I’d be willing to bet that up to his last day and after Parkinson’s had weakened and diminished his once vibrant baritone voice, Jon Anderson still thought of himself as a radio hand.
While Jon did plenty of other things during his career—TV anchoring, business administration and a stint as a newspaper editor-in-chief—radio was clearly closest to his heart and where he connected with audiences for decades.
As Jon’s son Darren recalled at a memorial gathering, the radio bug struck early. His dad’s high school let him out 15 minutes early, so he could get to his part time job at a local Aberdeen, S.D. radio station, riding his bike to the station, cranking up the transmitter and being on the air by the time fellow seniors got in their cars to drive home.
If you’re not familiar with how such small stations operated back in the day, young and generally underpaid staffers were charged with doing it all. Tending the transmitter, ripping news bulletins off the teletype machine and more important to a high schooler, playing records and entertaining as a disc jockey were all part of the job. Big-time radio stations in Jon's region like Fargo, N.D.’s KFGO and Minneapolis’ WCCO had the big entertainment and news staffs and high powered transmitters that brought them huge audiences.
A lifelong taste for travel led Jon to the Pacific. In Hawaii, he was a weekend news anchor and started his family. The future included four years on Saipan working for the former Trust Territory, a stint in American Samoa, doing the news on KVZK-TV and then on to Guam in 1977 and an anchor chair at KUAM.
Local TV and radio were changing a lot in the 1970s. Earlier the anchors were largely transplanted radio folks who were handed scripts to read on the air and rarely gathered actual news themselves. They were promoted as personalities and their pictures could be seen on the sides of city buses. On the other hand, Walter Cronkite of CBS, among others, was justly famous as an on-the-ground World War II correspondent.
As one of the speakers at Jon’s memorial noted, media people come in different flavors. There are those who consider themselves primarily journalists, seeking to avoid social involvements that might compromise the objectivity of the stories they produce and not worried about offending newsmakers. And then there are the ‘personalities,’ who plunge into community involvement, gaining local fame and audiences from the experience. Jon, a perennial emcee at beauty pageants, spelling bees and joiner of civic organizations, was certainly in the second group and possessed the needed skill to succeed in both groups, much as this irked some journalistic purists.
As a member of the first group, I must admit Jon’s public persona put me off when we first met in early 1981 as the former KATB was being changed to K-57, Talk Radio. We weren’t that far apart in age and I had enough experience under my belt to find him patronizing in our dealings at the time.
So it was fascinating at his memorial to learn that others had also taken some time to get past the show-biz mask, to find a fundamentally decent and considerate person. In fact his perpetual “Hello, this is Jon Anderson” delivered at maximum volume and with bass boost to just about everyone, was sort of a running gag at the memorial.
Despite the niggling about objectivity, over many years of listening and occasionally being interviewed by Jon on radio and TV, I thought he was a straight shooter and hardly in the tank for any particular interest or cause. He was as good or better than anyone I’ve ever seen at putting interviewees at ease and pumping them for good material. And as a former radio guy, I could always identify the first class audio he collected when out covering an event, something a lot of my TV colleagues weren’t so good at..
There were too many of Jon’s friends—some of them mutual—among the hundreds gathered at Jeff’s Pirate’s Cove for the memorial to list. Many were grateful for John’s mentoring in the media field back in the day and many others had put in years working with him on the air.
Sen. Ridgell presents a legislative resolution to Jon Anderson's widow, Mahie
Guam Senator and former Sorensen Media reporter Clynt Ridgell: “My dad was an avid fan of K-57, so I grew up hearing his voice. Talk radio when you’re a kid is boring. I would complain and say, ‘Why do we have to listen to this? It’s a bunch of politics and government. How’s that ever going to help me out in the future?’ Well [laughs], years later I found myself involved in politics and government.”
KPRG Guam broadcaster Jefferson Cronin recalled Jon’s 60s DJ roots in Washington, D.C.and long ago air name. “The evening jock was a guy named Jack Velvet,” he said, cracking up the knowing crowd. Cronin and Jon worked together later on Guam for years.
Another longtime Guam talk show vet, Myk Powell, came from California to say goodbye to his friend and to tell a story. Powell had suffered a major stroke a few years before and couldn’t speak at the time. But a friend put the two talk show hosts on the phone together. Jon Anderson’s Parkinson’s made it almost impossible for him to speak. A cruel irony, joked Powell: “[The friend said] Here, talk to Myk [long, uproarious laughter] And he said something that sounded like Hafa-hafa-hafa adai. And he also said something that I am sure would translate into, ‘Hi, I’m Jon Anderson!’” [a lot more laughter].
Jefferson Cronin, Darren Anderson, Myk Powell, Photos by Bruce Lloyd
Time of course tends to heal former bad feelings if things go well. Back in the late 80s on a day trip to Guam from Saipan, I headed to the Take5 Café in Hagatna for ham hocks and beans. Jon and Pacific Daily News editor and fellow Wisconsinite Joe Murphy jumped up and greeted me like a long lost brother. Had I been appointed to the Guam media pantheon? It made me nervous, but I guess I’ll never know, since like Take5, they’re both gone.