In 1938, Orson Welles coined the phrase, “Radio is
the theater of the mind and the imagination.”
I was born into an immigrant family of Walla Walla Sweet
Onion farmers in 1949 in Walla Walla. My father, Dan Todorovich, along with one
of his brothers and a family friend, had formed a trio called The Cascadians.
They sang and played guitars performing their original songs live, in-studio on
KUJ in Walla Walla during the 1940s and 50s. My brother Marv (Dan, Jr.) used
the radio name “Dan Tory” and followed my dad into radio in the late 50s and
early 60s. After high school graduation, I earned my FCC license by studying
independently and was ready to go on-the-air. I think it’s fair to say that
radio is in my DNA. But back in the 1960s “girls” were simply not acceptable as
Jerry Robinson was the chief engineer for KCYS FM in
Richland, the only FM station in the Tri-Cities (Pasco, Kennewick &
Richland) and listenership was marginal since FM was still a ‘new’ commodity.
Jerry had told me about an on-air opening coming up at KCYS. I went to see the
general manager, Kenley ‘Ken’ Snyder, to apply. He said there were no openings.
When I reported back to Jerry, he went to bat for me. As the
chief engineer of the radio station – the only one with a First-Class
Radiotelephone License from the FCC (the only one who could engineer the
transmitter and keep it in compliance with federal regulations), he went to Ken
and bluntly told him if he wouldn’t at least give me a chance, “I will take my
license down off the wall and you can shut the station down.” That was how I
got my first job.
I only briefly met the young guy that I would be replacing.
His name was Mike. He and I were both recent high school graduates. We were
both 18 years old and ready to take on the world.
Mike had received a scholarship to the University of Chicago
and was leaving the Tri-Cities to pursue his higher education – even though his
passion for radio went back to when he was a young kid, too.
“Radio had become a really big thing for me by seventh grade,”
says Mike. “I built a radio transmitter kit in my house and broadcast to my
very close neighbors, a 1/10th of a watt legal radio station.” His friend Jeff
Upson had a slightly more advanced home radio station and invited Mike to join
him broadcasting on it. “Jeff was equally excited about radio. We met in ninth
grade. He had a not-quite-as-legal radio station with ¾ of a watt with a
home-built board and transmitter. For an antenna, Jeff hooked it to the city
fire alarm wires so it covered quite a bit of area — maybe 10% of Richland.
We ended up doing the high school news program for Columbia High School.”
KEPR (now KONA) began carrying weekly high school news
reports. Mike jumped at the chance to be on-the-air on KEPR still only in his
junior year of high school.
By Mike’s senior year, Dr. Bjorn Lih, a physician and
surgeon, who was also actively involved in the community, had just put the
first independent FM radio station on-the-air in the Tri-Cities. The station
was KCYS FM as Three Rivers Broadcasting which represented the Columbia, Yakima
and Snake Rivers that converged in the Tri-Cities. Fortuitously, Mike was
friends with Dr. Lih’s son who introduced them. Dr. Lih hired Mike to go
on-the-air at KCYS FM while he was still a high school student working evenings.
In college, Mike was majoring in psychology, but couldn’t
get radio out of his blood either. The University of Chicago didn’t offer
academic classes in broadcasting, but it did have a campus radio station. “It
was strictly a club for the FM station,” says Mike. “I became news director in
my freshman year.” During his sophomore year, he became station manager. He was
so devoted to his duties at the radio station, he let his classes slide.
The next stop along the way for Mike was an AM/FM/TV station
combination where he did news on all three stations about 100 miles away in Indiana.
He met and married his first wife there.
By 1972, Mike and his wife had honeymooned out West and she
was insistent on moving out here though not for the rattlesnakes and
tumbleweeds of the Tri-Cities. So, they moved out West and Mike applied to KOMO.
Larry Nelson (KOMO Morning Show) listened to his tape, but there was no job
Mountlake Terrace had a radio station KURB with a whopping
250 watts at that time. Mike began there as a sales executive and then quickly
became general manager at the age of 22. Mike partnered with Dick Stokke, who
had been very big to become a two-person morning show team. Stokke was renowned
for his rapier wit and sarcasm.
