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 on-air talent.
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 offer.
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 of Washington.
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 wedding anniversary.
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 KCYS FM.
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 from 2002-2010.
“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, too.
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.