves he was "there." When that happens, he'll explain in his deeply resonant voice -- one instantly recognizable to thousands of Bay Area residents -- the backstory. He's good at this -- talking, that is. It's what he has done for most of his more than 40-year broadcasting career in the Bay Area.
The 70-year-old San Francisco native is the overnight radio host on KGO-AM Newstalk 810, holding down the 1-5 a.m. time slot five days a week. He has held that job since 1986, but it's just one of many of his notable accomplishments.
The shortlist would include becoming the country's first black talk show host on a major-market radio station in 1967, and being named San Francisco's first black Arts Commissioner the following year. He has also hosted his own TV show, headed the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, been a crusader in the fight against leukemia and led a gospel choir during a sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. at the Cow Palace.
"It's been a wonderful journey for the kid from Hunters Point," Taliaferro says.
But it's not over yet. The journey takes Taliaferro on Jan. 27 to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where he'll be inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. The other inductees include the late "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.
It's an honor that many feel is well deserved.
"I've known Ray for decades," says KGO talk show host Ronn Owens. "He's a total pro and knows how to stir things up in the overnight hours to create a superb listening experience. What his listeners don't know is he is a total gentleman, a patron of the arts, an unbelievably giving person."
What might have put Taliaferro on the road to all this was a chance occurrence when he was 7 years old. Taliaferro says he was walking home from school and was drawn to a sound coming from a small Baptist church in Hunters Point.
"I heard piano coming through the door," he recalls. He knocked and was greeted by one Sister Jackson.
"I said, 'I hear the piano. And I'd love to play,' " says Taliaferro, who came from a family of seven children. "So she said, 'Well, come in.' " It began Taliaferro's tutelage in music, and, he says, "started me on the road where I can knock on anybody's door. I owe Sister Jackson a lot."
He eventually formed and conducted his own Ray Tal Chorale and served as director of music for San Francisco's large Third Baptist Church. It was there that he had another life-changing encounter -- with King, who was in the area in the mid-1960s to hold a service at the Cow Palace. Impressed by the job Taliaferro was doing at Third Baptist, King asked the young director to put together and conduct a choir at the event.
"He inspired me to get involved," Taliaferro says. And he did get involved, and that opened doors for him.
Source turns reporter
Taliaferro joined local civil rights demonstrations, including a protest on Van Ness Avenue aimed at getting car dealerships to hire black sales representatives, where he was interviewed by a TV reporter. The resulting news story served as a résumé of sorts.
"That's when a gentlemen came up to me and said, 'We'd love to have you do a talk show on our station,' " Taliaferro says.
The radio station was San Francisco's KNEW-AM 910 and Taliaferro in 1967 became the country's first black talk show host on a major market radio station. The stint got him noticed in Southern California, where he was hired to co-host a TV talk show with Regis Philbin.
The radio and TV jobs meant Taliaferro had to commute to Burbank in the morning, then return to S.F. in the afternoon for his radio show. He eventually left the TV show -- there was no way he was going to leave his beloved San Francisco -- but soon landed a news anchor position on KRON-TV.
The late '60s were a tumultuous time to cover the news, but one story turned out to be too much for Taliaferro to handle. That was on April 4, 1968, when King was assassinated.
"I cried on the air," Taliaferro says. "I was so overwhelmed that I called one of the news guys over and said, 'Can you take my show over? I'm going home.' It was the only show I ever left."
It was also in 1968 that Taliaferro was appointed by new San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto, whom he had heavily supported in the election, as the first African-American member of the San Francisco Arts Commission. And Taliaferro knew exactly whom he wanted at his side when he was sworn in -- Sister Jackson.
"I wanted to invite her, because without her I wouldn't be involved in the arts at all," he says.
Now he's preparing for his latest milestone -- and scrapbook entry -- induction into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. He says a key reason for the honor is his inclination to use broadcasting as a force for good.
"I've never been afraid to take up a cause that needs to be triumphed," says Taliaferro, one of the more liberal personalities on commercial radio. "I don't spin records. I have conversations. And most of those conversations I have are with people who can help make the world a better place."
Taliaferro won't rest on that laurel for long.
"I don't care how wonderful and kind you are," he says. "If you ain't got the ratings then you are gone."
Born: San Francisco
Occupation: Overnight talk show host at KGO-AM Newstalk 810 since 1986.
Honors: He will be inducted Jan. 27 into the National Associated of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.
Quote: "You know what my affliction was as a kid? I stuttered. So, I never dreamed I could be a broadcaster."