LOGAN — When it comes to life, there are those who throw in the towel, while there are others who resemble the Energizer Bunny Rabbit slogan: “They just keep on going and going and going.”
This is the story of such a person. His name is Denny Trader (still known locally by his on-air talent name, Denny Frost), and at 70, he has no notion of slowing down.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Trader graduated high school in 1967. He went to the Career Academy School of Broadcasting in Columbus, where he met a young woman from Marshall University who had relatives in Logan. There was an opening at WVOW Radio, so Trader came down and interviewed for the job.
“I left my Cincinnati home at the age of 19, and I came to Logan for a start in radio,” Trader recalled. “In those days, 51 years ago, you didn’t start in a small market — fresh, brand-new — so it was a tremendous experience. I was the night man at WVOW, worked from 6 p.m. ‘til 1 a.m.”
In those days, WVOW had a format that Trader found appealing.
“Luckily, I had a love of different genres of music,” he said, “so I played instrumental music at 6 o’clock, soft vocals at 7, pop music at 8, and then I was the first disc jockey to play rock ’n’ roll between 10 and 1. The Top 100 out of the Billboard Magazine, which was just fantastic. Normally, kids from this area had to find an out-of-state station to listen to rock ’n’ roll at night.”
Because Trader was from Ohio, he had difficulty pronouncing names in West Virginia, so he was given a guide on how to pronounce the names of towns, camps and hollows.
“Not being from West Virginia, I had to learn names like Kanawha and Cabell, Monongahela, Monongah. I couldn’t stand pronouncing Monongahela and Monongah,” he said. “I mean all unfamiliar words. Even in Logan County here, just up the road is Rita, and normally I would pronounce it Rita [“ree-tah”]. I had a cousin by the name of Rita.”
One of the pluses of Denny’s first year as a disc jockey was his accent. “It drew people’s attention,” he said. “They couldn’t understand me, or I talked a lot faster than what they did here. So it was a unique situation for me.”
Given his speaking voice, it didn’t take Trader long to land his first public-speaking gig.
“The first spring I was here, the spring of ’69, a group of young ladies knocked on the door one night, and that led to my first public-speaking engagement. They asked me if I would be the guest speaker at the Mother-Daughter Banquet for the Future Homemakers of America [known now as the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA] at the local high school. I’d had a chef’s course in high school. My mother taught me, brought me up well. I knew how to iron, how to take care of myself.
“So I gathered up some recipes and stories and went over and spoke to 15 girls, their mothers, and their friends that night at Logan High School.”
Trader also traveled around the state to cover games for the radio, which led him to come to appreciate the state even more.
Working at WVOW for four years, he had the opportunity to do a lot of different things — broadcast Little League Baseball, junior high football and basketball, high school football and basketball — which also gave him an opportunity to travel around the state with the football teams.
There was also a risky way for him to see the seedier side of the state.
“The local repo man (actually the uncle of the woman who helped bring me here) would call me at 8 o’clock in the morning, and I’d ride with him if he thought he had a car to pick up.”
Trader got to learn the areas. It made it nice when he was on the air to relate these different areas in Logan, Mingo, Boone, and Pike. It helped him grow to love the area, and he did a lot of community things via the radio station, which was a great opportunity to meet a lot of people in all different walks of life.
During his second year in Logan, Trader met his wife.
“The second Christmas I was here I was working the door at the Holy Episcopal Church for a cantata, and three girls walked up — Sandy Estep, Edwina Barbery and Jane Donevant — coming to a cantata, and I didn’t know it till then, but Sandy, who I was introduced to that night, became my wife in ’71. And of course our daughter was born in ’72 — Melissa Trader Hall, as she is married now. She’s been married now for 25 years. Hard to believe.”
It wasn’t long before living in Logan that Trader decided to change his on-air talent name.
“Trader was not a good ear name,” he said, “so I went on the air on a cold November night, the week before Thanksgiving, and I became Denny Frost. And that’s how those people know me here. It was kind of a comical thing throughout the years because Melissa would go to school, and they would say, ‘Aren’t you Denny Frost’s daughter?’ And she would say, ‘Well, yes, I am.’ So it was kind of funny. My wife was Sandy Estep, her maiden name; my daughter was Melissa Trader; and I was Denny Frost. And it was a kind of an ongoing joke in our family, the three different names. It was confusing to people. Most people knew me as Denny Frost. A lot of people know my legal name now, but I’m still known as Denny Frost. I can’t hide if I speak. My voice is distinguishable, which is kind of nice in many ways because I’ll be talking to someone, and people will point at me. I’m amazed by it.”
Denny Trader is also a man of many hats.
Aside from working for WVOW for four years, he worked at WLOG from 1973 to 1983 in many different capacities — as a disc jockey and a station manager.
“Then in ’85 I went to Coal Country Radio — WXCC — and WBTH in Williamson and was there from ’85 to 2000. Fifteen years in the Williamson Tug Valley market.”
