My interest in radio life was kickstarted by a class trip to KTRB when I was at Hughson Elementary School, even though I didn’t get into broadcasting until I was 32. A radio career would have to wait, because first I needed to get a job.
During high school I operated projectors at the local theatre. While the movies played, I did homework! While at Modesto Junior College I became assistant manager at the theatre when the projectionists union prevailed. At that point, my transfers began. I transferred to manage a theatre in Merced, then transferred again to Tulare. I got to write radio commercials for stations in Merced and Tulare, and set up remotes at my theatres. I also set up interviews when actors came to town, such as actor Tim Holt who appeared on stage in Merced to promote his just-released film. The transfers continued as Uncle Sam transferred me to the Army Signal Corp. The next transfer was to Korea.
After the service, in 1952 I settled in Southern Oregon. My folks had sold their property near Empire and retired from growing peaches. Dad had moved to Cave Junction Oregon. I joined him in farming, but the farm didn’t cover the costs of a social life, so I drove school buses, and again, ran projectors at the the local theatre! My social life led to marriage! My chance at radio came in 1962. It was about time!
KAGI AM in Grants Pass, a 5,000 watt station, hired me as a salesman/copy writer. My radio career had begun! The owner of California Oregon Broadcasting (COBI), broadcast pioneer William B. (Bill) Smullin, and the station manager, Ed Arnold, became my mentors. One task led to another, and Bill had me do the research in a search for a possible new KAGI transmitter location. He and I trod the acres east of town; we found some land, and he assigned me to go before city and county committees for zone changes to accommodate these new towers. It never came to be; a minor recession ended that search. But all that work had a happy ending: I’d gained Bill’s trust, and that of his daughter, Patsy, who took over when Bill retired.
A side note: COBI put Oregon’s first-ever FM station on the air in 1947, simulcasting the AM’s programming. When a transmitter tube blew in 1959 and not one person called to tell us we were off the air, Bill gave up on FM and gave up that license. What a mistake! FM Stereo, starting in the mid-60s, became the powerhouse it is today. Bill did purchase an AM stereo transmitter when it was introduced at an NAB convention. AM stereo never caught on, the idea turned out to be more ‘novelty’ than ‘competitive.’
Mostly though, Bill Smullin made great decisions. With a degree in journalism, he was a partner in KIEM AM Eureka. That led to a desire to enter the Oregon market. In 1937 he put KUIN, Grants Pass, on the air. In the 1950’s, radio nicknames became popular, and KUIN was changed to KAGI (K-GEE).
In 1953 Smullin opened Oregon’s first licensed VHF television station: KBES TV, Chanel 5, Medford, now called KOBI. Smullin also created and developed a Cable TV system, SO Cable, covering Southern Oregon’s mountainous areas. He later sold SO Cable to McCoy Cable, which several ownerships later morphed into Charter Cable. SO Cable began long before extensive satellite delivery, so microwave relays developed by Smullin’s tech staff brought in the signals of San Francisco’s Channel 2, and then a Portland station to his cable system. A true entrepreneur, the Bill Smullin empire eventually owned TV stations in Eureka, Redding, Medford, Klamath Falls, Roseburg, and Eugene, plus those radio stations in Eureka and Grants Pass.
My radio news career got rolling just three months after I joined KAGI when The Columbus Day Storm tore through Northern California and Oregon. I was on a sales call when the storm hit knocking down trees, car shelters, even the Redwood Drive-In Theatre screen. The rains gushed up through storm drain manhole covers! I called the station to report what I was witnessing. Just like that, this salesman was on the air! When I got back, the station manager told me news was now my added job! Those journalism classes at Modesto Junior College were put to use.
Local news coverage had been downsized due to the 1959-60 recession, but as a salesman, I delivered sponsorships for the local news I was delivering. I also obtained my FCC license. My career was underway in a big way. I even changed my name! It’s hard to pronounce anyway, so my on-air name became Jim BRO-full.”
