Larry Miner says his path to a decades-long career in local radio was very “Americana.”
In his hometown of Kevin, Montana, he spent long months in the 1960s driving circles in a tractor, plowing fields and listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll on the airwaves. Instead of getting sweaty and covered in dust, he’d daydream about spinning records.
In his small oil-refinery community, he could “throw a baseball from one end of town to the other.” He was one of four kids in his eighth grade class, and let the school newspaper run a naming competition for his rock band: Midnight Sunshine.
Miner — who first came to work at Centralia’s KELA and KMNT in 1982 — was connected to music and radio from a young age. At night, he spent his time belting out Three Dog Night covers, tuning in to booming radio personalities or listening to the local station’s play-by-play announcements of his older brothers’ away baseball games.
“I can remember my mom laying on the bed. She’d keep score and I’d lay on the floor and I’d keep score and pretend I was the one playing the game,” Miner told The Chronicle recently. “Local radio was our connection.”
After decades at KELA and KMNT, working his way up to general manager, Miner retired this year. And while he has plans of visiting his five grandkids and going on RV trips, he said he’ll still have his eye on the local radio station, which he worked at through a digital transformation and a major natural disaster all while keeping programming local.
After a quick stint in Seattle dubbing radio public service announcements overnight in 1981, Miner originally thought of Lewis County as a stepping stone to get into the big-market radio world. But that changed when he was hired at the station to cover news and sports.
“Once I got here, I loved the community so much. I loved my job. I just thought ‘well, I found my dream job,’” he said.
Miner announced his retirement on a Friday earlier this year. The next Monday, he discovered he had cancer. The “C-word,” as he described it, may delay some retirement plans as he undergoes chemotherapy. But Miner is confident about his recovery and says he feels better than he has in 40 years.
Speaking in his old office last week, the local radio giant reflected on his lengthy career, like his first few gigs in Montana, where he spun vinyl records in the studio and in nightclubs. The “experience of a lifetime” came during those evening gigs at the disco, where music, light and alcohol converged — Miner said all sorts of characters would walk through the doors for his 20-some-year-old self to observe.
Miner reminisced on Montana radio stations so small that his DJ job also included window-washing or vacuuming. On one occasion, a young Miner volunteered to change the light bulbs on the 100-foot-tall radio tower outside. Why hire a professional, he thought, when a spry employee could do it — and pocket $100.
“I was 20 years old, young, not very wise obviously,” Miner said, adding later, “I’m sure I probably spent it on beer.”
With no harness, he scaled the rickety tower with a pack full of bulbs.
The job took nearly half an hour, and as time ticked by his arms began to shake. In the end, he finished the task. But he remembers it as the scariest moment of his life.
A burgeoning radio career opened the door to other opportunities less dangerous but just as exhilarating. He got to talk with Garth Brooks at the Tacoma Dome, sing onstage with surfrock duo Jan & Dean, and meet Johnny Cash at the Southwest Washington Fair, where the local station plays a major role.
While meeting some stars — whose autographed merchandise sits in the KELA/KMNT building — was glamorous, Miner said it was actually small town sports that largely kept him in love with radio. The “innocence” of local high school teams all the way down to Little League was inspiring.
“There’s no money involved. And those kids are just playing to play and be part of a team. That’s so wholesome and it’s infectious to be around,” Miner said. “And when you get to be the eyes and the ears for people who are sitting at home who can’t be there, there’s something very rewarding about that.”
Plus, it’s local coverage that sets the radio station apart from bigger counterparts. As much as Lewis County may compare itself to Seattle or Portland, Miner said, the most valuable coverage is hyperlocal and recognizes the area as rural and unique.
“Once you lose sight of who you are in a community — KELA/KMNT — you just become another spot on the dial to pick up programming,” he said. “I think over the years people realized, ‘you know what? We just need to be more visible, we need to be more local.’”
Promoting and assisting food banks, United Way and Rotary clubs, and fundraising for hospitals is the work Miner said he’s most proud of, and hopes to continue.