- [Michael] Dad was a man of deep faith.
- You know, Bill was all about faith, family, friends and fun.
- When I was younger, we'd sit on the roof of our little 900 square foot house and watch football games across the street at Washington Union High school's football stadium.
And then 15 years later, he's buying an NBA team in New Orleans.
- He's the only person from Fresno who has ever owned major league sports teams.
- He was raised with that creed that you keep things simple, your word is your bond and it was true.
- He was a boy from Oklahoma.
They came here, he and his father and family, and they've done so much for Fresno over the years, it's a remarkable thing.
- He was one of the biggest donors of Fresno State Athletics but he didn't want to have a box.
- You really didn't know all the things that he was doing to support Fresno State Athletics.
- Large real estate projects, like Copper River Ranch, they don't just happen, they're so...
He built a little city out here and it's a real nice little city.
- Everything he did seemed to be successful, whether it was in the world of sports, the world of business, whether it was trucking, convalescent hospitals, you name it.
But he had just a heart of gold as well.
- I think a lot of it was Mrs. Tatham, Earline.
I think that teamwork really created something very special.
- One of the things my father told me was you can always give your children, your grandchildren things.
The one thing they really yearn and the most valuable thing you can give 'em is your time.
- He lived a lifetime of good choices, faithful to my mother, at every football practice I ever had, not just the games, every practice.
- He would not skip anything at all when it came to the kids, but he'd skip business.
(laughing) He'd take care of it later 'cause you could always do it later, but you couldn't see the kid hit the ball if you weren't there, he was there.
- You know, that's our primary goal I think in all this, is to make sure that that's the story that gets told.
That simplicity is a virtue and just always do the right thing.
(jazzy upbeat music) - [Don] From Television City in Hollywood, we bring you The Jack Benny Program, presented by Lucky Strike.
- You know, we've been doing the show here at KMJ for 35 years.
I've been in radio 52 years in this town.
- [Interviewer] So KMJ is having their 100 year anniversary.
What is it like working with them 100 years ago?
(Craig laughing) - As you probably know, this is my first television show of the season and I'm quite excited about it because last year I only did 10 shows the whole year.
And this year I'm gonna do 13, 13 shows.
That's three more than I did last year or 486 less than Arthur Godfrey.
(audience laughing) - 490-5858 or wherever you are, you know, planted.
(futuristic jingle) - Probably the shows that most people would remember that I was involved in was Radio Tradio.
- Radio, back in those days, was what we see in television today.
But in those days, you were everything.
It was the family gathering place.
But people would sit around, like we do for television today, of radio consoles.
- Growing up in The Valley, I listened to KMJ my whole life.
We didn't have a television in our home so KMJ was a powerful force and there were probably many a night I fell asleep listening to Bill Woodward calling Bulldog football or basketball or baseball game.
- I was intimately aware of the history of the station and how it's always been the The Valley's leader.
The signal goes from Sacramento to the grapevine to the coast.
- 1922 was the first iteration of the KMJ call letters.
When KMJ went on the air, people didn't have radios.
(John laughing) - And at the end of the conversation, Blake says to me, he says, "I don't think you're weird enough for radio."
He says, "You're coming from TV.
I don't think you're weird enough, like, we got some quirky people around here and I don't know that you're gonna fit in."
- You're so strong and I'm so weak.
And when you look at me with those big blue eyes, I just, I just... - I understand.
(audience laughing) - Radio was never a thing for me.
I always professed a love for animals so I was a zoology major in school.
- Being the first radio station in the central valley, built in 1922, for 20 years, until the early '40s, there was no other radio station in the central valley of California.
KMJ was the only one there for 20 years.
- And the irony is I had an art teacher at McLean, when he signed my graduation yearbook, he just, out of the blue, he wrote, "Good luck on radio and TV."
And I'm like, "What, what the hell is this?"
And he goes, "Trust me."
(upbeat jingle) - [Announcer] Production funding for "KMJ: 100 Years in The Valley," provided by the family of Bill Tatham, Sr. A tradition of giving back to Fresno and the Central Valley to inspire the creation of new valley legacies to come.
- [Narrator] To tell this story, you have to turn back the clock 70 years.
At the time, the men of the America Expeditionary Force were engaged in what they called the war to end all wars.
One of the ships used to carry supplies vital to that war effort was the SS Matoa.
For the first time ever, the ships involved in the war could talk to each other, not by signal flags or flashing lights, but by radio, dots and dashes sent through the air.
The Matoa had a radio transmitter and call letters, (radio beeping morse code) K-M-J.
The letters then didn't mean anything in particular, just an identifying code but later, many would say the last two letters stood for McClatchy Journalism.
And perhaps that's true because just a few years later, those call letters would be reassigned from a seagoing ship to a landlocked city where a new kind of radio was in the offing.
They called it broadcasting.
In 1922, we called it amazing as KMJ began its first 65 years.
