By Bob Lang
I joined the staff of KTRB in August of 1969, just a few short months after Bill Bates’ death. It wasn’t long before I came to understand and appreciate the richness of the radio station. In casual conversations with Cal Purviance, Cliff Price, Andy Anderson and other colleagues of an earlier generation, the unique history of KTRB and its longevity they spoke of was an intriguing notion to a twenty-something working at his first job in radio.
The following year marked the Modesto Centennial and that spring I got the idea to produce an aural record of the valley’s first, and arguably most important, broadcast facility through air checks and conversations with some of those who preceded me. The result became “The Friendly Voice.” The title was inspired by a comment made to me by Chester Smith during one of those interviews. He commented that during the late 30s and early 40s migration of depression era mid-westerners looking for better opportunities in California, the friendly radio voice of KTRB compelled many to stop in the central valley and put down roots.
“The Friendly Voice” aired on Friday, June 19, 1970 at 10:30 in the morning and was repeated in the evening that weekend. It was my first attempt at the documentary form since some early efforts during college, but it was not my last. Since then, I have produced a handful of similar radio and television programs, each one hopefully an improvement over the last. But none was more compelling than this.
In 2004, Cal Purviance, who had hired me that long-ago summer, contacted me with news of a museum planned for the Modesto area to be housed at the old KTRB studios on Norwegian Avenue. He asked me for copies of any air checks, commercials, and programs I might still have from the 70s. I had already begun a project of digitally processing and transferring my accumulation of decaying analog tapes to the more stable medium of CD and “The Friendly Voice” was among them. I burned a copy and gave it to Cal which he has since misplaced!
Meanwhile, Bob Sterling (Clarence Pinheiro), the webmaster for the Modesto Radio Museum, located an open reel copy of the show in his own collection taped off the air at the time of its original broadcast. The quality was poor and Bob asked if I could provide a better version. I agreed, dug out the CDs, and listened to the program for a second time in several years. That first time a few years back was merely to get the audio transferred from the tapes. This time, however, I listened to the program for the enjoyment of reliving the conversations I had with old colleagues and friends, some of whom have since passed away.
As I listened to the content of “The Friendly Voice,” I realized that the product was not nearly as convincing as the idea behind it. It was, after all, my first effort, but it was also undeniably dull. The show was made up primarily of long portions of interviews that were unfocused and certainly must have lacked interest to the casual listener.
For example, one segment consisted of nearly 20 minutes of anecdotes and reminiscences by the late Don Lapan. It’s true that Don was a terrific story teller and had an animated style about him. I recall thoroughly enjoying our interview session together. But long passages of anyone just talking would be unbearable to any listener and he or she would certainly be inclined to tune out quickly. As a green kid, I knew less than I thought about the art of producing a documentary and had made several serious errors in creative judgment.
(Don, incidentally, was my initial mentor and coached me through those first mornings on the air. He was insistent that I “find my hands” before I attempted to become a big-deal radio personality despite the fact that I was overly anxious to make my splash. He also taught me that the most important thing about opening up a radio station in the morning was not to turn on the transmitter or read the meters, but to learn how to make the coffee!)
I decided that since interested persons like you might actually want to access the show after all these years, perhaps I should seize the opportunity to re- edit and hopefully enhance the program before it finally and forever got posted in cyberspace. What awaits you, therefore, is “The Friendly Voice Redux,” the director’s cut, if you will. On listening to the finished product, I feel more confident that the flow is more cohesive, the inter cutting of voices lends more interest, and the content now seems to make more sense. Let me assure any purists that nothing has been deleted, only rearranged. It remains my initial effort at this art form and, as such, still bears flaws, but fewer, perhaps, and not the least of which is my own rudimentary narration.
This experience has been an enjoyable one in many ways. Upon listening to these conversations with people I haven’t encountered in decades, I am reminded of those I’ll never meet again. Yet, they remain or are represented in this program and their presence to me is conspicuous and deeply felt. I’m glad I knew them and I’m grateful to have been influenced by them. You should know that “The Friendly Voice” has truly been a labor of love for a second time.
Bill Bates, Don Lapan, Barthol W. Pearce, Rev. Donald G. Weston, Jack Snyder, Leonard Anderson (Cousin Andy), Cliff Price, Glen Staley, Fred Bevel, Gene D’Accardo, Maddox Brothers and Rose, Swanee Cowboys, Hilda Higbee, Gene Stephens. Charles McKewn, Dick Brown, Pete and Mike Pappas.