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Austin Davis, 56; for 18 years, host brought charisma to Boston radio

It didn't matter whether Austin Davis played progressive rock, country, or adult contemporary music. The local radio show host was popular with listeners not for the genre he played, but for his personality.

``He was a great host, almost like your neighbor who just happened to have his own radio show," said Ted Jordan , general manager of WODS and WBZ 1030.

Mr. Davis, a radio host who could be heard on the airwaves throughout the Boston area for 18 years, died Sunday from a blood clot at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham. He was 56.

``Every now and then on the radio you run across a person so gifted at cutting out all the other noise . . . he had that gift," said Paula Street , a radio host at Boston-based WODS 103.3, where Mr. Davis worked for 11 years. ``People who listened to him felt he was really talking just to them. He was one of them, and people respond to that. That's what I try to do,"

Born in London as Malcolm D. Soll, Mr. Davis came to the United States with his family when he was 10 years old. His family settled on Long Island, N.Y.

Mr. Davis's father purchased a drum set for his son, a music enthusiast from an early age who played for most of his life. Mr. Davis first played drums in garage and jazz bands as a teenager and even recorded a couple of albums.

``He loved drumming. He did the old garage band thing, and they tinkered with that for years. They made some good money and had steady gigs," said Grace (Mastroianni) Soll, his wife of 32 years .

He did not consider a career in broadcasting until after he began college, even though his high school classmates recognized and admired his unusual voice.

``People who signed his yearbook wrote `love your voice,' before he had even thought about radio," his wife said.

He attended Nassau Community College in New York and was a semester away from earning his degree when he dropped out to take broadcasting courses at Hofstra University . Mr. Davis took courses during the day, and at night he hosted his first radio show, on the university's radio station. As a ``free spirit," Mr. Davis enjoyed the independence that came with hosting his own show and playing the music for which he had a passion, his wife said.

During the late 1960s, Mr. Davis worked at Modell's in New York, where he used his voice to announce the daily specials for each department in the store. There he met his future wife, who worked there and was in need of a ride home one night. ``We hit it off right away," she said.

Mr. Davis worked for various radio stations in New York, including WLIR , a progressive rock station that recorded band's live performances of bands.

``You could hear Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers, Jethro Tull. It was amazing being able to see them 6 feet away sitting on plush sofas," his wife said, recalling the recordings she attended.

In 1977 he and his wife traveled to Florida, where he was offered a job as a radio host. He worked there for four months before they moved back to New York. Mr. Davis worked in 1979 for WRIB , a former Caribbean radio station in New York, where he interviewed Bob Marley. Mr. Davis left when its format was changed to talk in 1981 .

That year he started working for a New York country music radio station, WKHK, and stayed for five years, even though the genre was not his favorite, his wife said. He served as the station's music director. For a year, Mr. Davis tried his voice on television and did voiceovers on a Long Island station, but chose to return to radio.

In 1987 he flew to Boston to interview for a job at the former rock station WMRQ, where his talents were quickly recognized.

``Before he got home, the station called and said he should turn around and fly back because he started Monday," his wife said.

Soon after Mr. Davis moved to Ashland and started at WMRQ, it changed its format to oldies and its name to WODS. He took the helm as the first morning show host for the new station and soon became known as ``Austin of Boston" He was credited with bringing Oldies 103.3 to the top in the Boston radio market.

``He was definitely an Everyman. He was very famous for putting New Englanders on the phone," said Ted Jordan , general manager of WODS and WBZ 1030. ``He was very laid-back . . . he would breeze into the studio five minutes before going on the air."

Mr. Davis worked at WODS until 1998 . Two years later, he began working at WROR, where he hosted a weekend radio show. He also hosted a morning show at WSRS , an adult contemporary station in Worcester. He worked there until 2005 .

Mr. Davis was often seen on Ashland's local cable access channel, providing commentary for coverage of the Boston Marathon and recording public service announcements. He enjoyed fishing and was an avid sports fan.

In addition to his wife, he leaves two sons, Robert and Dan ; a daughter, Andrea Soll Benoit ; his mother, Pearl ; and a sister, Gloria Hoffman of Florida.

A memorial service will be held today at 10 a.m. in Matarese Funeral Home in Ashland. Burial will follow in Wildwood Cemetery in Ashland.

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