(upbeat music) - [Host] KMJ, the call letters originally assigned to a merchant ship in World War I for its morse code transmissions was now the call letters of Fresno, California's first radio station in 1922.
The San Joaquin Light and Power Company had decided to use its new experimental radio station as a way to communicate with its plants in the Sierra Nevada.
When bad weather disrupted the usually reliable telephone service between the mountains and office headquarters at Fulton and Tuolumne Streets in Fresno.
Radio had been invented in the late 1800s over a period of time for big names like Tesla, Hertz and Marconi.
The first radio station to go on the air in America was KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 2nd, 1920, broadcasting live returns of the presidential election between Warren G. Harding and James Cox.
But back in Fresno in 1922, with KMJ occasionally broadcasting limited programming, another Fresno first was born, The McClatchy Newspaper Company launched The Fresno Bee.
McClatchy had already realized the promotional benefits of having a newspaper and a broadcast radio station from the success of operating this kind of partnership in Sacramento.
And on June 10th, 1925, San Joaquin Light and Power sold KMJ to McClatchy Newspapers putting into motion a legacy that would be in place 100 years later.
- They used to have a big studio and they would do live broadcasts, bands and orchestras would go in there and KMJ was a music station until, I believe, it was March of 1980 and then they made the changeover.
They used to run a music format called The Sound of the Entertainers and that's what we would play.
And they were set up on reel to reel tapes, four tapes and it would tell you which one to hit next and play the music.
And then there was a discussion about going news talk because AM radio was changing in those days.
- Well, you know, when KMJ went on the air, people didn't have radios, (laughing) you know, so the way I hear it is that people gathered by the radio station to listen to the radio, because, you know, they hadn't sold a lot of radios.
So that took a while.
And in the beginning, they weren't on all the time.
They might just be on an hour in the the morning or an hour in the evening, kind of, you know, they were owned by McClatchy so they had this natural relationship with the newspaper and they would read the news stories out of the paper.
And you know, in time, as more radio stations came on board, there became networks like we have now.
They would broadcast things like the World Series or a boxing match or a football game that they could carry nationally.
So you might go downtown to listen to the World Series around the station.
- Formatically, throughout the years, it's been all over the place, music and/or otherwise.
But one of the functions that I found historically interesting with the station was why it's so powerful.
And that generally came about as World War II got closer and closer, the Department of War said we need to find these centrally located radio stations in California, if there are any, that we can juice up to warn the coastal cities if there's a Japanese attack.
And that's why KMJ ultimately was a 50,000 watt AM station.
Later years, we added the FM 50,000 watts on the other side so we can more or less just, based upon the strength of the signal, warn the world if the bad guys are coming.
- And so we went news talk, I think it was March of '80 and not full-time yet, but by within a year or two, we were doing it full-time.
We had a host doing the morning and the afternoon.
We had shows like "The Larry King Show" at night on the Mutual Broadcasting System and still, some of the weekend stuff, they had shows that were on there forever, like Chuck Cecil's "Swingin' Years" and they had the comedy hour type stuff that had been around forever.
And then eventually they cycled that out and kind of made most every day kind of like Monday through Friday.
- [Host] KMJ, under McClatchy ownership, made its first broadcast on June 12th, 1925 at 1280 on the AM dial.
It only operated two hours a night, from 7:15 to 9:15 on an extremely low power of 50 watts.
The towers atop the present day Pacific Gas and Electric Company building in downtown Fresno, successor to San Joaquin Light and Power, were used to help push those 50 watts across the land.
This was a time before network affiliations and entertainment programming and since it was known as the Fresno Bee station, KMJ carried news read from wire services and local reporters.
A program called "The Radio Bee" began to play each night at 9:15 not long after, becoming stiff competition for Fresno's other newspaper, The Fresno Morning Republican.
Now radio listeners could get the same news found in the morning papers the night before.
- Basically what the FCC was for was to protect radio station signals.
In the beginning, there weren't very many radio stations.
You know, there was, we were the only radio station in town.
I think it was in the '30s, that it was George Carm, I think his name was, he wanted to start his radio station and a Fresno County supervisor was quoted as saying, "We don't need another radio station, we have KMJ."
But until you had other radio stations, you didn't need to protect the signals 'cause the signals are like property.
So you have a 5,000 or 20,000 or 50,000 watt signal, it gives you a certain amount of territory that other people can't infringe upon, so you need the FCC to protect that territory.
(upbeat orchestral music) - [Host] After changing AM dial frequencies two times in the late 1920s, from AM 830 to 1200 on the dial, in 1932, KMJ landed on AM 580, where it has remained ever since.
- I don't think a lot of people know that there's a big difference between call letters on radio stations, so KMJ has a three letter call.
When I owned my radio station in Fresno, we had a four letter call.
What that means is that KMJ was in existence prior to the 1934 Communications Act and they were grandfathered in with a large coverage three letter call.
So everything you see after that, west of the Mississippi, that has a K in the call letter, KIRV, or other call letters, four call letters, those are radio stations that came in after KMJ.