After he left radio for 30 years, he went to work at Logan Motor Sales and Logan Motorcycle Sales in 2001. But no matter where he went, his voice followed him.
“A gentleman was walking from the parts department one day, and I was talking to someone else, and he said, ‘Are you Denny Frost?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I want to thank you.’ I said, ‘OK, why?’ He said, ‘You probably don’t remember this, but back in 1969, my wife and I had a friend. We’re out having our final days together before we left for Vietnam. I called and asked if you could play a song for me and my wife. And you did.’ You never know how you’re going to touch people. We didn’t take requests, but occasionally, I would do something like that. It’s just amazing, but that was from the voice.”
Trader has also participated in many community events.
“I was just involved in a lot of community activities and enjoyed it very much,” he said.
Trader also served on the board of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College for several years.
“I’ve always enjoyed being active and involved in a variety of things. I was Camping Director of Chief Logan State Park. I’ve been involved in church choirs. I’ve been involved in the Chamber of Commerce.”
Trader now serves on the Child Advocacy Board in Logan. He was in the Kiwanis Club. He was the youngest Kiwanian when he first joined in ’73. He went on to become the president of the Kiwanis Club from ’78 to ’79.
“Just this past year I rejoined the Kiwanis after being gone for several years,” Trader said.
Denny Trader is a people person. Deprive Denny of people, and you deprive him of himself. After all, he’s made his life talking to people.
At the age of 70, Trader continues to be an active man. After he ended Coal Country in 2000, he went to the Matewan Development Center for about a year.
“I’d been a long-time friend of Steven Ratz and his family,” Trader said.
The Ratz family owned Logan Motor Sales and Logan Motorcycle Sales, and Trader had done advertising for them, so they hired him to work in their motorcycle shop, the Honda shop, as people knew it.
“I’d retired full-time there two years ago, but I still work about seven to eight, 10 hours a month for them on call. I do a monthly report for side-by-side and ATV unit sales. I help with their advertising. I’m a spokesperson for them when need be, out and about in the community.”
He also played the mayor of Matewan in the Matewan Massacre reenactments.
“I think that was the second or third year they had done that,” Trader said. “Now they’re in their 13th or 14th year. They’re still doing it. So that was really the only other stage acting I had done since the fourth grade when I played Mahatma Gandhi.”
Last summer, Trader played Devil Anse Hatfield in The Aracoma Story’s production of “Deadly Divide” at the Liz Spurlock Amphitheatre.
“I have a variety of friends who are involved in The Aracoma Story, Inc. My daughter was in several of The Aracoma Story, Inc., plays. She would have been about 5 or 6. She was the youngest von Trapp daughter in ‘The Sound of Music’ down. She did that, and she was in several. ‘Sweet Charity,’ ‘The Aracoma Story’ and several others. So I was a stage dad. Over the years, I’ve made a lot of friends with those who were involved in The Aracoma Story. And I was asked to read for a part. I’d never really thought about it. But I said, ‘OK. I’ll come read.’ ... And low and behold, Bill France saw me as Devil Anse Hatfield. What a wonderful experience. It was a great summer. It was a great way to start my 70th year. I turned 70 last February. As I told people, ‘I’m tired but excited and energized.’ It’s been a great summer playing Devil Anse. Now I have a new nickname. People see me on the street and say, ‘Hey, Anse!’ It’s hilarious.”
Next month, Trader will play Walter, Buddy’s father, in The Aracoma Story’s musical production of “Elf.”
Show dates are Friday-Saturday, Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 13-15. Adult tickets are $15, senior/student tickets are $12, and children (10 and under) tickets are $6. Tickets are sold in advance at Pic-Pac Grocery in Man, Gatti’s Pizza at Fountain Place, Aracoma Drug in Chapmanville, the Chief Logan Convention Center or online at BrownPaperTickets.com.
“It’s different being on the other side. I’ve been in the audience for almost every show. But being onstage and behind stage and meeting all the tremendous and really getting an idea of the hard work that goes into putting on these productions is just amazing. And all the wonderful people. The other thing that impressed me with ‘Deadly Divide’ is the families. They’re together: a mother, father and daughter or a mother, father and son.”
After all he has been through, including the death of his wife of uterine cancer four years ago and his daughter’s own struggle with cancer, Denny Trader Frost remains optimistic about life.
“Reach for the stars,” he said. “Everybody has gifts. We all have gifts. Mine have been speaking and being involved in the community. I enjoy people. It’s a matter of taking the things that you like to do and sharing them with the world. I choose to be happy. You only go around once. Live every day. You never know when your day is up. So live every day. We don’t know. Luckily, I am a person who has always had that energy. Not everybody has it, and I understand that. My wife and I were opposites. She loved to read. She loved to cook. She was very gifted in arts, but she wasn’t a people person per se. Now, a lot of people loved her. She was more of a people person than what she thought, but she was a homebody. I’m actually an introvert, and I enjoy my downtime. I enjoy my alone time. But I also enjoy being out, helping people, being involved in the community, and helping people in the community grow. I live that every day.”