If you can do sales and you can do news, why not be a DJ? I did air shifts whenever needed. One Saturday I arrived at 5:00am to gather news updates from police dispatchers. Back then we signed on the air at 5:30am. I finished my police calls, and at 5:25 the morning man had not yet appeared! The show must go on! I fired up the transmitter, grabbed some LPs and 45s, hit the National Anthem sign-on cart and began the broadcast day. It turned out to be the longest of days, plus most of the evening. I phoned staff members for help, but got no answers. Even the station manager was not available. To make matters worse, the regular jocks also failed to show for their shifts. I muddled through that long-long-long air shift. My wife brought in food and munchies. Listeners called asking what was happening! Thank goodness, 99 percent of our commercials were recorded onto carts; I wasn’t reading live copy all day. I used the Mutual and the ABC Network news breaks to visit the john, assemble regional-local news, brew coffee, and record transmitter meter readings. I had given up smoking several years before, but by 7:00pm my voice was more of a growl. The manager did return to town at 8:30pm and drove to the station to ask why I was on the air. He took over and my day was done.
The Sunday shifts ran normal, but the Monday morning staff meeting was a doozy. I was also operations manager and I impressed upon the jocks in no uncertain terms their employment was in jeopardy-hangovers or such be damned. Everyone’s duty is to monitor the station, and when the wrong jock is on the air, call in, take some action, and rescue whoever needs help. Later, I had to replace two underachievers; hey, we’re running a business here, folks.
As with any small-city radio station, locally-done commercials produce some award winners! Now it’s brag time; one client, the Dodge Dealer Charles Retzloff used the phrase “Charlie will trade for anything, even if it eats.” I produced open and close cuts on a production cart to take advantage of that phrase with a Peggy Lee excerpt singing “Oh, Charlie my boy.” Retzloff Dodge noted significant increased sales traffic, with customers often singing Peggy Lee’s words. Another of my successes came about when the local General Electric appliance dealer purchased the bankrupt 5-story Redwoods Hotel building. He moved his store into the ground floor. I produced an open-close cart ending with; “Petino’s GE Appliance center in the TAAAAAL building.” Although the building has been remodeled for other uses, the town still refers to the “tall building.”
Two other broadcast journalists joined me, and the three of us covered everything in our three county area, from sports to human interest. We also filed reports with the Medford TV station. I was busy with four job responsibilities, and loved it. I filed reports with UPI; one of my stories went international!
A cold war development: KAGI was the primary EBS station for Southern Oregon. A large propane-fueled power generator was installed, as was a ‘bombproof’ alternative studio addition.
Technology was on the move. In addition to the EBS FM transceiver in the Sheriff’s office, we had two short-range portable FM transmitters and receivers also used for remotes. One of them was in the station’s news car for on-the-scene reporting. We temporarily installed the other one in a Beechcraft airplane! Our sports reporter broadcast the annual Rogue River Memorial Day Boatnik Jet Boat Twenty Mile Race! We had an Eye In the Sky!
I’d added an 8:00am daily 15-minute interview program in 1982 titled ‘Talk of the Town.’ During a lunch meeting, Bill Smullin suggested we put a camera in the main radio studio and simulcast ‘Talk of the Town on cable, plus extend the program to one hour. A Portland TV News Director saw one show and phoned me with some positive comments. The interview he heard was with a controversial group, and it led to the Portland TV news crew coming to town, and recording a two-segment feature.
As FM radio’s popularity increased, AM stations in smaller markets such as ours lost revenue. Bill Smullin wanted to retire in 1991; his daughter, Patricia, who became CEO, decided to focus on Oregon TV. COBI donated their two AM licenses to nearby colleges, and sold their TV outlets–except in Medford, Klamath Falls and Eugene. I remain in good contact with Patsy. She continues being innovative, in fact, she personally hosts a weekly thirty-minute TV interview show. COBI is one of the few family-owned broadcast companies still in operation.
After KAGI closed, I worked with two other broadcast outlets, set up a consulting and research business, and did a few journalistic pursuits. Time flies and my post age-70 years featured working with emotionally-challenged youths ages ten to eighteen, as a licensed treatment foster parent.
As my 80s approached, and I spent my time putting my thoughts down onto Microsoft Word.