And so there's a handful of stations like that across the United States, KTWN in Seattle, KSL in Salt Lake, we've got KMJ here in Fresno.
- If you go back generations to generations, you'll see people who say, "Oh, I was raised on KMJ and still listen to it to this day."
So it's got a tremendous heritage that is hard to replicate, particularly in this multi-fractured world that we live in in media today.
And when you've got one, you better treasure it.
You know, I've always said, I was in broadcasting almost for 60 years and I was always, I always said, "Everybody should have one KMJ in their life to run."
That is just a gift from heaven.
- [Interviewer] So first off, you can just introduce yourself and say what you do here.
- I don't know what I do here.
My name is Matt Otstot.
I am the morning news anchor and producer here on KMJ.
I anchor the news from 6:00 to 9:00 AM, Monday through Friday.
Anyone who's anyone that cares about news in the central heart of California has heard of KMJ.
In fact, when I was doing TV news here in town, working for two different stations over the course of a number of years for different news directors, without question, every single news director with whom I worked would always say in our morning meetings, I heard on KMJ on the drive in, X, Y and Z, it was almost required listening to, even if you are part of the news business in this town and knowing that going into KMJ and assuming the trust and the mantle of morning news anchor, you realize that there are those from Sacramento to Bakersfield, the central coast, sometimes as far away as Las Vegas, that rely on you for the news of their day.
So in doing that, there is a responsibility that you, you take and a trust that you hopefully do not break to inform those about The Valley, the state, the region and the world.
- [Sportscaster] The big question for this afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, can Connie Mack at 67, become the first man to lead a team to four World Series crowds?
Or will the Series go back to Chicago for game number six?
- [KMJ Announcer] October, 1929, 11:30 in the morning, and fans are glued to their radios as KMJ broadcasts the World Series for the very first time.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Host] During the war years of the early to mid 1940s, radio in Fresno, like the rest of the country, paused in growth due to a need for materials and labor to be focused on war efforts.
Regular updates from battles across the world were a regular part of programming on KMJ, but during World War II, weather forecasts were forbidden.
The War Department felt giving local weather conditions and forecasts could be heard by and benefit the enemy.
After World War II, broadcasting was free to expand in the post-war optimism that swept the country.
There was a boom of new radio stations in Fresno and a new kind of radio made its debut.
Frequency modulation, or FM radio, promised a better listening experience with less static and a higher quality sound transmission.
But at first, FM radio wasn't taken seriously.
It was considered a place to put secondary or educational programming on, free of commercials, a novelty to the tried and true AM stations people depended on.
- It was the family gathering place.
But people would sit around, like we do for television today, of radio consoles and listen to dramas, soap operas, news, entertainment, all of those things.
So it was just a hodgepodge.
Every hour there was a different format on the air and that evolved into what television became and today, what we saw back in those days in radio, is really what you see on television today.
You just see it with pictures.
Back in those days, your mind was the picture, of course.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Host] Another factor that slowed FM radio's eventual growth as a platform was something that would become a new era for KMJ in Fresno, a new technology called television.
When federal approval for television in The Valley was finally given, McClatchy Newspapers locked up UHF Channel 24.
KMJ-TV debuted June 1st, 1953, launching operations directly across the street from its radio station on Van Ness in the studios used today by Valley PBS.
One of KMJ's first broadcasts was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.
- In those days, especially up through the '70s, you had The Fresno Bee, across the street was KMJ-TV and down on the corner was KMJ Radio.
So you had all these people working for McClatchy, they had a cafeteria down on the ground floor where you could go in there and have your lunch, and if Eleanor McClatchy, and in those days she was the person that ran the corporation, would come down from Sacramento.
She loved to file through the aisleway and talk to people and she was very popular and it was an outstanding company to work for.
(gentle music) - [Host] Being the first and only TV station on in Fresno, KMJ-TV was home to all three TV networks; the powerhouse NBC, the growing CBS and the struggling ABC network that was barely staying alive.
The local news came on at 6:00 PM and led off with weather and market reports exclusively dedicated to agriculture.
- [TV Host] Now the latest weather forecast, today's top market reports and news and features from the nation's richest farming region.
This is today in agriculture with farm editor, Ed Sturgeon.
- Good evening, everyone.
The chairman of Success Flood Control Dams Association in Tulare County has voted to send a two man... - [Host] Ed Sturgeon and Dean Mell were Fresno's first two TV anchormen.
They kept Fresno classy with ag reports followed by top local news stories beginning in 1953.
- [News Announcer] 6:00 PM, Newstime with Dean Mell.
KMJ-TV brings you 15 minutes of Valley and world news, gathered and edited by the news staffs of KMJ-TV and The Fresno Bee and from the news services of United and the Associated Press.
Now, Newstime with Dean Mell.
(dramatic music) - Good evening, everyone.
- [Host] KMJ-TV, KMJ 580 and The Fresno Bee were a print and broadcasting powerhouse of Fresno and the Central Valley.
