After four decades in the industry, Bob Miller to hang up his headphones at KPAM

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - Radio talk show host Bob Miller is hanging up his headphones after more than four decades as a broadcaster.As I look in the rearview mirror, I can describe my radio career in one word: blessed.

Radio has allowed me to live several lifetimes in one. I mean, I’ve done and seen more in 43 years than seems possible.

I got into the business by accident. I was a college freshman working in a grocery store when I got laid off. I needed a job badly and a friend told me the local radio station was looking for someone.

I’d never ever considered radio as an occupation. Desperately seeking employment, I auditioned for them by reading the city newspaper into an old tape recorder. They must have heard something they liked and before long I was seated behind a microphone, shaking like a leaf and with a mouth as dry as the Sahara.

This was a middle-of-the-road format, so I was playing the music my parents listened to. My idea of the glamorous life of a radio personality quickly went out the window when I was told that my duties would include taking out the trash, vacuuming the carpets after sign-off and feeding the station’s guard dog.

Eventually I was hired by a competitor across the river. I was pretty excited about going to work for them until I found out I would be running an automation system and only reading news and commercials.

To add insult to injury, I soon realized that my true value was the fact that while I worked in a “dry county,” I lived in a wet one … meaning I was charged with bringing beer to work every night for the management team.

Soon I was back at my original station being given more and more responsibility, and I began to develop my craft. I was having fun and they were paying me for it. It doesn’t get any better than that.

My true joy is that I was able to learn from so many incredibly talented people. Some were like buddies; others were like drill sergeants. I needed both.

Fast forward a few years and I’m working in Huntington, W.Va., a small market, but the biggest in the state. This is where the big boys got their feet wet, and I was loving it. This is where I learned about “stunting,” where disc jockeys would do outrageous things for publicity and ratings.

For example, I have: sat on a block of ice in a department store window for 48 hours (don’t worry, there was Styrofoam hidden underneath my butt); taken a Bicentennial trip 500 miles down the Ohio River on a raft, broadcasting our progress as we went; visited Vulcan, W.Va., after their mayor called the Soviets asking for foreign aid to build a bridge. The governor refused to build the bridge so the guy called the Russians, and they showed up!

I also got the Ugandan despot Idi Amin on the phone just long enough for him to tell me he wasn’t going to talk to me.

In 1974, I won Billboard Magazine’s National Air Personality of the Year (Small Market) and I began getting job offers. Frankly, I was scared to leave home.

Five years later, I was called by the national program director of Golden West Broadcasters, owned by the Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry. I was offered a job at KEX in Portland and I took it — 2,500 miles from home.

I recall coming in from PDX and seeing all these tall buildings and ribbons of highways. Feeling totally intimidated, I checked into my room in the Hilton, turned on the TV and Portland Wrestling was on. I figured maybe Portland wasn’t so all-fired cosmopolitan after all.

As I said, I’ve lived four lifetimes. Since moving to Portland I’ve been blessed to fly with the Blue Angels, receive an award from President Ronald Reagan at the White House, travel the world and do my show from some amazing remote locations and much more.

More importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best in the business and have been allowed into peoples’ homes, dashboards, headphones and ear buds for all these years.

The late great Barney Keep and I were talking about ratings one day, and I was working hard to impress him with my knowledge of demographics, working the hourly clock, maximizing the playlist, etc. He listened intently, then said to me, “If you take care of your listeners, the rest of that stuff takes care of itself.” I’ve never forgotten that.

But, you know what? The listeners have taken care of me and my family as well. The highest compliment any of us in this business is paid is when listeners tell us we're like family to them.

I’ve been honored to be your family. I thank God for all the blessings bestowed upon me while doing something I truly love and I thank you for listening to me doing it.

Bob Miller is a radio personality on AM 860 KPAM, which is part of the Pamplin Media Group. He will close his 10 years at KPAM with a farewell broadcast from 7 to 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 3, 2014.

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