Bill Bradford is a broadcasting innovator, ground-breaking weather radar pioneer and World War II serviceman, but those aren’t the things the legendary newsman cares about most.
As the city, county, hospital and school district prepare to honor him next week as part of Bill Bradford Appreciation Week, the almost 93-year-old took time to reflect briefly on a career that is into its seventh decade.
Of all his awards and accomplishments, Bradford said there is one thing he would most, like to be remembered for when his career comes to a close.
“To have, mostly by accident, I think, affected the lives of a lot of young people, is what I’d like to most be remembered for,” he answered.
He was mostly talking about a radio workshop for high school seniors that he mentored at KSST, the AM station he has built since he started working there when it was a fledgling station in 1948. But, he could also have been referring to the countless number of high school students and athletes who he has talked about with pride in the last 65 years.
Those same people will get a chance to say thanks to Bradford next week when he is honored by Hopkins County Memorial Hospital with a reception Monday evening, by the Hopkins County Commissioners Court with the reading of a proclamation at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Courthouse, by the Rotary Club on Thursday, and by the Sulphur Springs Independent School District during a presentation for him at Gerald Prim Stadium before the Wildcats’ game with Hallsville on Friday.
Bradford came to Sulphur Springs in March 1948, one year after KSST went on the air. He drove up in a new Buick he had purchased in the Virgin Islands while he worked for an airline after World War II. When he deposited $10,000 into City National Bank that day, “people assumed I was a bootlegger,” he said.
A year later he was station manager, and now he is owner of KSST.
Bradford has not only seen and experienced a lifetime of incredible moments, he has chronicled them.
He especially remembers Nov. 22, 1963, when he went to Dallas to hear President John F. Kennedy speak, following a motorcade through the streets of the city. When the president did not show up, Bradford called Dick Caldwell at the station.
“I said, ‘OK, something happened,’ and Dick said, ‘It’s just come in. The president has been shot.’ Just before he said that, I started recording.
“I just held the press phone, and a woman sat beside me and said, ‘They’re going to announce it now.’ So, I did a description – and it’s the only recorded one, I think – of what it was like when they made the announcement, and the people’s reaction.”
The most dynamic personality Bradford had the pleasure of meeting was Dave Rubinoff, a violinist whose name most people under the age of 70 aren’t familiar with.
Rubinoff was a pre-World War II entertainer who played his Stradivarius violin on air during the time when families would huddle around the radio for the nightly programs. Rubinoff visited Bradford in the radio studio, brought out his Strad and played popular request music live and on the air.
“That, I remember, as a wonderful evening,” Bradford said.
But, Bill Bradford has never been just a disc jockey, programmer or station manager.
He is credited with organizing the Emergency Broadcasting System that Texas relies on to alert millions of people across the state to impending danger.
And yes, he is the one who came up with the phrase, “This is a test. This is only a test.”
He wrote that while working with an official from the Federal Communications Commission on storm warnings.
“My fellow broadcasters say if I get around to it, it will look good on a tombstone,” he said.
At KSST, Bradford has been an innovator and pioneer. Using a converted surplus World War II aircraft radar set that he purchased for $400, he was one of the first broadcasters to use the technology to bring listeners in-depth, accurate information on severe weather threatening Hopkins County.
Bradford credits “sheer luck” with his venture into radar forecasting, but everyone knows it was know-how and fortitude that provided the “luck.”
Bradford served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and for a commercial airline following the war.
“In the airline, we were flying mountains and that requires a certain amount of talent, a certain amount of guts and a lot of luck. It was mountain country and it was also bad weather country,” he recalled. “One of the planes had a new radar, and it was showing me coast lines and it showed me some fuzzy stuff, and it dawned on me that the same radar used to look for periscopes is excellent when it comes to weather. So, I actually could cut some corners with it, flying in between thunderstorms, and I got a real respect for radar.”
When he came to Sulphur Springs in 1948 (at the urging of his mother, who said she wanted grandkids before he got himself killed in some far-off land), nobody was using radar. He saw an ad for a complete radar system from a B-29 bomber for $400, and purchased it.
“We recognized its potential for weather,” he said modestly.
He was among the first to have a mobile unit in a car and to combine his radio station with cable TV to maximize his service to his market.
Bradford was a member of the Texas CONELRAD Committee and was instrumental in getting EGS converted from just being a nuclear attack warning system to provide weather and other disaster alerts. He toured the state with federal officials at his own expense to promote development of the emergency broadcast system into a disaster warning device.
He served as president of the Texas Emergency Broadcast System and Broadcast Subcommittee chairman. Additionally, he has received two awards from the Texas Association of Broadcasters for serving as Texas Emergency Broadcast System Chairman, along with commendations from the Federal Communications Commission, National Weather Service and the Defense Preparedness Agency for reorganizing the Emergency Broadcast System in Texas.
While serving as chairman of the Associated Press Broadcasters Association, he negotiated an agreement with the non-profit Texas Election Bureau to carry Texas election returns over the teletype news service for the first time.
Bradford has received two U.S. Air Force commendations for building a broadcast station for Borinquen Air Force Base in Puerto Rico from spare parts. In 1992, he was named Texas Pioneer Broadcaster of the Year.
Locally, he was named the Hopkins County Citizen of the Year in 1957 and won the Chamber of Commerce’s Vision Award in 2001.
He was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2005 and was named Broadcaster of the Year in 2012 by the Texas Association of Broadcast Educators.
Born Nov. 5, 1920, in Marietta, Okla., Bradford was an announcer or radio engineer in Cheyenne, Wyo., Denver, Colo., and Huntsville and Corsicana before World War II, when he served as a military aviator, a multi-engine airplane pilot and communications officer for the Air Corps. He also flew as a radio operator for Panagra Airline in South America.
Today, he is still plugging away at KSST, with his news and notes and his always memorable line of “Don’t think like me, just think with me.”
“I had a fleeting thought one time that I ought to sum it all up,” he said in his usual humble style, “but all I got from that was a headache.”
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