He had one of the most recognizable voices in the Eastern Sierra – a voice he used for more than two decades to greet listeners each morning with their favorite songs, humorous anecdotes, congratulations on milestones and achievements, event announcements and summaries of the important news of the day.
Chances are better than good that if you lived, worked or grew up in the Owens Valley during the 1980s or ’90s, at some point – if not on a regular basis – you started your day with John Young.
Over the years he probably also inspired plenty of gleeful celebration from anxious children glued to the speakers of their parents’ stereos, awaiting news on whether the previous night’s snow storm had canceled school.
With a delivery that was a unique combination of finely honed technique – allowing him to deliver the news at a quick clip – and comforting Texas drawl, Young took to the airwaves at KIBS/KBOV each morning for several hours to provide the soundtrack to so many lives.
His place in the lives of listeners has become an indelible legacy, but that is just one way he is being remembered this week after news of his unexpected passing spread throughout the community.
More than just Bishop’s longest-running and most popular disc jockey, Young was one of its most enthusiastic champions and most active community members – serving two terms on the Bishop City Council as well as with numerous civic clubs and organizations.
“We lost a really good friend,” said longtime friend and former Bishop City Councilman Martin “Smiley” Connolly. “He’ll really be missed.”
Sheriff Bill Lutze, another longtime friend, noted Young was very active in the community and never hesitated to volunteer his time to events or service projects.
“It was a sad day when I heard of his passing,” Lutze said. “John contributed an awful lot to the community and I know he was very proud of the Owens Valley.”
Young died Thursday, July 18 at Renown Medical Center in Reno following a brief illness. He was 77.
He leaves behind his beloved wife of 51 years, Betty; daughter, Terri Hawley; son and daughter-in-law, Gary and Rochelle Young; and son-in-law, Fred Hodapp; in addition to numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His daughter Sandee Hodapp passed away earlier this year.
Funeral services are being held at 1 p.m. today at the Crossroads Church, 315 E. South St., Bishop, with burial to follow at the East Line Street Cemetery. The family is hosting a Texas-style barbecue afterwards at the Bishop Elks Lodge, 151 E. Line St.
Young was born in Texas, in a town called Millersview, on May 4, 1936. Radio was there from almost the very beginning, with Young starting out as a teenage rock ‘n roll deejay in the 1950s. By 1958, according to a bio prepared for KIBS/KBOV, he decided to make radio his life’s work – obtaining his First Class Radio Telephone License that June, landing a chief engineer job at a station in Uvalde, Texas and in 1960, moving to California.
He was hired to help install the new KKAR in Pomona, moved on to KUDU in Ventura as chief engineer and deejay (picking up the on-air name “Johnny Dallas” because of his drawl) and met the love of his life, Betty. After their wedding in September of 1961, he went to work as chief engineer/deejay for KWOW in Pomona.
In ’67, Young moved to Gene Autrey’s KPOL in L.A. and was promoted to director of engineering. Later that year, he moved the family to Bishop.
According to son Gary, his parents took the family to Lake Mary in Mammoth one weekend and as they passed through Bishop, his dad saw the radio station at the south end of town. A month later, they were moving to Bishop. “He did it totally to provide a better place to raise a family,” Gary said of his father’s decision to buy the radio station, which in 1976 was a small, wooden building and an AM-only station.
Young literally built the KIBS radio station that stands today.
“He built everything,” said Mike Cheuvront, who worked with Young for more than 28 years and is a deejay and engineer at the station today. “He came in, pulled out a soldering gun and threw down schematics on the floor.”
Around 1981-82, John and Betty purchased another local station, KIOQ 100.7 FM. They changed KIBS over to the FM frequency and on the AM frequency, they created KBOV – which stands for “Beautiful Owens Valley.”
Deanne Funk was a co-owner for many years.
John Dailey, now living in Reno with his wife, Sandy, was hired on at KIBS in 1980 at age 23 or 24. Dailey eventually bought out both Young and Funk in 1995, owning the station for nine years before selling to current owners Steve Miller and Lauren Brandt. Dailey remembers Young being very much a mentor or older brother to him, showing him not only the ins and outs of the radio business, but the secrets to success in a small community.
“One thing that he instilled in me was the belief that if you were going to succeed in a town like Bishop, you had to dive head-first into the community,” Dailey said. “I can’t think of a person who did more for the community over that time period. If there was a community event, he was involved in one way or another, whether advertising or promoting it on the radio or getting actively involved” as a volunteer or organizer.
Deston Rogers, a deejay at KIBS on and off over the years ever since Young hired him at age 14, experienced a similar tutelage. Not only did Young generously give a teenager with an interest in radio the opportunity to follow his dream and then teach him all the skills he’d need to succeed, but he also taught Rogers larger life lessons in the process.
“The most important thing he taught me was to never take advantage of your position, on the radio or in the community,” Rogers said. “He always strived to give back in some way and was always willing to help out … He always had a smile on his face and was willing to shake your hand.”
Indeed, in addition to working the morning shift at the station and being on-call 24 hours a day, Young also found the time to serve on the board of the Bishop Chamber of Commerce (he was a past president), and attend meetings and helped with service projects of the Bishop Rotary Club and Elks Lodge.
Young’s can-do – or rather his will-do – attitude, as well as his technological expertise, made quite an impression on Cheuvront.