The FCC had allowed McClatchy to own all three media companies as part of a grandfather clause, excluding them from monopoly restrictions other broadcasters faced.
But in the mid 1970s, as part of its regular FCC license renewal process, a group of west side farmers and business leaders, who had organized a special interest group called The San Joaquin Community Corporation, challenged the KMJ-TV license under claims that The Fresno Bee was influencing KMJ-TV's television news coverage with what it called liberal editorial and news policy.
By 1979, after years of litigation, CK McClatchy, editor and president of McClatchy Newspapers, tapped out and cut a deal to sell KMJ-TV to the farmers and San Joaquin Communications.
- And it was KMJ-TV up into the '80s, because all this stuff was bought, you know, before the FCC started clamping down and restrictions.
You know, you couldn't have a newspaper, a radio station and a television station in the same market.
They could because they got in before those rules were put in place.
And then when they sold it to a group of San Joaquin Valley farmers, that's when they changed the call letters to KSEE.
(bee buzzing) - Good night.
(upbeat rock music) - The American people don't like it and they're gonna make a change and they're gonna get people in there that don't like it either.
You know, I was one of those people that never knew what I wanted to be, you know, but I was a basketball player in high school and I got a scholarship to Long Beach State.
I had no idea what major I wanted to be.
I had a different major every semester but I finally graduated in philosophy because I needed to pick something and there wasn't anything I could do with philosophy.
So I, you know, like I said, I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood.
I'd always worked construction so I continued to work construction all through my 20s and I made a promise to myself that I would find something by the time I was 30.
So finally, by the time I was 30, I picked radio.
- [Host] McClatchy owned KMJ from 1925 to 1987, where it was sold to various broadcast radio station groups over the next 20 plus years.
The change in ownership came at a time when FM radio was established as a mega popular platform for music stations.
And as AM radio was going through a major metamorphosis that said goodbye to traditional entertainment programming and hello to a new genre that would submit KMJ 580 into the news talk powerhouse it is today.
- Compelling proof up the nose.
I got into radio very accidentally, as kind of a sidebar.
I was living with somebody over on the coast who was doing a little bit of radio.
This is straight out of the blocks, out of high school in '68.
And on the nights that I wasn't going out trying to be the big rock and roll musician, I would go hang out with him at the station.
He got sick, long story short, his boss says, "You do it.
You've been here a lot, you could probably do a better job than him."
"No, I can't," and I did and I've been doing it ever since.
(upbeat music) ♪ News Talk 580, KMJ, Fresno ♪ - Well, you know, actually I was born in Coalinga, raised in Reedley, my dad was a coach at Reedley College and I wanted to pursue a music career.
My sister and I were a duo and so I spent a lot of time in LA.
I was a songwriter, performer with her.
It was called Brooks and McKeller, my maiden name.
And we were in LA in the early '80s when it was kind of a tough time because the industry wasn't that solvent, it was very disco or it was very old country and I was writing music that was more cerebral.
And so our arranger, we went to the John Davidson singing summer camp in Avalon, in Catalina Island, actually, spent a month there and worked for the arrangers.
In fact, the arranger that we worked with was doing the "Keep the Fire" album for Kenny Loggins at the time.
Dear friend of mine had gone to KMJ, was recruited to go to KMJ and you're thinking about like in '86, '87, KMJ and Y94 at the time were probably doing 60-70 share, market share, revenue of the industry.
So these were the two dominant radio stations and there were obviously other competitors but that's where you wanted to be, either one.
And so I decided to go ahead and join KMJ.
John Broeske was the general manager at the time.
And I went over to KMJ and that was about two or three months after Ray Appleton was hired.
- It was about 1970, thereabouts.
I needed to get, I was already married.
I got married very young.
by the time I was 20, I had two children.
I mean, I had them very young and I had to get some kind of a job.
And I thought, well, I've done a little bit of radio, let's see if I can find a gig here.
And I did, out of the blocks, at a station that was very big at the time, it was called KFIG.
It was back in the early days of FM radio, where you could just kind of like play anything you want.
It was very cool and creative.
And I was there like 10 years and that was basically the beginning of the whole career.
I always had an affinity for England, been traveling to England since the early 1970s, and I got into radio over there as well too.
And over there, a lot of the stations, they would combine, they would be music part of the day and talk the other part of the day so you had to be able to do both.
And that's where I sort of learned the inklings of talk radio while I was over there.
John Broeske hired me and I thought six months, a year at the most and then I'll be floating back and here we are 35 years later and I'm still here.
- [Interviewer] Who were some of the on-air personalities you remember from back then for KMJ?
- Well, when I came here, one of the talk show hosts was Greg, Greg Michaels, that was his radio name.
He's still around, he's still around Fresno here.
He was like the very first talk show host at KMJ, along with a guy named Dave Butler.
Greg actually was pretty good.
He liked doing his job.