Mike had earned his First-Class FCC license and began
commuting from Seattle to Bellingham daily to do the afternoon drive show on
KPUG, a rock ‘n’ roll station that was a feeder station for KJR. He also sold
print media advertising for the Lynnwood Enterprise and became advertising manager
for the Marysville Globe while still living in Seattle.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mike began commuting by ferry from
Seattle across Puget Sound to KBRO AM & FM in Bremerton where he became news
director. By then he had concluded it was time to get back into his academic
studies and earned his bachelor’s degree as a history major at the University
In 1981, Mike and his wife divorced. Mike’s preschool-age
son Joe became best friends with another little boy at daycare named was
Ricardo. The two boys were exactly eleven months apart in age. Ricardo’s mother
Paula was a single parent too and when her car went on the fritz, Mike offered
her rides. The friendship that began between their children flourished into a
marriage between Mike and Paula and the couple is approaching their 38th
Mike went into advertising sales and then the afternoon
drive show at KTNT in Tacoma until it was sold. Longtime friend and fellow
radio aficionado Tim Shook (Tim died of COVID-19 last Spring) posted a 1981
clip online of Mike
Moran & Mike Lonergan on KTNT
Mike made a foray into politics in 1984. He ran against Norm
Dicks for Congress in the 6th Congressional District. KPMA used the opportunity
to get rid of him. He believes they were simply trying to cut their payroll.
“This made news around the state, because of the way they did this,” he says. “They
said, ‘You can’t work on the radio and run for political office.’” He didn’t
win the congressional race.
Meanwhile, my husband Charles and I were married on the
bandstand in Pioneer Park in Steilacoom overlooking Chambers Bay in the Summer
of 1994. We opened a flower shop Love Me Now Floral Design in the Historic
District of Steilacoom in 1996.
To my utter astonishment one afternoon — some 30 years and
hundreds of miles away from the Tri-Cities where I had last seen Mike Lonergan —
he and his wife Paula Wallace Lonergan wandered into our flower shop. I
recognized Mike immediately! We had a lot of catching up to do. He never knew
what had ever become of me after I replaced him in the Tri-Cities. He was
astonished to learn that I was Jaynie Dillon of The Overnight Club on KOMO as
he had been listening to my show for years after returning from Chicago to
Seattle, but had no idea it was me as I didn’t use a last name on-the-air at
Mike stayed out of politics until 1999 when he ran for city council
in Tacoma. He lost the first time but ran again and won serving on the city council
“The Salvation Army needed a public relations and community
relations liaison starting in 1985 and I stayed there seven-and-a-half years,”
Mike says. “Mike is a great person and sits on the Advisory Board with me,”
says Judith Martin, Salvation
Army Advisory Board Secretary.
Passionate about a life of service to the community, Mike became
executive director for Tacoma Rescue Mission
for 12 and a half years. “I saw a lot of problems in Tacoma city government and
that’s why I ran for office while I was still working for the Mission,” he says.
“I had to get back into radio,” Mike adds. “That’s where I
was doing the morning show at KLAY.” He returned to the air on Clay
Huntington’s News and Conversation Station KLAY in Lakewood. In 2011 among the
New Tacoma Awards, Mike was named the recipient of the Popham Award recognizing
the individual who has done the most to build community spirit.
“I did that in the mornings,” he says. “Then in the
afternoons, I was the Director of the Youth Marine Foundation
down on the Tacoma waterfront, which is a training program for young people who
want to get into careers in shipping or being sea captains, etc.”
In 2012, Mike was elected to his first term as Pierce County
Assessor-Treasurer. He has just begun his third and final term under the County
Charter for Pierce County.
Mike reflects on the changes in radio today and that there
is even a nostalgia group page on Facebook called I Love AM Radio with
more than 8,300 members.
January 1, 2020 Boss
Country Radio hit the airwaves as a brand-new station. I was invited to
join their all-star lineup and went on-the-air in March. At 71 now, I never
could have dreamed of this, but I feel like I’m 16 again and having the time of
my life. Perhaps Mike will hear the siren’s call back to radio again one day,
The convergence of our life paths reconnecting seemed
against all odds — mind-boggling synchronicity. But then again, “Radio is the
theater of the mind and the imagination.” Thank you, Orson Welles.