“John Young was the hardest working man I ever met in my life. In the 1980s when I first started working at KIBS, he usually came into the station at around 4:30 every morning and recorded Paul Harvey, live from Chicago, on tape and then pulled 45 rpm records for his entire show, no CDs back then, before going on the air live at six in the morning. His ‘air shift’ ended at 9 a.m.,” Cheuvront said. “John would then meet with clients and advertisers before going to a Bishop Chamber or Rotary meeting then spend most afternoons and evenings working on equipment at KIBS. John was a radio engineer first and foremost.”
Gary, who also ended up in the radio business under his father’s tutelage, and his sister, Terri, say they remember their father as incredibly hard-working but also a devoted family man.
“He was at work from 4 in the morning to 8 at night – every day,” Gary said. “Work was work. But he was still a great family man even though he worked his butt off.”
“The only thing John was more passionate about than radio was his family,” Rogers said.
According to Terri, their father taught them the value of hard work and discipline, the importance of family and community, and inspired his children as they got older to stick to their beliefs and speak their minds – just as he was known to do.
And everyone agreed how much he loved and was devoted to Betty, who worked side-by-side with John for many years.
“I can remember many late evenings when he would have his soldering gun out working on some piece of equipment that needed attention when his wife, Betty, would call,” Cheuvront said. “He loved and respected Betty so much that he would drop everything, no matter how urgent the need for repair, and immediately leave to go home to be with her.”
Cheuvront also recalled occasions where the situation was reversed. According to Cheuvront and Dailey, even after Young sold KIBS in 1995, he stayed on as an engineer. As recently as a few weeks ago, Cheuvront said, Young was fixing things around the station and in fact was their go-to guy whenever a piece of equipment malfunctioned – day or night. “If Arnie (Palu)’s mic broke, John would come down in the middle of the night …,” he said.
According to Terri, her father “always had to be doing something” and that’s why he not only gladly came to the rescue whenever something needed fixing, but also why he and Betty purchased the Trees Motels in 1997 and partially why Young ran for and was elected to the Bishop City Council in 1999.
Mostly, Young wanted to make a difference, in whatever he was doing.
“He was just so involved and wanted to make everything better if he could help it,” Gary said.
Young served one full term, was unopposed for re-election and then retired shortly before the end of his second term, in January 2007, the same month he and Betty sold the Trees Motel.
During his eight-year tenure on the council, he served as mayor and on the Inyo Mono Area Agency on Aging, the Local Transportation Commission, the Eastern Sierra Council of Governments, the Indian Gaming Local Community Benefit Committee and the Eastern Sierra Foundation for the Community College. Young advocated for local business opportunities, affordable housing and the meeting of senior citizens’ needs. He believed strongly in the need for a functioning housing program that would support a local workforce.
He worked with the Sunrise Mobile Home Park, run by the city, and was an advocate for the Willow Street Apartment Project, which provides 13 units of affordable housing in Bishop.
Young was also called “a liaison between the public sector’s needs and the needs of the business community.”
During his time on the council, he also became good friends with fellow councilman Smiley Connolly, who had known Young for 35 years.
“We were real close. We served two terms together. We played a lot of poker games together, drank a lot of coffee together in the morning at McDonald’s and told a lot of lies to each other and we had good times together, too. We were really good friends and just enjoyed each other,” Connolly said. “He was a good, great, honest man and if he made up his mind to help someone, nobody was going to change it.”
Frank Crom, who served on the council during the same period, recalled getting to know Young at events such as Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cuttings and mixers. “I really admired John,” Crom said. “He always had the city at heart.”
But the man Crom admired most was not the guy who put on a suit and tie two Mondays a month to sit at a dais at City Hall; like, Connolly, who was friends with the Young who liked McDonald’s coffee and poker, Crom was fondest of the man behind the microphone of those radio shows all those mornings for all those years.
“You could be in a bad mood and you could turn the radio on and he’d make your day,” Crom said, admitting that when he first started listening to KIBS he wasn’t even a country fan. “I had a lot of respect for John because of his personality on the radio, expressing his love not only for country but Bishop. In my opinion, he’s just one of those people that had a super personality. We will definitely miss John … I just can’t say enough about him.”
For Rogers, Young’s passing has come with an opportunity to reflect on the times they spent together as mentor and mentoree, and the priceless experiences and knowledge Young passed on to him – whether behind the mixing board or while driving around to fix transmitters from Conway Summit to Cerro Gordo.
“Every once in a while you come across someone who’s more than a friend, who opens up their knowledge to you,” Rogers said. “He’ll be missed. It’s obvious what he meant to the community by the reaction to his passing.”
For Cheuvront, Young’s passing has brought out a mixture of sadness, gratitude and renewed amazement at a remarkable man.
“I learned so much from John Young. He was a perfectionist when it came to radio, and it rubbed off on me,” he said. “John has done a little bit of everything in radio; he worked as a fellow DJ with Waylon Jennings in Texas in the 1950s, knew Willie Nelson before we ever heard of him, recorded some of Roger Miller’s big hits in the 1960s and helped promote Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, when she met him at KWOW in Pomona. I mean, how many guys have you known that have actually introduced Elvis on stage?”
These stories are likely familiar to longtime listeners, or even anyone who has tuned in lately to KIBS on Saturday afternoons when Young was hosting “The Classic Country Program,” a show he hosted just days before his passing.
According to Gary, when the show failed to air that weekend, a listener called to find out why. When told about Young, and that they had no plans to find a replacement host), she broke down into tears, Gary said.
“She said, ‘I never even met him and I loved him.’”