Dave Butler hated it.
He was a DJ.
Imagine this, you're a music DJ and one day they come in and say, "We're gonna be a talk station, like in a week," or a month or whatever it was.
And they said, "What does that mean?"
Well, nobody really knew what that meant.
It means we're gonna talk and not play music.
Talk is a very vague word.
You know, Greg Michaels kind of evolved his show based on just trial and error.
And so I came here in '81, it was about a year and a half after they went talk, and so Greg and Craig Mollison was here.
I dunno if you remember Craig Mollison.
- [Interviewer] I know...
I work with his son, Robert, at PBS.
- Whatever happened to Craig Mollison?
Do I have my old radio voice?
- [Interviewer] So KMJ is having their 100 year anniversary.
What was it like working with them 100 years ago?
(Craig laughing) - [Interviewer] Alright, ready.
- KMJ was always kind of a boogeyman.
It was the big operation.
It was a place where people went to and stayed.
Not like most radio stations at that time, where every time a ratings book came out, you wondered if you were gonna still have a job.
If you had to come up with one word to describe KMJ, it would be stable, an institution, a place you wanted to go.
And I was really surprised, first of all, that I was even being recruited for the job.
And that's basically what they were doing.
And I was delighted to do it.
- Craig was one of the first talk show hosts here.
He had been doing a show on KFRE, an evening show on 940 KFRE.
And so he got hired at KMJ, so he became the morning host because Dave Butler hated it and Dave Butler was driving him crazy, he hated doing it.
That's not why he came here.
And he went into sales and became a very good salesman.
And so they hired Craig and they moved Greg Michaels into afternoons and so they were the first guys.
When I got here, they were the ones doing talk but talk was, what was it?
That's probably your next question, you know, what was talk?
Well, talk was, it was a lot of stuff.
It's not like it is today.
It was some regular guests, anything, back in those days, in the '80s, there was somebody named Toni Grant who was an advice show.
She was outta KBC Los Angeles, she was syndicated.
We carried her for a while.
She was personal advice along with a lot of sex.
It might be hard to imagine back in the '80s.
Had a guy named Bruce Williams.
He was like personal business advice.
Might remember Larry King, the overnight Larry King show started in the '70s.
It kind of blew people's mind that somebody could be on for five hours overnight and talk, you know, fill the time.
- [Interviewer] And didn't you guys have Art Bell on too?
- Art Bell came along.
He was overnight.
Larry King actually was like 9:00 to 2:00, something like that.
Art Bell was overnights and that was very, you know.
You're familiar with that show?
- Very much.
- He was like UFOs and paranormal and crop circles.
Very popular though, you know, and huge ratings, overnight ratings.
So I mean talk at that point was all kinds of stuff.
- [KMJ Reporter] I've got a ground view here of what this guy was describing and what we have are paramedics working on the injured parties.
There's still no effort to clear the debris from the roadway.
They're having to move around it.
- [Host] While KMJ began to transition to a largely talk-driven format, covering the news of Fresno and The Valley continued to be a part of its long local news coverage commitment.
- [KMJ Reporter] Just arriving right over the top of the scene again.
We still have the little pickup truck that was involved in this accident.
And this is where I believe we have our pin in.
I don't know if it's still pinned in or not.
Maybe Roy Isom, who is down on the scene, could give us some more information there.
But it definitely is still blocking the number two lane.
- [Host] At a time where local television news had not quite advanced to capturing breaking news live, KMJ was the leader in breaking news, taking listeners directly to the scene for live reports.
- [KMJ Anchor] Damage in the area, have you seen any?
- [KMJ Journalist] It was extensive, yes, as I, since it was just about five o'clock, most businesses were closing but as we did get out of the doors, there was extensive damage in Hollister.
Many of the brick facades had fallen.
- [Listener] I have turned to the local news.
That's why I turned to KMJ because you give a more ongoing report of what's going on.
They seem to be talking about the baseball up here.
- [KMJ Journalist] Well, a lot of people were at Candlestick and a lot of big crowd up there.
- [Listener] That's right, the freeways and the motels in this area are all... - [Interviewer] Was the change in format to talk good for business for KMJ?
I mean, was it supported well by the... - You know, it was interesting because Gene Day and Craig Mollison, I think were doing mornings at the time.
Roy Isom was doing, you know, all of the ag production, which I loved, I loved KMJ.
I was a KMJ listener at the age of 28.
It's just, I guess people kind of find news talk at an older age in their, in their lives.
And I used to listen to KMJ and KNBR out of San Francisco religiously, and with Group W, I drove a lot, so I spent a lot of time listening to radio and we had a lot of different talk show hosts at the time.
Some were really good, some were not so good.
(laughing) It was really KMJ and KMAK at the time, in the late '80s, competing in the news talk arena.
And we just got better and better plus we had Fresno State sports rights and that helped, you know, create a better equity for the brand.
And then we just got better and better.
