BOOK REVIEW: The Broadcasting Years, 1958-1989: Memoir of a Television Pioneer

William L. McGee has authored The Broadcasting Years, 1958-1989: Memoir of a Television Pioneer. As the title suggests, McGee spent three-plus decades in the broadcasting business, initially selling syndicated shows, then helping launch KBHK in San Francisco, managing stations, and finally launching his own ad sales outfit, Broadcast Marketing Company.

A cowboy before he worked in television, McGee is a prolific memoirist. He’s written books about several chapters of his life, including Montana Memoir: The Hardscrabble Years, 1925-1942; Bluejacket Odyssey, 1942-1946, Guadalcanal to Bikini; Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946; and The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler, 1947-1949.

McGee, who is 93, publishes his books through BMC Publications. His wife Sandra is his co-author.

One learns not to judge a book by its cover, but the front of The Broadcasting Years ($19.95) does not exactly beg the reader to crack the book open. It depicts a middle-aged McGee seated at a desk, working the phone. Hopefully Nevada Dude Wrangler has a catchier cover.

Speaking of dude wranglers, The Broadcasting Years starts with McGee toiling at a dude ranch in Reno, and shifting to television sales after meeting director Norman Tokar. Much of The Broadcasting Years reads a bit dry, though McGee does offer a somewhat compelling glimpse at another era in television, when the martinis flowed during lunch, and the local newspaper was viewed as the enemy of television.

McGee took painstaking notes from his time in television, and it can make for some low-wattage content, such as when he launched the Advertising Tennis Association (people who worked in television who liked to play tennis) and built his carport and paddle tennis court at his home in Sleepy Hollow, California, east of Los Angeles. “By the time these projects were finished,” he wrote, “I thought I was qualified to join the carpenters union.”

Also irksome is McGee’s tendency to repeat phrases he finds meaningful, such as New York being “where the bread is baked,” and quoting Henry J. Kaiser on problems being “opportunities in work clothes.”

McGee never completely breaks from his cowboy past, leavening the boardroom anecdotes with climbs of Mount Everest and Mount McKinley, hikes through the wilds of Hawaii, and river rafting in Colorado.

A natural raconteur, McGee comes across as a likable chap, with some hard-earned business lessons to pass along. It’s a little hard to imagine the book’s readership extending beyond those who work in local TV sales--or those who know McGee. But his writing is engaging, and the book moves quickly. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.