FRESNO, CA--The first Black radio station owner, Woody Miller, 89, passed away Saturday morning, May 13, 2017 battling his last few years from Alzheimer's disease.
Born in Dermott , AR, October 22, 1927, Miller moved to Fresno in 1935.
Miller began his career in the Central Valley, working at stations like KGST and KBIF during the 1950s'.
He was one of the first African-Americans in the country to own a radio station, KLIP in Fowler. His popular program The Jazz World of Woody Miller brought the sounds of artists like Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Oscar Peterson, to the Fresno airwaves in the 1950’s and 60’s. He was also a Fresno City Council candidate in 1969, a teacher at Fresno City College, lecturer, and respected figure in the African-American community.
It was not easy for Miller to break into the broadcasting business. Miller recalls the blatant racism he encountered while trying to build a career. He started small, working part-time in sales in 1952 at stations in Fresno and Sacramento. Miller said he was able to sell so much advertising, that the managers started noticing his attitude and personality, which helped win him the sales. His big break came when he met Morrie Mindel, owner of KLIP in Fowler. Mindel gave Miller the chance to broadcast on the air. When Mindel died, Miller took over KLIP, purchasing the station.
Miller interviewed some of the greatest musicians in history such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles. “Duke was good, but he was class, he always had on the sharp threads, and the ladies just loved him,” Miller said with a smile, “But Ray Charles, he was just real.” Miller said.
But things did not always go the way Woody Miller planned. His life took a turn for the worse when he could no longer afford to operate KLIP on his own. He lost the station and went broke in the late 80’s.
“It was hard. Nobody in my community understood what I was going through. They listened when the station was playing music, but they didn’t understand what it took to run it.” Miller said.
When KLIP shutdown, Miller distanced himself from radio. For several years he co-founded and hosted a talk program on KFCF, later called “Valley Black Talk”.
Later he migrated back to KFSR, exposing listeners to the hottest jazz, labeled with bits of rich history.
Miller is survived by his son, Michael Miller and daughter Debbie Miller.
A memorial service for Miller is set for Saturday, June 24, 2017 at the African-American Museum, time TBA.
Valley Black Talk Radio Show hosts plan on doing a special "Woody Miller Memorial Radio Tribute" on The ONME Network, from 6:00-9:00 PM Sunday, June 11, 2017.