Miller’s time

Published 10:37 pm Saturday, September 26, 2009

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Look long and hard and you can see the flesh and blood embodiment of why radio still enchants.

Or to put it in words that are mostly of one syllable: Watch the Miller boys in action.

That’s what visitors got to experience Friday morning at the Magic 97.9 studio above the Huntington Bank building as the morning show’s J.B. Miller played host to his big brother, Bob.

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The reason for the radio reunion was the induction of Bob Miller into the West Virginia Broadcasters Hall of Fame Saturday night at the Radio Museum at Harveytown.

But a day before the fancy, dress shirt ceremony, the brothers met up to blend their baritones into 90 minutes of memories, laughs and just plain silliness.

Bob Miller started out at WIRO right out of Ironton High School in 1970 under the tutelage of Ken Auble.

“I cut my teeth at that place,” Bob Miller recalled during breaks from on-air chatting. “And Ken was always smoking a pipe. To this day when I smell pipe tobacco, I can still see him.”

In those days WIRO operated out of a sugar-cube-like concrete building overlooking Ironton near the State Route 75 historic tunnel. It was a fluke that got Miller the job that launched a career that is 40 years and counting.

“I had lost my job as a meat cutter at the A&P,” he said.

A friend told him about an opening at the radio station for a weekend night spot.

“I had this deep voice. That was my big qualification,” Miller said.

He showed up at the station to audition by reading that day’s Ironton Tribune into a tape recorder. He can’t remember what the headlines were, but that news did the trick.

That was it.

Miller fell in love with sending his voice out across the airways, even if the job meant he had to work Christmas day.

“I never did get to go to the company party,” he joked. “And Rose (Ken’s wife) would fix a plate of food for me and drive it up. That and a gift pack of Smuckers.”

It was more than Miller’s mellifluent voice that pulled in an audience for him and the station.

Remember those offbeat phone calls? Like the time he actually got through to Uganda’s then dictator, Idi Amin. That on-air call got picked up by all the wire services.

“He said he didn’t talk to Americans and hung up,” Miller said. “Then I called the Eiffel Tower to get their recipe for French dressing. I got this chef and he kept saying there is no such thing as French dressing. The French, even in those days, they had no sense of humor.”

Then there was the time he heard that State Street in Chicago was being torn up and he rushed to the Windy City to retrieve some bricks to sell on the air for a Tri-State charity. He was working for WGNT in Huntington and tried to interview rush hour Chicagoans, who ran from him faster than a New York minute. That is until he did a little fancy modification. Covering the “T” on his portable mic, he became the guy from WGN, the Chicago super station. Rush hour commuters stopped passing him by.

From WIRO, Miller’s career veered off into the typical alphabet soup of the radio guy: WAMX in Ashland, Ky., WGNT and WKEE, both in Huntington, WVAM in Altoona, Pa., and now KPAM in Portland, Ore.

“It is changing all the time. No two days are alike,” Miller said. “The magic thing about radio is you are creating word pictures.”

It’s not often the Miller brothers get to share mic duty, but J.B. was quick to tell his listeners Friday that it was his brother’s example that got him into radio and his advice that has helped him stay there.

And staying there is definitely what the older Miller wants to do as well.

“I’m not ready to hang it up by any stretch,” Bob Miller said. “This is fun.”