Scott Fybush profiled this dedicated broadcaster who had over fifty-seven years of experience, in 2008, and it has been updated:
One does not have to be a national figure to have a major impact on one’s fellow broadcasters. As we shall see, James Boyd’s reputation made him the “go-to” choice for many broadcasters in the Northwest.
Bend, Oregon is a long way from just about anywhere. It is nearly four hours to Portland, the nearest big city. And if it seems like a small town today, with some 80,000 people, it was truly a small town when James Boyd was growing up there in the fifties and sixties. “When I graduated high school, it was only about 11,000 people,” recalls Boyd, proprietor of Boyd Broadcast Technical Services. “Back then, even in a small town, it was easy for a young boy to develop an interest in radio.”
AN EARLY START
Boyd remembers, “I started messing around with electronics when I was eight or nine years old. I had two uncles who were radio guys and two cousins who worked at Tektronix up in Portland. I remember visiting a radio station one of my uncles built when I was five years old. I can remember it like it was yesterday – and today I take care of that place,” Boyd says. But while Boyd knew as early as junior high school that he wanted to follow his uncles into the radio business, it was a long road that led from a youth in Bend to a contract engineering practice that did business all over the West.
THE WINDING ROAD TO RADIO
Boyd’s first paying jobs were in the newspaper business, working as a carrier and distribution supervisor for the Bend Bulletin. While the Bulletin had partial ownership of a radio station, KGRL(AM), Boyd’s first radio job was across town at KBND(AM),a competing station. It only lasted for about a year when a draft notice from Uncle Sam sent Boyd across the Pacific to Vietnam. He spent a year in South Vietnam as a Broadcast Specialist in the U.S. Army, recording interviews with soldiers to be sent back to their hometown stations and pulling occasional airshifts on a satellite station of the American Forces Vietnam Network. Returning to the U.S. in 1967, Boyd finished out his Army career at Fort Benning, Georgia, working parttime at WRBL in nearby Columbus, Georgia until he was honorably discharged in 1969. Retuning home to Oregon, Boyd worked first for KBND and then for Capps Broadcast Group, which had bought KGRL. In October 1969, he moved to Capps’ station in Pendleton, Oregon, KTIX(AM).
COMBO JOCK TO CORPORATE CHIEF
“Those were fun days,” Boyd says. “I enjoyed those times. I was the program director, chief engineer, news director, did the news in the morning and then pulled a midday airshift plus some production.” Boyd’s career soon began to turn toward engineering. By the mid-seventies, he was Corporate Chief Engineer for Capps, responsible for seven stations in six markets and supervising five other full-time engineers. After a decade with Capps, Boyd relocated to Portland in 1984, spending a year as Chief Engineer of public radio station KBPS. He returned to Capps in 1986, this time based in Portland at KMJK(FM) and KVAN(AM), but with responsibility for the company’s other stations as well.
BUILDING AN INDEPENDENT BUSINESS
When the Portland stations were sold to Fairmont Communications in 1989, Boyd came along as Chief Engineer, but he was already thinking about going to work for himself. “You started to see the writing on the wall, with consolidation and all that,” he said. After another year back with KBPS as chief engineer, Boyd finally took the leap, founding Boyd Broadcast Technical Services in October 1991. Over more than 30 years in business as a contract engineer, Boyd built a loyal following among other engineers and managers in the region.
Boyd handled all the transmitter work for the Entercom (then Audacy) Portland cluster. That includes the state’s first FM HD Radio installation, at KGON(FM), as well as for the cluster’s four other HD FMs.
In addition to contract work for Entercom, the former CBS Radio-Portland, All Classical Portland, and smaller stations scattered across the region, Boyd once was a regional contract engineer for Harris Corp., traveling widely across the West to handle service calls and installations for the company, and once to Ethiopia. He also served as an Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program Inspector for radio and TV stations in Oregon and Washington, and as site manager for the multiple-user Sylvan Tower site in Portland.
“One of the things that makes my job so terrific is that it’s so varied,” Boyd said. He also worked with consulting engineering firms Hatfield and Dawson and DuTreil, Lundin & Rackley on a project to evaluate public radio stations’ AM transmitter facilities for suitability for HD Radio conversion. “The most interesting (of all my work) is the HD stuff, and I’ve done a lot of that,” he said. Boyd’s long-term outlook for HD Radio is optimistic. “I’m still doing a lot of installs,” he said. “I’m concerned about AM, but not discouraged. The FM system is here to stay.”
GIVING SOMETHING BACK
In addition to his hands-on engineering work, Boyd was active with the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, serving on the association’s Board of Directors, and implementing a scholarship program that supports training for young people interested in broadcast engineering. In what passes for his spare time, Boyd also serves as a volunteer with the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in Tualatin, OR. “It’s amazing, the parallels between being an engineer and a volunteer fireman,” he said. Boyd said he expected to keep going for as long as he could. “I don’t have any desire to quit. If I won the lottery, I’d still work. I like what I do, and I’m not going to stop. Where else can you play all day?”
