Veteran newsman Tom Miller has died.  Miller worked for the Ketchikan Daily News for more than 20 years and was one of the original founders of KRBD radio.  The photo above is from 1982. Miller passed away at his home early Monday morning.  He was 63.
Miller was known for his good nature, professionalism and humor. Speaking to friends and family about Miller’s days at KRBD radio, those traits seemed were most remembered. His was the first voice heard when the station began broadcasting on Saturday, May 22, 1976. The first song he played was “The Fool” by Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Bill Green, who also helped to get KRBD started, was there for the first broadcast. He says the early days of KRBD were experimental and exciting, and he was always impressed with Miller’s creativity and commitment.
“He was really into having radio do all it could do, and one thing I thoroughly agreed with was…Let’s justify every penny we ask for but let’s make sure we use it. Let’s give this town, let’s give radio, the best possible station we can put on. This is a small community.”
Green shared stories about Miller, talking about early mornings and late nights spent editing reel-to-reel tape – back before digital media and computers were common place. He says in the radio world and in life, Miller was always trying new things – acting in plays, opening an alternative book store downtown, and briefly considering clown school as a few examples.
“I consider him as generally one of our community leaders who maybe could have done more along that line too. He will certainly be missed as a creative force and a force for encouragement, but also speculation. Always willing to take an idea and look at it…turn it around and look at it…What can we learn from this? What can we do with it? That’s always been my impression of him. Really quietly a high powered sort of person.”
It turns out Miller didn’t seriously consider clown school. The school was across the street from an electronics school he went to in Florida. He called friends when he arrived and said he had to make a decision which school he’d attend. Miller stuck with electronics, getting a first-class radio license as a result.
KRBD volunteer Joann Flora says she first met Tom and his wife Terry in 1981 when all were in the First City Players’ melodrama “The Fish Pirate’s Daughter.” Flora says she and Tom were not close friends, but over the past 30 years, she often would run into him and she always enjoyed their conversations. Flora says he was very proud of his son, Jay, and often would talk about Jay’s accomplishments. She says she was always impressed by Miller’s thoughtfulness in his writing and in how he interacted with people.
“He was just very precise before he committed, before he opened his mouth and said something. And I think that’s why in 30 some odd years I’ve never ever heard anyone say a negative thing about Tom Miller, or criticize anything he wrote. They may not have liked what he wrote, but they didn’t criticize it for inaccuracies or personal opinion. He was an individual of very high moral fiber, and I really appreciated that about him.”
Flora says Miller wasn’t just thoughtful, precise and analytical, but also one of the funniest people she knew.
“It wasn’t that he was overtly funny or always funny, but when he saw humor in something, he could break out suddenly with this maniacal laugh that would drag you in to whatever his joke was on that given day. And it might be the way he was perceiving something going on or a joke he was telling or a story he had remembered, and you never knew when it was coming.”
Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer says his first memories of Miller were from early meetings when KRBD was being planned.
“Half a dozen or a dozen people sitting in the room talking about ‘Do we want our radio station to be x, y or z?’ It was a very motley or rag-tag crew, and Tom was certainly one or more of the motley and rag-tag types. I remember the hair and the beard at the time and thought, ‘this guy is a hippy.’ Of course here in Ketchikan you don’t see hippies too often. Tom was from a big city and to me he was a hippy.”
Kiffer was a teenager at the time, and he, Miller and others served as volunteer daily directors once the station began broadcasting. Both Miller and Kiffer worked at KRBD and the Ketchikan Daily News, but never at the same time. Kiffer says he felt they had a friendly rivalry in the news world. He says in the four decades he’s known Miller, he never heard him raise his voice.
“I’m sure that were things that made Tom unhappy, but you never heard him express that in a forceful way. He always had a fairly calm way of going about discussing things, and asking things. And I think that was the key certainly to his journalism because people had no problem talking to him. I’d even be at a governmental meeting and someone would be fulminating or shouting loudly about something and Tom would start talking to them and in a few minutes they quieted down. It’s kind of a neat thing, certainly a prized thing in a place like Ketchikan where we’re all a little claustrophobic on our island and we tend to get bent out of shape easily. Tom just didn’t get bent out of shape.”
In the 80’s, Miller became KRBD’s program director and later served on the Board of Directors. Miller’s wife Terry says people today may not realize how significant the founding of a volunteer-run radio station was for a community in the 1970’s. She says Tom was just one of many who helped made that happen.
“There was not an internet. There were not ways to get your own music unless you bought the records. And commercial radio stations often would play songs that were only three minutes long and they would be Top-40 songs. What KRBD offered was the collective musical knowledge and interest of the whole community. Anybody who wanted to volunteer could get training and do a radio show. And we had over the years, and still do, some of the most fabulous hosts on the radio.”
Miller paused and thought for a moment when asked how she thinks her husband would most want to be remembered.
“I think he would like to be remembered for his music…and I think he would like to be remembered by the son that he fathered. Who is a very good man.”
She added that Tom was an organ and tissue donor. She says he would have liked if others would consider that, and perhaps talk with their family members about becoming organ donors.
There will be a celebration of Miller’s life and potluck on Friday, June 1st, from 1:00 to 3:00 pm at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. A memorial fund in his name has been set up at Tongass Federal Credit Union.
And in honor of Tom Miller, here is a little bit of that first song he played on the KRBD airwaves 36 years ago. “The Fool” by Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Thank you Tom for the music, and so much more.