Longtime KGO radio host and scientist Bill Wattenburg dead at 82

Radio host and physicist Bill Wattenburg.
Radio host and physicist Bill Wattenburg.

By the Daily Post staff

Bill Wattenburg, a former nuclear weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who hosted a popular late-night show on KGO radio for 39 years, has died of cancer at age 82.

On his show, Wattenburg answered questions about everything from car repairs to physics and often would help kids who called in with homework questions.

While kind to children, “Dr. Bill” had a gruff, suffer-no-fools attitude with adults. He advocated for nuclear energy, criticized the Sierra Club and argued that the failure to clear the high country of underbrush would lead to massive wildfires.

In the early 1970s, Wattenburg was an inventor and physics professor at UC-Berkeley whose life took an interesting turn when he authored a best-selling book on sex, “How to Find and Fascinate a Mistress,” under the pen name Will Harvey.

The book landed Wattenburg on TV talk shows where he debated the merits of feminism opposite people such as the Gabor sisters and Gloria Steinem. KGO hired him to host a three-hour show on Saturday and Sunday nights. He broadcast from his home in the Sierras.

Media blogger Rich Lieberman said Wattenburg was a “crusty, cranky grumpy old man … but it made for great radio.”

“For all his irritations and grunting, he was endearing too; go figure. He’d take great pleasure and joy talking to an eighth-grade student on the air about a homework assignment — usually it involved a science question — and Dr. Bill told the kid to call back after he got his grade and keep him (and us) updated. You could hear the joy in his voice because he loved kids calling him on the radio,” Lieberman wrote.

Wattenburg’s show was No. 1 in the ratings in 11 states. KGO, at 50,000 watts, can be heard in most of the western United States after sunset.

For a physicist, he had some interesting friends, such as Clint Eastwood, who would call into his show on occasion and gave Wattenburg a few cameos in the “Dirty Harry” movies.

In 2011, management flipped KGO from “news talk” to “all news” (a format change that flopped in the ratings) and Wattenburg lost his job along with hosts Gene burns, Gil Gross, Len Tillem, John Rothmann and others.

Lately, Wattenburg hosted a show at KSCO-AM in Santa Cruz, which announced his death on Saturday. KSCO aired a two-hour retrospective of Wattenburg’s radio career.

Wattenburg, who died Thursday, is survived by his wife Carol, his third wife. They had two daughters. He also has three children from a previous marriage.

13 Comments

  1. I loved listening to Bill. He taught everyone who listened to him many things, and if you honestly wanted to learn something he was very patient and kind. His wife Carol is also a very nice and kind person.
    RIP. Mr Wittenberg! You will be missed by many.
    Cheers, to a life well lived!

  2. God Bless Doctor Bill. So many hours I listened to you, I can say none were wasted. I am proud to have been a fan, and will watch his cameos for years to come. My prayers to his family, it must have been quite a ride all these years.

  3. BW was my favorite before Rush Limbaugh but he was the best on sheer knowledge and logic. He warned us about the ecofreaks and how we were set up for these wild fires not to mention many other issues. He will truly be missed!

  4. I tried so hard in the days Dr. Bill was on KGO to get a clear signal in So. Calif. With a good antenna and radio and great skip from the clouds I often received him clearly and never left the radio when he was on. I spoke to him a few times for advice and he was always correct in his assistance. I will miss him. My prayers go out to his family.

  5. Just an awesome man! Missed his Sunday night shows as I would drive and tune in! Thank you Dr Wattenburg. Radio is no longer what it used to be. Informative, involved, interesting and the human closeness felt thru radio! Rest in Radio paradise Dr. we will miss you!

  6. Enjoyed Dr. Bill nights on KGO and learned so much. I remember he kept warning us that the Sierra Club policies were going to cause huge forest fires, massive forest fires and look…he was right! RIP Dr. Bill. From a Chico native.

    • Dr. Bill was one of my favorite people to listen to period. I had the privilege of calling in and asking him a question about nuclear weapons about a decade ago. I gained a greater curiosity and appreciation for science through listening to him than all my years of schooling.

      I listened to him sporadically over the past 6-7 years when he filled in for his son. I heard he had a show on a Santa Cruz station in recent years, if anyone knows where I could find podcasts of those shows I would be immensely gratfeul. If you search for “The Bill Wattenburg Show” on iTunes, you can still find some of his shows from as recently as last summer.

  7. I remember years ago he talked about our forests. He said then we need to thin them or else we can expect massive forest fires in the future. Well that’s what’s going on now. Should have listened to him back then!

  8. KGO use to be a good radio station to listen to. I remember Ira Blue, Jim Eason, and Dr. Bill. Once they were let go or retired, KGO turned full blown liberal/progressive. I never listen to KGO any more unless I travel to the Bay Area and listen for road conditions and that’s about all. Thanks for the educaiton Dr. Bill, it didn’t cost me a thing but time, time well spent!

  9. R.I.P. Dr. Bill. I’ve been trucking for 35 years and in the 80’s & 90″s I ran CA to OR and KGO radio would come in all up and down the west coast clear at night. I would never miss Dr Bill’s show.
    R.I.P., My Friend, I’ve learned more from you than you would ever know.

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