Monday, July 30, 2007

Back from Biking; Pete Wilson's Death

I learned about the death of KGO-AM (810) afternoon host Pete Wilson while on my annual bike trip across Iowa (, something the Midwestern-born broadcaster and I talked about a lot.

I was broken up, as were the KGO broadcasters I spoke with on the phone and tens of thousands of listeners. KGO news called me at 6 a.m. last Monday to participate in the broadcast memorial, and I wished I was in the Bay Area for it.

Wilson was a stellar broadcaster, although, admittedly, when I first watched him on television I didn't think I liked him. I thought he seemed too opinionated for the anchor spot. And, when he began his radio talk show, I thought he seemed not opinionated enough for that format.

But, as with some great music, more listening brought on a deeper appreciation. Wilson walked a fine line, and was the only broadcaster I know who did both things: objective news at night and opinions by day. I know it caused him stress -- how could it not?

Any public figure gets his share of criticism and hate mail, and even the most thick-skinned feels some of it. I know it rattled Wilson and kept him scrutinizing both jobs constantly to make sure he didn't fall off the tightrope.

When I got to do a KGO talk show in April, it was Pete I chose as my mentor, and he spent an afternoon instructing me, not just in how to handle callers, but in how to choose topics.

His biggest tip: "Be honest. If you choose an opinion because you think it might inspire listeners to call, or placate them, they will see through you. If you don't know something, or don't have an opinion, tell them that too."

It was great advice, and it summed him up for me. He brought a Midwestern grace and down-home honesty to the Bay Area. No matter how long he had been in Marin, or how many Chardonnays he tasted, his feet were planted in fertile Midwest soil.

Pete and I regularly did a show called "The Best Music You Never Heard," and it was a labor of love for him and producer Sandra Firpo. Wilson genuinely liked to see aspiring musicians get a break, and was thrilled to provide them a forum.

You can hear some of it here, and see the rosters.

The pic on top, is Pete, Diana Degarmo and me, a sort of American Idol moment.

There are great tributes to Pete from listeners here.

Only back in the Bay Area now for a few hours, I am really going to feel the loss at 2 p.m., when I punch KGO's button and he's not there.

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