Dating back to the age of 62, I continued my mother’s extensive research into both sides of our family ancestry. She, and later I, traced our famiy back to the early 1600’s! We go back to Germany, France, Great Brittan, Ireland, and Canada. My mother had learned that my great, great, great grandfather Johan Broeffle was an ordained Presbyterian minister who migrated shortly before the Revolutionary War to the New York/Ontario border from near the Black Forest in Germany. This direct family tree from Johan to my great grandkids is well documented, including the offspring of each generation. I located distant relatives in Germany, and discovered the origin of my family name, a European breed of meadowlark! It seems that a flock of Brachvogel (Larks) wintered on the farm owned by a man name Fredrich. He became Fredrich of Brachvogel farm, evolving into a surname Brockvel, which became Broffel, which became Broeffle. I obtained that history written in German, and translated to English.
Mom learned that some of her forbearers arrived on the Mayflower! Another ancestor, a man named Slocomb, reportedly crossed the Atlantic in a small boat. All information is verified by documents that we discovered.
I have been busy, and productive! I compiled binders of photos and information about both sides of our family’s history, including my wife’s, as well as binders of Oregon broadcast history, Oregon state history, the history of Old Highway 99 from Mexico to the Canadian boarder, the history from horse trails to Interstate routes, plus a collection of books covering much of the same. My workaholic ways have accomplished quite a bit.
During my years, I collected well over a hundred old AM radios plus an extensive vinyl and CD jazz collection. Most radios I have placed with other collectors. I kept three: a 1928 Atwater Kent low-boy console, a 1932 Fada console and a 1941 Philco radio-phono (78 rpm changer) console. With help from a professional radio repairman, I renewed the electronics of most. I repaired and refinished the cabinets of all.
Radio is also an important part of the life of our oldest son, Kenneth. He is a well-known and respected broadcast engineer. His career began in Eugene Oregon at Lane Community College’s FM station. He worked in Eugene, then moved on to Portland as Engineer for the leading rock station, KEX. Ken engineered at Seattle’s KJR, then at Spokane’s KGA. While in Spokane, Clear Channel (now iHeart Media) purchased the stations. Clear Channel named him Western Regional Engineer. He was dispatched to inspect the equipment inventories of prospective purchases as well as inspect records of field tests of their coverage areas. He spent several days in Modesto checking proposed purchases for Clear Channel there. He also inspected stations in other locations throughout his territory, west of the Mississippi.
During this transition to Clear Channel, Ken continued reminding management of the need to upgrade equipment in some of their acquisitions. Budget considerations was the reason for denial. Ken’s continued concern over engineering problems upset the woman controlling the budget. She called him in and urged him to find other employment. He moved back to Seattle where he started a consulting business. Other engineers (at iHeart) also resigned. iHeart is misnamed.
Ken put out feelers seeking stations and ‘small group’ owners in need of a competent engineer. The manager of Public Radio KUNC FM in Greeley Colorado contacted him. This opportunity was just what Ken was looking for. He was hired as Director of Engineering. He works with great facilities, great locations, extensive translator coverage, plus top leadership. He hopes to remain with KUNC until he decides to retire.
KUNC obtained the license of a nearby FM and is programming it with News and Information. KUNC itself programs Music and Entertainment. Translators for each dot the Eastern Rockies and Plains. Ken and his associate do quite a bit of traveling. The stations are well supported by the community and by listeners from Denver north to Fort Collins.
Ken took to engineering quite early. When learning to walk, he took great interest in wires, switches, light bulbs and extension cords. He would trace visible wiring, even into the backside of our Zenith radio-phono. (We had not yet succumbed to the desire for a TV because of poor local reception.) My dad recognized Ken’s “wirebrain” interests and built a special box for him when Ken was three. It contained loose wires of different colors, two telephone batteries, a doorbell, a buzzer, a light socket and a 6-volt bulb. There were also three doorbell buttons. A screwdriver, screws, needle-nose piers plus a couple of band aids were also inside under the sloping hinged lid of the box. Dad had drilled holes for the wires and starter holes for screws to mount the various items. Ken and my dad spent many hours wiring, testing, rewiring, enjoying their companionship and Ken’s electrical education. By the time he was 12, Ken was tinkering with radios and tape decks. In high school, one of his teachers worked with Ken on radio circuitry, electronic design and how to read schematics. I hired Ken to janitor the radio station two nights a week and urged him to observe what the company engineer did when servicing equipment. He learned fast and well, and continued in electronics at Eugene’s Lane Community College FM station. I am proud of his accomplishments.
Radio has been good to me. I want to thank KTRB. They are the reason, that from a very young age, I wanted to be “that guy on the radio.”