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As It Was: William Smullin Leads Southern Oregon Broadcasting

The development of radio and television in Southern Oregon was largely due to the efforts of William Smullin, who in the 1930s launched successful radio stations in Eureka and Grants Pass.

In 1953, Smullin was the first to start a television station in Southern Oregon, choosing Medford as its location.  The station, Channel 5, broadcast programs from a transmitter constructed on a hilltop near the town of Gold Hill.  In 1956, Smullin added Channel 2 in Klamath Falls.

In the beginning, local television stations were primitive and created local advertising and programming to support themselves.  Station employees at Channel 5 made rustic automobile commercials by moving Polaroid photographs of cars along a wooden track.  Smullin’s wife had a local show called “Aunt Polly” and Smullin conducted interviews and answered listeners questions. 

Smullin later invested in local cable systems and helped fund Public Television.  He was on the Board of the National Association of Broadcasters and received its Distinguished Service Award in 1990.

Today, Smullin’s daughter, Patricia, runs the original company, California Oregon Broadcasting.  It continues to focus on local broadcasting in the Rogue Valley and Klamath basin.

Sources: Kramer, Ronald. "History of Television in Southern Oregon." Western States Museum of Broadcasting, Western States Museum of Broadcasting, 16 Jan. 2007, www.wsmb.org. Accessed 15 Dec. 2019. Path: www.wsmb.org; special projects; history of television in southern Oregon.   

KOBI-TV NBC 5/KOTI-TV NBC2; Local News for Southern Oregon, KOBI5TV, www.kobi5.com/about. Accessed 15 Dec. 2019; Powers, Dennis. Where Past Meets Present: The Amazing People, Places & Stories of Southern Oregon. Ashland, Oregon, Hellgate Press, 2017, pp. 111-13.   

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.