by Tom Read
think at one of our NPB conventions Clay made the comment that he would
never have been a radio station owner if it had not been for you.
Is that correct and how did Clay get involved in station ownership?
TR: Yes, that is true. Here is the story. Ken Williams was a young engineer working as a transmitter engineer on Vashon Island for KOMO Radio. He was studying to become a licensed PE, Professional Engineer. He was also studying the FCC rules so that he could do the technical, engineering sections of an FCC application for a radio station license.
I had become friends with Ken and one day he told me he thought there was a good AM frequency that would fit in Tacoma. I reported that to Clay and suggested that maybe he could get some of his business friends to put up the money and we would put a new AM station in Tacoma. When I reported to one of Clay's friends, the owner of a large men's clothing store in Tacoma, that just the tower for an AM would be about $25,000; he decided he was not interested in investing in a radio station for Clay and I, and Clay lost interest in the idea immediately. Neither of us had that sort of money.
When I reported to Ken that the AM station idea would not work out, he said there was an FM frequency assigned for Tacoma and suggested that I apply for the FM myself as it took a lot less money to build an early FM station. Remember there was no stereo and FM stations, like early TV, did not even have to come on the air until about 5pm and could go off at 10pm and did not have to broadcast on Sunday. In fact, there were not many FM receivers to be found.
Having saved a little money and of course living at home and being single, I took Ken up on the idea without further thought and he and I started filling out the FCC forms.
I was granted a construction permit by the government and proceeded to find a used transmitter and was able to finance the studio equipment from Gates Radio and KTWR went on the air as Tacoma's second FM station (now KMTT). The tower was on top of a two story building, the Peck Building, at 6th and Grant, just down the street from KTNT FM's transmitter and studio.
Clay thought my little FM station was a waste of time and effort and had not even heard KTWR as there were few if any FM receivers available, until one day I was able to find a couple of little FM table model radios and gave one to Clay to take home and to let me know how KTWR was received. Clay lived out toward the Narrows at the time and I was curious how my signal was in that part of town..
I phoned Clay at home that evening after I had turned on the KTWR transmitter and asked him how I was coming in. For the first time, Clay was impressed how clear my voice was and how good the music sounded. Soon after, Clay approached me with an offer to buy in and become a partner in KTWR. I may have dropped some hints that I would be interested as I was a kid and did not have much money saved.
NPB: Do you remember what percentage he wanted to purchase?
TR: No, but I think it was less than 50%, he did not want the responsibility of helping to run a radio station. Remember, Don McCroskey has said that Clay never even learned to run the control board (audio mixer) at KTBI and knew nothing technically about radio and cared less.
I think he might have suggested that he become a 25% owner and wanted to know how much cash I had spent to build the station. I could see immediately that he wanted an ownership position just based on what cash it took me to put the station on the air. I explained that the value of KTWR as a licensed, on the air station was much greater than the amount of actual cash it took to construct the station, which was not much because I was able to get financing from Gates Radio Company.
In fairness to Clay, he was not making a lot of money with the advertising agency or the radio and TV shows we were producing and frankly probably did not have much available cash on hand himself.
Clay kept bringing the situation up again and again and I was getting more and more determined that it would be silly to sell a percentage of KTWR based on an evaluation of the actual cash I put into the construction.
Clay persisted and so finally one day, to get him off my back, I told him that there was one more FM frequency assigned to Tacoma and the Tacoma News Tribune, who had put KTNT FM on the air, Clay, and myself could control FM broadcasting in Tacoma. That aspect appealed to Clay but was concerned that he knew nothing about the process of applying for a station much less how to run one.
I told him that Ken Williams and I would do all the work. I would fill out the application for him and all he would have to do is sign his name. Ken would do the engineering portion and Ken and I devised a way that the two stations could be fed into my present antenna.