And when we launched Rush in the late '80s, because we were McClatchy owned, Rush was at KFBK in Sacramento, we were here in Fresno.
Luckily we were sister stations, and all of a sudden, I think news talk catapulted as a result of talent like Rush Limbaugh.
Whether you love or hate Rush Limbaugh, he changed the complexion of talk radio.
(funky upbeat music) - KMJ didn't really have a political viewpoint prior to Rush.
Like I say, our evolution was more like we were part of the news department.
We didn't think of ourselves as opinionated talk show hosts.
That's what I mean when I say that Rush kind of galvanized talk into what it is today.
Before Rush, it was all kinds of stuff, all these other people I'm talking about.
With Rush, it all changed.
Everybody got it, this works.
We need to be more like them, okay.
Not necessarily just because it was conservative, but because it was current events.
- We were introduced over the telephone because he was with our sister station up in Sacramento.
Ironically, it was McClatchy that hired both him and me.
Think about that one, if you know anything about McClatchy and conservative politics and Rush and Ray, and yeah, so, and he was in the process of trying to put his syndication unit together then.
There was even a time when, after about a year or two, I mean Rush's show took off like a rocketship, we were a very early signee onto the syndication, so Rush and I got to know each other and there was even a time when he claimed or had or did something with one of the existing owners, I think it was with Charlton, where he got my syndication rights.
He was going to be syndicating me as well as him.
But there was an argument over who was gonna pay for the downlink to shoot it up to the satellites, so very expensive, nothing ever evolved of that and he made millions and I'm still here, you know, buying used hats in secondhand stores.
(funky upbeat music) - He galvanized radio into current events.
And that included a local, state and national.
Rush, as a syndicated national personality, there were things he couldn't do that we could do.
So we covered a lot of stuff out of the city council or board when it was controversial.
You know, we had a lot of interesting city council people over the years that made life very entertaining for us.
I used to say I can count on the city council to give me probably 30 shows a year.
- [Interviewer] At this particular point in time, in the late '80s- - Yeah.
- what's your position at the station?
- Well, in the late '80s, I was hired as an account exec.
I took over a list of clients, that was early in my career and it was scary.
I was not used to having to call on people.
I'm a musician, I'm a writer.
But actually the thought of picking up a phone and cold calling, if you will, and expecting somebody to go, "Oh yeah, I'd love to see you," that was not necessarily the case.
So yeah, in the late '80s, McClatchy sold to Henry Broadcasting, Charlton Buckley was the owner, and we, I think, purchased, at the time, KNAX, and so we had the KMJ AM, we had a country format, fairly strong FM signal, and then I was promoted to regional sales manager for KNAX.
- We thought we might be able to do shows that were educational, but at the same time, entertaining and fun.
A lot of the time, talk shows were not very much fun.
And then we have open lines and find out what people are just, what's on their minds.
For example, I can remember doing a show where we tried to figure out who had the best pizza in Fresno.
By the way, it was Luna's.
- [Traffic Reporter] Appears that speed was a factor and not allowing one get in, and they were trying to come in from the Blackstone on-ramp to Freeway 41 south... - [Host] Over the next 20 plus years, KMJ changed ownership several times with current owner, Cumulus Media, acquiring KMJ in 2013.
Over that time, KMJ was a place for Valley listeners to stay informed and talk about major world events.
Gulf War I, presidential scandals and the shock of the 9/11 attacks were defining moments in the station's long history of news talk.
- [Interviewer] 9/11 for you, take me through 9/11, that morning.
- The worst day of my life, I had just gotten to work and my partner in the morning was a guy named Ron Shapley.
I was doing a split shift.
I was hosting the news and I was doing then my own talk show.
And he says, "Did you hear about that idiot that flew his plane into the side of the, to the building?"
And I'm like, "No, I didn't."
And just in the beginning, we thought it was just some guy that, you know, in his Cessna that that blew it.
And then we were talking about it and the tone of the newscasters got a little more ominous.
And I had this little TV off to the right, so I'm doing a live show and there's a little TV monitor right there and it was live, and then I saw another plane go in and I go, "They keep showing this over and over again."
And then it hit me and I said, "Jesus Christ, another plane just hit the building."
And Ron was like, "What?"
And then all of a sudden it started breaking that we were being attacked, this was the real deal, and that there were other planes that were headed to other strategic areas.
I was on the air 17 hours that day.
Wouldn't leave, couldn't leave.
I felt an obligation.
The station was trying to get me outta here but I wouldn't leave.
I just felt I just had to talk to people and they had to talk to me, people were very afraid.
And I figured if I could help entertain them, still, sooth them, we would get through this.
Ultimately we did, you know, but a lot of other people didn't.
(soft piano music) (upbeat music) - So I'm originally from Southeast New Mexico, small oil town called Hobbs and ended up at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Went there, broke into radio for real in Albuquerque in sports radio and I was well aware of KMJ because they were the broadcast home for the Bulldogs and the Bulldogs would kick the crap out of my New Mexico Lobos every year in football.
