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Bill Bradford, 1920-2013: A great broadcaster

Sulphur Springs News-Telegram
Bill Bradford

You’re familiar with the names of many of the great broadcasters … Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Johnny Carson, Paul Harvey, Oprah Winfrey.  I wonder if you know the name of another great broadcaster who practiced his trade in Northeast Texas, Sulphur Springs, to be exact.

Bill Bradford, the owner and general manager of KSST, has passed away.  He was 93, but remained engaged and productive on-the-air and in managing the daily affairs of the station until nearly the very end.

The names above all made a huge impact on the national scene, except for “Brad.”  But American broadcasting is, in its essence, a local affair, and nobody excelled at local broadcasting more than Bill Bradford.  One need not achieve massive fame to be a truly great broadcaster.

It was a marvelous thing to drive down the highway, late on a weekend night, with thunderstorms looming on the horizon, to tune in 1230 kHz. and hear the venerable Bill Bradford reporting on the severe weather.  That’s great local broadcasting.  Of course, Bill (an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II) was one of the first to use radar in weather reporting, converting a used B-29 radar for broadcasting use in the late 1940s.

No community event in Sulphur Springs escaped the attention of Bill Bradford and KSST.  And his succinct and cogent “Comment” programs were the equal of anything Eric Sevareid ever spoke sitting at Walter Cronkite’s side.

Brad early on saw the potential of cable TV, and essentially created a local TV station on cable channel 18 in Sulphur Springs.  Sometime in the late ’80s I was broadcasting a Greenville High School basketball game for KGVL as the Lions played the Sulphur Springs Wildcats.  Channel 18 was videotaping the game for later playback.  The camera operator was Bill Bradford.

It is indeed a good thing that Bill Bradford was named to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2005.  And I’m glad I had a small part in naming him the Texas Association of Broadcast Educators’ Broadcaster of the Year in 2012, and that Sulphur Springs held an appreciation week for Brad in October.  Sulphur Springs and Northeast Texas were exceptionally lucky to have him as long we did.

John Mark Dempsey is the host of the public interest program The Blacklands Café from KETR News. Dempsey is also the play-by-play announcer for Commerce Tigers Football on 88.9 FM and on ketr.org.