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Bill Virgin: Southern Oregonís Radio Pioneer
BY RONALD KRAMER
William (ďBillĒ) Jackson Virgin was born July 8, 1886. In 1891, his father moved the family from Wisconsin to Ashland, Oregon in 1891. In 1893, Billís father purchased the Ashland Mills, which he owned until 1906. Bill attended the Ashland schools and played football for Ashland High. In 1903, Bill enlisted in the United States Navy, where he developed an interest in electronics.
In 1921, Bill and several friends built an experimental radio transmitter in an Ashland garage, and a year later, Bill announced plans to construct and operate a radio station. He applied for a broadcasting license and began construction of the station himself.
Bill was a natural promoter, and when his plans were sufficiently advanced, the Medford Mail Tribune agreed to supply the station with news reports for broadcast. On September 23, 1922, the new KFAY was completed.
Bill was fast becoming a businessman of both means and reputation. He possessed a flair for showmanship and was adept at advancing radio. His personality and keen business sense in the emerging field placed Bill in the public eye and he gained great notoriety through such schemes as premiering KFAYís opening at the 1923 Jackson County Fair and later lowering equipment into the Oregon Caves to determine at what depth he could receive broadcasts.
On December 13, 1926, Bill filed an application for the new station KMED. The license was granted on December 26, and the new station signed on that day from newly constructed studios in the Sparta Building at Riverside and Main.
The station was a success and employed state-of-the-art equipment such as a Western Electric transmitter that generated a full 50 watts. Mounted on the Spartaís roof eighty-two feet apart were two eighty-five-foot wooden towers purchased from the Grange. Between the two towers was stretched Number 14 copper wires that radiated KMEDís signal.
Bill had for some years suffered from Brightís Disease. His condition became acute in early 1928, and he died on Friday evening, January 27, 1928. Blanche Virgin took over operation of KMED as the first woman in the nation to own and operate a radio station. In 1950, she sold KMED to Radio Medford, Inc., and while she retained friendships with several former employees, she never returned to the station. She later lived in California for some time, but eventually relocated to Marysville, Washington where Blanche Virgin died on October 25, 1978.