Not necessarily in basketball, but definitely in football.
And I would see the broadcast team, Bill Woodward and his team, always climbing up the stairs to the stadium for the broadcast of the game.
So I was aware of KMJ since I was a little kid.
- So in 2004, when Al retired, I then pursued an opportunity as the general manager of KMJ.
And there were a lot of great applicants.
And so I got the job (laughing) and at the time, I didn't realize, you know, that I, that was kind of historical, as a matter of fact.
And I'll never forget, I went into my office and I was getting everything situated and I received a letter from a listener from Sanger and I thought, how sweet, this is great.
So I opened the letter and I read the letter and the letter says, "I cannot believe that your company, KMJ, would've hired a female as the general manager."
And so I thought, I never really thought about that.
I'm like, wow, I'm talking 2004, okay.
And so I thought, I'm gonna pick up the phone and call this person and just say, "I'm sorry you feel this way but I'm happy that you at least sent the letter."
(laughing) And so I pick up the phone and I phone this gentleman and I said, "I am Patty Hixson, I am the general manager of KMJ.
I really appreciate your feedback and your reaching out and I'm sorry you feel the way you do but I hope they've hired the right person for the job."
And he said, "Well, I just can't believe it."
And I said, "Well, if you can't believe it, here's the deal.
You can call my boss, you can call my regional manager who hired me, she's in Seattle."
- [Interviewer] Oh, I love that.
(funky upbeat music) - I was at KERN in Bakersfield from 2002 to 2007.
The day I got the KMJ job actually was the day my oldest daughter was born, which is 15 years ago.
I was in the hospital in the daddy's lounge letting my wife take a nap and I got the call from the station manager who hired me to be the news director and morning news anchor.
- At KMJ?
- At KMJ.
- Who hired you?
- Skip Essick.
I had actually interviewed for the program director's job after John Broeske retired.
I got beat out by Skip Essick for the job.
Supposedly I finished number two in the running for that job.
But Skip and I got to know each other a little bit and he really, we hit it off and he, I was his first hire and so I became the morning guy on KMJ.
- But right now it's KMJ News and here's Liz.
- And you know, there was a period of time when people were saying the demise of AM radio, FM is here.
And my goodness, if you're an AM radio station, you're a dinosaur.
And the reality is that stations like KMJ that found the talk radio, the information, the news, the localization, really saved AM radio.
And there's a reason for that.
People want to tune in and hear, not just local news and talk, but it's interesting, local commercials make a whole lot of sense to people as well.
They wanna know what their community is about.
And so KMJ really demonstrated how specialty AM radio that was heavily localized could be successful.
- To put it simply, no matter what they tell you, there is not a broadcaster in this valley who does not want to work for KMJ.
KMJ is the big dog in the house.
It's got the big transmitters.
You get heard by everybody.
Now in these days of cyber media and everything else, there's different ways to listen but for very long time, very long time, that was it, you wanted to work there.
And so did I.
It was a badge of honor.
- There's sort of one thing that KMJ represents that attracts anybody, whether they are a detractor to KMJ, whether they like it or not, and that is that people out there are basically good, people out there basically want good things around them, they want safe neighborhoods, they want safety for their kids and they want leaders to be conservative in their legislation in this sense.
That we can't have radicalism on either side, whether it's on the religious right side or the radical left side, we can't have radicalism.
The greatest place to represent that center is The Valley.
And the greatest voice for that valley is KMJ.
- I left a format, and not to bash the TV formula in any kind of way, but I left a format that I was getting a group of people that wanted to be seen and it wasn't necessarily about the product or the news itself.
And that's why I thought to myself, my contract came up for renewal, nobody was talking to me and I thought this is my opportunity to get out because my backup plan was, and this is true honesty, to go work at Starbucks as a barista 'cause I just wanted to have fun doing what I was doing and I wasn't having fun and I wanted to find that passion again.
And when I came here, people had passion for what they were doing.
- So this was a move precipitated by a macroeconomic situation, okay?
Our competition launched a competitor radio station against us, against KMJ.
Never a good idea, by the way.
It's never worked, still doesn't work.
Not to brag, but it's true.
What happened was that competitor station took their properties that they technically syndicated, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Coast to Coast Overnight with Art Bell, and now it's George Noory, huge properties, huge properties, big ratings winners, and they took all of that product away from KMJ and launched it against us.
So we, as KMJ, had to figure out, all right, how do we counter that move?
So we went all live and all local.
So we, Skip Essick brought back John Broeske, out of retirement, thank God, we brought in Chris Daniel, eventually, a year later I think it was, we added to the staff, Philip Teresi, you know, some really key components that really helped us drive the conversation locally.
- The audience is a blessing to me every day, and even more so, the audience is a blessing to one another because whatever it is you want to talk about, there is somebody out there who understands it, who loves it, who's got passion for it.
