“Cosmic” Ray Cromie, a legendary stalwart of the Nittany Valley’s airwaves known and loved by generations of student broadcasters, townsfolk, and listeners from all over the globe, passed away on June 28, 2021.
Immediately recognizable by his distinctive appearance and voice, and equally renowned for his eclectic tastes in experimental music that skirted the very fringes of not just the popular, but the possible, Ray was truly one of a kind. For decades, he hosted the overnight “Avant Garde” music show, spanning the history of campus radio from WDFM to WPSU to WKPS, The LION 90.7fm, sharing space rock, live performances, spoken word, and other music rarely played on the radio. Cosmic Ray’s off-beat style and unconventional content earned him a loyal following that expanded nationally and internationally in 1999 when The LION became the first station in its market to begin streaming over the internet.
Upon his arrival at the University Park campus in 1974, where he would complete his bachelor’s degree in biology and go on to earn a master’s degree in philosophy, Ray gave tirelessly to the enterprise of campus broadcasting, both over the airwaves and behind the scenes. As one class of undergrads after another passed under the veil of Old Mount Nittany, Ray never hesitated to lend a helping hand or offer guidance and advice to students, even as he enjoyed a continued place in the broadcast lineup. Student broadcasters from the early 1980s through the mid-2010s did not complete their time at the station without experiencing at least one encounter with Cosmic Ray.
In the early 2000s, students making revisions and updates to the radio station’s club constitution added “The Cromie Clause,” prohibiting any future denial of station access or airtime to Ray and formally institutionalizing his place in the campus broadcasting family into perpetuity. Although Ray’s deteriorating health kept him from appearing on The LION for the last several years, the existence of The Cromie Clause, along with the outpouring of support from alumni young and old at the news of his passing, speak to the legacy he left behind at Penn State.
If variety is the spice of life, and the stimulating characters and ideas who fill our lives, especially during the formative college years, are our greatest source of intellectual variety, then Ray Cromie spiced up the Penn State palate for decades in idiomatic and unmistakable, yet irreplicable style: Every day, he lived a life that suited his tastes and ideals, and along the way, left an indelible impression that will extend far beyond his passing, teaching life’s lessons by example. Rest In Peace, Cosmic Ray. It was a pleasure to have known you.