by Tom Read
sports writers have done a good job of covering Clay's accomplishments
with the TAC and Cheney Stadium. I will stay with the early radio
and TV years.
But Clay was very busy with other interests and in the early days was not very interested in the day to day radio station operation and trying to keep up with ever changing FCC rues and regulations. Being a Pierce County Commission was after all a full time job and I don't think Clay was really making a huge amount of money running KLAY FM. AM stations were still king.
I had returned to Seattle/Tacoma radio by purchasing KQIN, an AM station at 800 on the dial with a transmitter site on Vashon Island along with KING, KOMO, KVI, and KIRO.
Clay and I had mentioned through the years that at some point he would want to sell the FM and always said that since he would not have the station if it had not been for me, we agreed that I would have the first opportunity to buy it when he was ready to get out of the station ownership business.
NBP: Did you decide not to purchase KLAY FM once you purchased the 800 AM station?
TR: No. In fact, just the opposite. I thought that since most Seattle AM stations had an FM station, I felt I should have an FM go to along with my AM which I was sure could increase power to 10,000 or even 50,000 watts. It is 50 kw today. Also, I had been approached by Willie Davis, the Pro football star, about selling KQIN. I had not decided to do so but if I sold KQIN, it would make sense for me to buy KLAY.
So when Clay phoned and asked if I wanted to come down for an early dinner in Tacoma to talk about the FM, I accepted with glee. As usual Clay had a meeting that night so we met early at the station at 2nd and Tacoma Avenue and of course Clay was a little late. We had dinner and neither of us had a clear idea of what the station was worth. I felt the transmitter had to be moved to a Seattle mountain as the coverage from Tacoma was not good enough to be competitive in Seattle. So I explained to Clay that I would have to invest a fair amount of cash into improving the station.
We discussed a down payment and a note for the balance with interest, probably over a ten year period, which was very standard in those days. Clay was completely comfortable with that in that he would save a lot of money in taxes and the payments would be set up to go to Jan and the children if anything happened to him. In fact, I was a little surprised that he was that concerned about taking care of his wife and kids at that point in time of his life. But then Clay was a lot older than I and I got the strange impression that he was concerned about the future. In fact, he outlived Jan, one of his sons, and was 89 when he died.
NPB: Did you cement a deal at dinner that night in Tacoma?
TR: Only a general outline. That was a mistake on my part. I should have put something down on a napkin and had both of us sign it. We left with Clay wanting to talk with a CPA or tax attorney in how the note should be set up and I indicated that I would talk to my bank and CPA and see how much of a down payment I could scrape together.
NPB: What happened next?
TR: Both Clay and I were busy and felt there was no hurry. We had an understanding but it did not make much difference if we did it this month or even in the next six months or a year. I was working on the project by talking with my banker and CPA but did not put the project on any fast track.
I guess that was another mistake on my part. All of a sudden, out of the blue, I read in the FCC Notices that KLAY FM had filed an application for transfer to a Ray Court and his wife. (Court was not his real last name).
Ray was an announcer at KING AM in Seattle and as I recall, either married some money or his wife came into some money. So Ray decided he wanted to become a radio station owner rather than sit and spin records at KING. Evidently, word had leaked out that Clay and I were working on a purchase of KLAY FM and Ray found out about it. He either had applied to purchase the little AM in Puyallup, KAYE, 1000 watts on 1450 or was about to do so. KAYE was very weak in Tacoma during the day and virtually non existent in Tacoma at night. So it would make sense that Ray would be interested in purchasing a Tacoma FM.
NPB: So Clay sold KLAY to Ray Court without even calling you and offering you the first right of refusal you two had agreed to years ago.
TR: Yes, but I think Ray was a very smooth and persuasive and I mean that in a positive way. I know that Clay felt very guilty about the situation and told me years later that he was wrong in not telling me he had been approached by Court. That was at a time when we talked about my buying his 1180 AM station. I have no doubt that Court did approach Clay, not the other way around, at least that is what Clay led me to understand..
I don't recall the exact details, but I think Ray may have offered cash or a much larger amount of cash then what Clay and I were talking about. I think he also offered Clay more money for the station than either Clay or I thought it was worth. I don't remember specifically, but I think Clay and I discussed a price of about $300,000 or maybe $325,000 which was what brokers told us a Tacoma FM that did not have competitive coverage of Seattle would be worth. I think Ray offered Clay about $550,000, which did not make sense from the standpoint of what the station was providing in the way of net monthly income. I think Clay thought that I would probably not match Ray's offer and I think he was right that I probably would have not paid that much for the station, even though I would have preferred to have told him that myself rather than having him assume it. I was disappointed in Clay that he did not tell me about Court's offer and at least give me a chance to say I would not meet the offer or to meet it, but I understood he deserved to make the best deal he could.