The number of times that a random person, maybe somebody that you've never heard from before, not even a regular caller, just somebody who is passing through on the 99 and heard something and felt compelled, has picked up the phone and offered a perspective, an idea about anything.
We could be talking about politics or theoretical physics or pop culture and somebody will pick up the phone and they'll offer a take and it completely spins the conversation in a different direction.
And that can happen whether it is Movie Topic Friday or you've got the mayor or the City of Fresno on the phone.
I think that the community is the influence.
I think that the community, ultimately, is the thing that decides what KMJ is going to be and how KMJ is going to sound.
Because no matter how important or intelligent or impressive of a person you have on, and no matter how big a personality is, in the context of what we do, all it takes is one three minute phone call from somebody with the right train of thought, the right perspective and you end up with a completely different day.
- I love what I do, and especially after doing a job that I didn't love, and how much fun I have walking in every day to this building and into that studio, that's what's gonna stand out.
Working with John Broeske, working with Ray Appleton, working with Blake Taylor, Matt Otstot, Christopher Gabriel, Mike Martinez, George Takata, who I worked with over the years, in and out of TV, on several different occasions, Liz Kern.
They're all the people that I'm gonna remember having so much fun with.
When John shares his memories, he shares memories of the good times that they all had, you know, the times on the job and off the job.
John and I are friends off the job.
What's funny about John and I is that he might be several years older than I am and yet we're friends.
We call each other during the day.
- I was proud to be a part of the construction of this station, you know, where we had put together, I think, a really good station, pre-Rush, you know, if you remember we had Captain Scotty, helicopter traffic reports, I had hired Ray, the station was in great shape when Rush was infused into it.
Rush brought a whole new group of people to listen and all those people found a good station and they spread all over the station so our ratings were good everywhere.
You know, Captain Scotty was a huge thing.
Kids, you know, driving in the car with their parents, they still remember Captain Scotty, you know, somebody like that.
So I was proud that we were able to put together a good station, that even after Rush left, it's still successful.
We've had a lot of good people work here so I think, like I say, evolution never stops.
You know, when I came back here in 2013, next year I'll be 10 years back after retirement, right, and when I came back, I never set any goals.
I just said one day at a time.
So it's been one day at a time for almost 10 years now.
So I don't know where the end of the line for me is.
I don't know what else to do.
That's why when I retired, I found out I'm one of those people that's not very good at it.
(funky upbeat music) - There's a reason that the station has lasted.
And I think that our job is to uphold the legacy and to broaden the legacy and to take it to a different level.
Because the standard of excellence was set before we got here so if we let that down, if we let that slip, then we have not done our job.
The KMJ, you know, the fathers of KMJ so to speak, they would be upset and I think our job is to uphold it but it's also to take it to a different level.
- I had so many shortcomings as a parent because I was so preoccupied with radio, I could see that what was good to me actually damaged them to a degree and I fully admit it.
So I'm trying to spend as much time as I can now, in my last years, being that father that I wasn't in my early years of the career.
And I think they get it, but my kids, you know, they're older because I was so young.
I lost my oldest boy, he's gone, he would've been, his next birthday, I think 52 or 53, my daughter's in her fifties, my youngest son is in his thirties, but I think they're of an age now, and we talk about this, where they're forgiving, thank God, and they get it.
That's what I want my kids to learn from this whole experience of Ray and radio.
It helped feed them, sure, but it probably didn't give them the emotional satisfaction that they need.
I should have done a much better job of balancing my personal life with my professional life.
Once I'm gone, if I'm gonna be remembered, it's just strictly what my kids think of me and screw everybody else.
I hope they were entertained and that's that.
- If the content is great, people will migrate to it.
If the content isn't there or relevant, they won't migrate to it.
It's as simple as that.
It's not that difficult.
- Mom, Dad, come quick.
- [Patty] And if you're local radio and you've got great content and you are relevant to the listener and you provide that, day in and day out, day in and day out, - Well, if that don't beat the.
- that's what KMJ is.
You know, it's responsive, it's relevant, it's philanthropic, it's competitive.
(laughing) We're all that.
It's a special industry and it's not dying.
It's becoming more relevant.
And as long as you're local, you're gonna stay relevant.
- To paraphrase the late great James Lipton and the questionnaire he made famous by Bernard Pivot from Apostrophes, you know, he always asks if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
When KMJ is all said and done, eons from now, and those on this or other planets look back and say, well, how do you really describe what this entity was in central California that was around for as long as it was?
You come across three very specific words, dedication, professionalism and honesty.
And if there is to be an epitaph of KMJ, not that I wish ill will upon the station or whenever it shuffles off this mortal coil, you chisel those three in its tombstone whenever it stops broadcasting, whenever it wants to stop broadcasting, I think that pretty much sums it up.
(jazzy upbeat music) - [Announcer] Production funding for "KMJ: 100 Years in The Valley" provided by the family of Bill Tatham, Sr. A tradition of giving back to Fresno and the Central Valley to inspire the creation of new valley legacies to come.