William L. McGee, broadcast industry pioneer, died in Napa, Calif. on Oct. 30. McGee worked in syndicated programming, station management and sales, and wrote several books about his career and his eventful life.
McGee was born in 1925 in Livingston, Montana and grew up on a cattle ranch on the Montana Hi-Line. He dropped out of high school and worked as a welder in Vancouver, Washington. When he turned 17 in 1944, he joined the U.S. Navy and fought in the Pacific during World War II.
McGee started his career in broadcasting in 1958. His first job was with Interstate Television Corp., the television arm of Allied Artists that handled the licensing of all the studio’s off-network programs. He sold syndicated shows such as Lassie, Fury, Our Miss Brooks and My Little Margie.
Later the same year, McGee joined the new Jack Wrather/Lew Grade joint venture, Independent Television Corporation. From 1958 to 1962, he was on the road selling Four Just Men, Cannonball, Danger Man and other series. The ITC years were interrupted in 1960 by a brief stint at NBC Radio Spot Sales in New York.
In 1962, McGee became a television station sales rep for Peters, Griffin, Woodward (PGW) and managed their San Francisco office. In 1964, he received PGW’s Television Colonel of the Year award.
In 1968, McGee shifted to station management. He was on the team when Henry J. Kaiser’s UHF station, KBHK, Channel 44, signed on in San Francisco in January 1968 and aired the first-ever, color, live remote telecast, a Golden State Warriors-Los Angeles Lakers game at the Cow Palace.
Moving to U.S. Communications in 1970, McGee held sales and management positions with KEMO San Francisco and WATL Atlanta. He recalled taking a dejected Ted Turner to lunch before Turner changed the call letters of his struggling UHF station from WTCG to WTBS, and put his UHF television programming up on the satellite for national distribution.
In 1971, McGee launched Broadcast Marketing Company in San Francisco.
He authored nine “how-to” broadcast sales guidebooks, including Changes, Challenges and Opportunities in The New Electronic Media. In 1975, he created the nationally syndicated, monthly co-op advertising information service, CO-OPPORTUNITIES.
In 1976, McGee pioneered the use of film to sell radio advertising with his sales presentation film Get It On, Get It On Radio Now!! This was followed by How To Make Effective Low-Cost Television Commercials.
McGee received numerous broadcasting awards, including Broadcast Pioneer’s 1982 Pioneer Award and the Builders of Broadcasting honor in 1986 for “vision, dedication and achievement in the field of broadcasting.” He was a charter member of the Cooperative Advertising Hall of Fame.
In 1984, McGee sold CO-OPPORTUNITIES to Jefferson-Pilot Communications. He retired with his second wife, Sandra, to Incline Village, Nevada.
Bill and Sandra were married for 38 years and co-authored ten books, including The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler and The Broadcasting Years, 1958-1989: Memoir of a Television Pioneer.
Sandra said they worked well together, “except for the urge to change each other’s copy.”
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