Bill Putnam: In His Own Words

Oct 8, 2003 12:00 PM


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In his own words: Learn more about the legend Bill Putnam in excerpts from an interview by Larry Blakey, from the August 1983 issue of Mix.

On his early radio days:

“My dad had a radio program on WDZ in Tuscola, IL, one of the older radio stations in the country, and the home of Gene Autry before he moved to WLS and the number one radio show, National Barn Dance.

“I think my interest in radio and electronics really started while I was in the Boy Scouts. I had decided to get a merit badge in something that was called ‘wireless,’ and built a crystal set and a one-tube radio (with my dad’s help), which got KDKA in Pittsburg! I built my own private telegraph system which ran down the block to a couple of my friends’ houses, but since none of us knew the Morse code very well, we weren’t able to handle much traffic.

“It was through my interest in radio and a lot of encouragement from my dad that I became interested in ‘ham’ radio. In 1933, at 13, I made my first attempt at taking the ham radio operators’ exam in Chicago. I took my first taxicab ride to the Federal Communications building on Wacker Drive, the first skyscraper I had ever seen. To make a long story short, I flunked the code exam. Two years later I returned and got my Class B ham ticket, the equivalent to today’s General Class ham radio license. So I became a ham radio operator at the age of 15.

On learning about P.A. systems:

“In my early years of high school I had a part time job working for a friend in a radio shop where I learned repair. My friend also had a PA system, which I rented out to the local city parks for their amateur shows. From this I learned P.A. systems, and most of all, about feedback, which made them howl.”

On his love of the music business:

“I have a great enthusiasm for show business and I liked singing with dance bands. At the age of 15, I sang on weekends with a number of regional bands that played primarily on college campuses. This was when I first started to develop my interest in jazz and the music business, and realizing that musicians were my favorite people. By the time I was a junior in high school, my activities were primarily singing with dance bands. I was making five bucks a nigh, a lot of money in those days. (this included the P.A. system rental, which might be a comment on how well I sang.)”

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