Actually, I finally did sell KQIN to Willie Davis, the All Pro football player, for about one million. It was worth that price because the FCC had just broken down the Clear Channels and at 800 AM I was blocking high power on 810 or 820. As I said, KQIN today is KGNW and is 50,000 watts on 820 and Willie sold it to Salem for about three million plus, so our figures were very accurate.
The point is I could easily have paid Clay the $550,000.00 he got from Court and if that had happened, Tacoma would still have a fine, local FM station.
NPB: How did Court do as a station owner?
TR: He changed the call letters of the station which actually turned out to be a good thing for Clay. Ray sold KLAY FM to my friend Ivan Braker and made a profit on the deal based on his sale price from Clay. So you would have to say he was a good business man but the sale of the station was the beginning of the loss of the station to Tacoma.
announcer as I recall, but I don't think
Ray had any interest in running a local Tacoma radio station and serving
the community the way Clay and I always did and do today.
Ray probably looked at KLAY FM as an investment by buying and selling
stations, which he and many others started doing in those years. When that element of buyers entered broadcasting, is
when cities lost their local radio stations. Other than
Clay's 1180 AM in Lakewood, Tacoma has no local radio or TV station
operating in the city.
Clay deserves a lot of credit for staying in Tacoma and getting an AM station and continuing to serve the community. A lot of us left Tacoma, but Clay stayed. I honor him for that.
NPB: You went to LA and was later the Communications Consultant for the World's Fair and built many more radio stations in the state. Clay stayed in Tacoma. Did you keep in touch and do you know how Clay became involved with the little 1480 AM station in Lakewood that led to the present day 1180 in Lakewood?
TR: Oh yes, I did keep in touch with Clay and even more so in later years after I sold KQIN in Seattle and built stations in Spokane, Moses Lake, Yakima, Tri-Cities and so on. I used to phone him to get together for lunch or dinner anytime I was able to get to Tacoma. Clay would often phone to ask my opinion on what he should buy in way of equipment or run some programming idea by me. As Clay got older and Jan became ill, I always tried to phone him at home on holidays, especially on Thanksgiving when we would reminisce about our famous, record setting Thanksgiving Day broadcast.
NPB: You mentioned that you and Clay talked about your buying his 1180 AM. Was that a serious discussion?
TR: Yes, I was seriously interested for years in trying to get a station back in the Seattle/Tacoma area as that would make us a full state wide network and the only such network. Clay and I talked about the fact that all the other Tacoma area stations, licensed to Tacoma, had moved to Seattle and ignored Tacoma for the most part. We both wanted to be sure Tacoma had at least one radio station in the mold of the old KMO, KTBI, and KTNT; all good local radio stations. However, once we started streaming our network and I could see that we could reach, not only the state but the entire country, I lost interest in buying KLAY AM 1180. So I was not "pushing" Clay on the subject. He did say at one point that he thought his kids wanted the station and I said that would be great for them to carry on the tradition. That is the way it has worked out and I hope they do continue to operate KLAY AM as a local Tacoma/Lakewood station for years to come.
You asked about how Clay got back into station ownership, this time with an AM station. I was not in Tacoma at the time but Clay did confer with me and asked my advice so I think I can put the pieces together on how he became involved with the Lakewood AM on 1480.
To Be Continued.
COMMENTS FROM FRIENDS AND FORMER EMPLOYEES OF CLAY HUNTINGTON
Janet Margelli grew up in the Tacoma area and learned radio by attending the Tacoma Vocational Technical School, training on their educational FM station, KTOY.
I talked with Janet on the phone from California. She is a delightful young lady. Clay hired her in 1971 to work at KLAY FM. The station was located in a small two story building at 2nd and Tacoma Avenue. She remembers that Clay was a Pierce County Commissioner at the time who basically left the operation of the station to Janet and Win McCracken. The programming was easy listening and was fully automated with the IGM automation equipment and music service on reel to reel tapes.
About all Janet had to do was change the music reels and record commercials on carts to play through the automation on the air. The board was a Gates model. The transmitter was located on a null at the southwest corner of the old Allenmore Golf Club. She remembers she had a key to a back gate and had to take a golf cart to get to the small transmitter building. She had to go out and change tubes, sometimes in the middle of the night, to keep the station on the air. Stan Naccarado was doing the sales through Clay's advertising agency. Clay Freinwald was under contract to maintain the transmitter and an audio engineer by the name of Gary kept the studio equipment on the air.
Janet left in 1977 to get married and move to Japan.
Please share your memories of Clay and KLAY. Email firstname.lastname@example.org