Ben Dawson Hatfield and Dawson:
I first got to know James when, after he returned from his Vietnam military service, he went to work at KSRV under the direction of that station’s excellent engineer (whose name I have now forgotten). Then when my friend Gary Capps bought KGRL in Bend, James moved there to be chief engineer. And eventually he moved to Portland when Gary bought the Mt. Scott FM station [106.7]. And in all those years of knowing and getting to work with James, he exhibited his incredible skills at problem solving, and his equally wonderful personality. He put up with station owners who didn’t know much except how not to spend money, and kept their stations running anyway. And whenever we needed some information, or a measurement, or background data, he was always there to help. He is a truly irreplaceable person, as fine a friend as one could ever have.
Barry Mishkind, Broadcasters Desktop Reference:
When I was Editor of Radio Guide, I was really pleased to be able to award membership in our Hall of Achievement to James. He wasn’t one of those who blew his own horn, but was known as someone ready to help others. Later, he did a very nice explanation of the NRSC measurements for me for the BDR.
James exemplified the mark of a true broadcast engineer and colleague. The industry lost another good guy.
Binh Nguyen, Senior Agent/Electronics Engineer, Federal Communications Commission, Enforcement Bureau:
Officially, I met James Boyd in 1997 when the ABIP, a joint initiative between the FCC and the state broadcast associations to enhance compliance in the FCC’s broadcast services, was introduced by the FCC Portland Office to the OAB.
In my opinion, James was a very good engineer. Representing the licensees, James assisted me in investigating and resolving many high-profile interference complaints: Interference to VHF frequencies utilizing by commercial aircrafts in Klamath Falls and in Hillsboro, Oregon; Interference to Washington County’s Public Safety Communications (WACCCA); Co-channel interference on clear-channel 1130 kHz between Canada and the US…
The most memorable investigation was the clear-channel 1130 kHz investigation, directed by the FCC International Bureau, James assisted me in verifying the predicted “field parameters” of a newly constructed AM broadcast station in Oregon, a 4-tower directional array, in which James built this station from scratch! James showed me a few tricks on how to calibrate the FIM-41 to reduce the field strength levels below 10 mV (holding the meter horizontally and using my body to shield the meter away from the transmitting antennas), and just like a mathematician, James explained to me how the monitoring points were predicted using MOM, and how the complex numbers were used to calculate the current and phase ratios… on and on.
Folks, I am losing a good friend and a very good mentor!
I’m glad I was able to spend some time with James over the last couple months while Thor [Waage] and I helped organize his garage. Facing terminal illness with an uncertain timeline, he remained optimistic, generous, and brave. I will miss James’ sense of humor, his historical knowledge of broadcast facilities in the region, and his willingness to help with any problem at all hours of the day and night.
Many kind words have been said about James “Al” Boyd, so I will add a couple more. I knew James for 49 years and had great admiration and respect for his work and for his cheerful and helpful disposition. He truly loved helping people.
One day, while we were going someplace south on I-5 to do an inspection together, he hauled out his cell phone and played me an air check of himself on ARVN in Viet Nam. He was doing a regional show from a studio he had scrounged stuff together to build. If that clip is still on his phone, I hope it can be found and dubbed off, as you could tell he was very proud of it.
The conversation then went to what he really did as a “Radio Specialist” in-country. James was a ham, and had worked at KBND. He knew how to tune and load an AM transmitter. So, they figured that out, and put James to work putting in 1 kilowatt transmitters at forward fire bases. These would let company commanders communicate with air support, recon, and other companies and to help the Battalion Commanders keep track of the field operations in real time. He would load up a small 1 kW transmitter into a helicopter, they would take him in to set it up and connect it to a generator, and load up a short tower in whatever temporary fortifications they had. Then fly out, sometimes under fire, and do it again. I think this is how James got so methodical in trouble shooting and so cool under pressure.
Life is short. We come, we do, we go. Sometimes we are remembered. James is well remembered.
James was one of a kind. A great person and a terrific engineer. Fortunately for me, I went to visit James the day before he died. We had a nice chat about a number of things, mostly broadcasting, of course. I told James that he is irreplaceable. It was my second time in those last couple of weeks to see James. James seemed to appreciate the bottle of Tequila I brought him and, promised to give me a review. He told me he intended to stick around until next December. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.
I treasured my occasional breakfasts with James at Biscuits Café on Barnes Rd.
As an old guy, but a newbie to the Portland engineering scene a few years ago, I found his guidance and his acceptance to be incredibly comforting.
RIP, James Boyd! A life well lived!
After the initial shock and sadness, the first words that came to mind were “straight shooter”. Be it regarding world events, a client, a piece of gear, personal life, or even his own health struggles, he never obfuscated. He just told it exactly how it was, with succinct honesty and a smile. This might have made it harder for him to bluff when playing poker.
You’re already missed, James. The world could use a bunch more like you.
I first met James over 40 years ago and had the pleasure of working with him several times up until his retirement. I would regularly hear him check into the Oregon Emergency Net on 3.980 until not many days ago. James was the best. There just aren’t enough adjectives in my vocabulary to describe how he will be missed.
Gordon R. (Randy) Larson, Jr.
How sad; what a great guy, fellow engineer & ham. James helped me so many times with his expertise on a number of my Oregon broadcast projects. He’ll really be missed.
I first met James Boyd in the 1980’s after I moved up here from Oregon. I found him to be a very competent and knowledgeable engineer, and I am sorry he has passed. Rest in peace James, you will be missed.