Medford's Broadcasting History
The broadcast career of William Smullin, founder of California Oregon Broadcasting Inc., began with a single radio station in Eureka, Calif., in 1933. When television began to catch on after World War II, Smullin quickly expanded his burgeoning broadcast empire. With a partner, in 1953 he launched KBES in Medford, the predecessor to today’s KOBI, as well as KIEM-TV in Eureka.
Smullin’s VHF portfolio grew as he added television and radio stations throughout Central and Southern Oregon and Northern California. He diversified his interests with a microwave network and cable networks. He and other early Medford broadcast pioneers, including rival Ray Johnson, were known for their innovations. They had to be creative, given the geographical challenges that confronted them. Smullin’s vast web of cable and microwave systems, and his relay stations in smaller towns, boosted his primary stations’ signals and carried programming from other major markets to his viewers on either side of the Oregon-California border.
Johnson was just as determined as Smullin to make his mark in the fledgling television field. Johnson entered the market in 1961 with the predecessor to KTVL, setting off a fierce competitive battle with Smullin’s broadcast empire. “When my dad ran the station, we weren’t even allowed to play with the children of the other station’s employees.” Patsy Smullin says.
Yet, the two media pioneers were friends and would often discuss business. “Ray and Dad had great respect for each other and would occasionally meet on mountain tops and discuss global ‘future’ communication issues,” she says.
When KDRV, owned by Eugene-based Chambers Communications, entered the fray in 1984, viewers from Lakeview to Mt. Shasta could enjoy complete free TV programming, and choose from three very competitive local news operations based in Medford for their local news. The market continued to attract players, with Fox’s KMVU, Telemundo, and Public Broadcasting joining the mix.
Ray Johnson eventually sold out, but Smullin continued to build up his media assets. Daughter Patsy would become the only one of his five children to stick with the business that she has run since 1984.