Erle Stanley Gardner’s Favorite Radio Personality

Erle Stanley Gardner wrote nearly 100 detective and mystery novels that sold more than 1,000,000 copies each.  He was the best-selling American writer of his time. His creation, Perry Mason, resulted in 82 best sellers. Yes, he was an attorney, and he opened his first law office in Merced!   Writing was his passion; boating became his hobby.   While boating in the Delta, he listened to Bill Bates on KTRB.   He listened a lot. 

He admired Bates so much he called KTRB one day in 1967 and asked to  meet him. Cal Purviance set up the meeting at KTRB. Cal remembers that both men hit it off together.  Mr. Gardner later wrote a thousand words on Bill Bates and what made his radio show so entertaining.   His words give us great insight to Bill’s show.   The book was “Erle Stanley Gardner at a Glance.”  Here are those comments from that book.

Erle Stanley Gardner


“In the morning, we would start the generator, turn on the heat under the coffee percolator, turn on the radio and listen to our favorite commentator. Bill Bates of the KTRB Modesto radio station is a salty character who is entirely different from any other radio announcer I know. Bates has a regular program in which he chats with his listeners, interspersing comments with information about his personal health, the weather, and about outstanding events in the news.

He has been broadcasting for years and years, carrying on his distinctive brand of informal conversation so utterly different from the conventional pattern followed by radio reporters it is a pleasure to listen to him. Bates must have a terrific following, and must deliver results for his clients because we have noticed over the years that he seems to keep the same sponsors for his program.

Erle Stanley Gardner, 1966

He comes on over the Modesto radio station at 8: 15 in the morning, chats until Ralph King from Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains comes on with a report on mountain weather. Then they talk back and forth about almost anything in the world. Ralph, building a fire with an old newspaper, will find an article that interests him, and he and Bill will chat for two or three minutes about that article. This is such a distinctly human trait that I think it appeals to listeners everywhere.

How many of us, building a fire with an old newspaper, have suddenly had our attention captured by some article and then sat there by the stove shivering in the cold, absorbed in an article in a paper which has long since been thrown away?

At 8:30 or thereabout, Bates gives way for a conventional news program, then comes on again at 8:45 when he will give additional weather information, pick up the telephone and chat with a furniture dealer who has the name of Vrh pronounced Vurr-who is one of his sponsors, giving information about articles of furniture which are specials for the day, the two engaging in a considerable amount of badinage back and forth.

Stanley’s ONE appearance on the Perry Mason TV show, the final episode, “The Case of the Final Fade out.” 1966

Bates handles his commercials in such a way that the listeners soon begin to feel that they know the sponsors as individuals. He never leaves his audience behind but takes his listeners right along with him. He’ll say, “Let’s go down and see Johnny Pflocks”; and then he’ll go on in a conversational tone to tell you about Johnny Pflocks and the tire retreading business-how long Pflocks has been in it, how he retreads the tires for the big trucks, the fact that truck owners have to retread tires not only once, but several times-and Johnny Pflocks is the boy who can do it. And, of course, persons driving passenger cars can get the benefit of all that experience.

Then Bates will give the time. And when Bates gives the time, he gives the exact time. Too many radio stations give the approximate time. Set your watch by the time they give and, an hour or two later, they’ll give a time which is a minute off from the time given earlier. Not so with Bill Bates; he gives the time to the second. Then Bates will say, “Now, let’s go down and see Johnny Willinger at the Willinger Automotive Service. They’re experts on speedometers, you know. If you have anything wrong with your speedometer, go to Johnny Willinger. I don’t mean if something’s wrong with your speedometer cable, I mean if something is wrong with your speedometer. Everybody knows Johnny Willinger. The little bald-headed guy. He’s been around for years. Now, he’s got a son coming on in the business, going in with Johnny.”

As far as I am concerned, this is the type of commercial I can listen to and feel that I’m actually meeting the people mentioned. Not only does Bates give the exact time so you can set your watch to the second, but he gives complete data on the weather-particularly the velocity of the wind in the Delta.

During the summer months, the velocity of wind in the Delta is important to the people in the San Joaquin Valley because the wind which is funneled in from the ocean has a cooling effect; and if there’s to be a twenty-five-mile west wind in the afternoon, the people around Modesto can count on a lower temperature.

His writings sold over 100 million books!

As far as yachtsmen are concerned, knowing what the wind is going to be in the Delta is very much worthwhile. A ten mile breeze is nothing; but a twenty-five-mile wind blowing against a tide can kick up a very nasty little chop, and presents a difficult problem when it comes to berthing a boat in one of the stalls in the marinas.

I suppose Bill Bates’ audience in the Delta doesn’t count with KTRB’s station rating-but because of listening to Bates, I found myself switching to Rainbow bread in the market; and if I had a difficult retreading job, I feel I would drive the fifty-odd miles to let Johnny Pflocks work on it.

We got the habit of listening to Bill Bates in the Delta some years ago because of the forecast on winds in the Delta and, after a while, the listening became a habit; and, now, we’re really old friends with Bates. We like to tune him in over our morning coffee.”

Courtesy of William Morrow & Company , New York, NY 1967

Erle Stanley Gardner At A Glance

How we know him: Creator of Perry Mason; loved the San Joaquin Delta so much that he wrote three books on the river.
Born: July 17, 1889
Died: March 11, 1970
Family: First wife Natalie Frances Talbert and daughter, Grace. In 1968, he married long-time secretary Jean Bethell.
Professions: Lawyer, tire salesman, writer
Tricks to writing: He forced himself to write 4,000 words a night
Favorite restaurant on the Delta: Giusti’s Place
Favorite radio personality: Bill Bates, KTRB
First novel: “The Case of the Velvet Claws,” which first introduced Perry Mason
Pen names: A.A. Fair, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenney, Charles M. Green
Source:, and Lodi News-Sentinel staff