Edward W. Meece:
By Eric Meece
Edward Meece was an early contributor to the building of the pioneering Berkeley radio station KPFA, as well as San Jose’s KSJO and KRPM. This tribute was written by his son, Eric.
My apologies that this goes on so long. Sometimes once I start writing I can’t stop until I say everything I want to say.
My father, Edward W. Meece, died on January 20, 1999, after suffering a stroke on January 11. Born in Boonville, Indiana, on October 10, 1915, he was 83 years old.
My Dad was a broadcast pioneer. After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in electric engineering, he worked for several radio stations back east and in Idaho and Michigan before responding to an ad in a trade publication placed by Lew Hill, organizer of Pacifica Radio in Berkeley, Calif. He came to Berkeley in 1949 to be the first broadcast engineer for the first listener-supported radio station, KPFA-FM.
He got the station on the air and worked many nights to keep it operating. He could frequently also be found in the studio making sure the equipment was working and the sound was right. My Mom once suggested that making KPFA a listener-supported station was his idea, voiced during a discussion meeting among the pioneers who founded the station.
Back in those days, there were few FM radio sets. He helped Lew Hill to increase the audience for the fledgling station by selling radio sets to residents of Berkeley so they could listen. Edward Meece, Lew Hill, and the other founders of KPFA and Pacifica were pacifists who wanted to offer public affairs programming as well as cultural programs unavailable elsewhere on the dial.
They believed a free exchange and discussion of ideas from many points of view could create a climate where war would less likely be seen as the way to resolve disputes. Our good friend Bob Schutz was KPFA’s first public affairs director, who organized many fine programs with this ideal in mind.
My Dad was a conscientious objector in World War II. That was a courageous stand since, unlike the War in Vietnam that my generation had to contend with, World War II was thought of as a good cause and had the support of the nation, at least once it got going. My Dad believed that war is never necessary; that there are always better ways to settle disputes. During the war he did public service work at various camps.
Dad grew up an only child on a farm in Indiana, and later became a resident of a small town (Boonville). The name is interesting since we are in fact descended from relatives of Daniel Boone. But that’s not all. My great grandmother Meece was the child of a first half-cousin of Abraham Lincoln, who was born in Kentucky. Meece is a fairly uncommon name, with various spellings.
The main Meece line is concentrated in the Ohio Valley, especially Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. One small city in Pulaski County, Kentucky — Somerset, whose population is about 10,000 — has many hundreds of Meeces living there, more than any other city, large or small, in America. The next highest concentration is found in Cincinnati, Ohio.
We are not directly related to the Meeces of Somerset. Five generations of my Meece ancestors lived near Boonville, in southern Indiana, ever since my great, great, great grandfather Peter Meece came there from Tennessee and, earlier, from Virginia (probably Franklin County, where the 1810 census records a Peter Meese with a wife and 3 children).
According to Dad’s research, our Meece line may be descended from Philip and Henry Meece who came from England and acquired land on the east side of Chesapeake Bay in 1661. On the other hand, all the Meeces, Meeses and Meases so far definitely tracked, including the Somerset/Pulaski County, Kentucky, group, are descended from three brothers named Miess who came to Pennsylvania from Germany around 1740.
My Dad was always good with his hands and enjoyed working on the farm. He grew up a dutiful Christian near the Bible Belt. One of the most famous of the Meeces is in fact a gospel singer. In high school Ed Meece was quite a good athlete, playing basketball and track. The local paper noted his skills as a basketball player, and how well he could shoot baskets even though he was only 6’0″, short for a basketball player.
Dad told me the story of how he wore the wrong clothes for a track meet, and still won the race and set a school record that day. Another of his pastimes was music; he was an accomplished trumpet and cornet player and especially loved the Haydn Trumpet Concerto. This helped him to develop his life-long dedication to classical music. For a while he even led his own small orchestra, which he called a band. He played for church picnics, parades, and the annual Lincoln Days.
While working in Boston at Harvard University he met his wife Ethel, my Mom, who was studying microbiology at Harvard’s Medical School (also known as Radcliffe). They met at a church group and were married in 1947. They soon moved to New York, where Dad worked at Underwriters Laboratories testing product safety, and studied to become a radio programmer and announcer. By then my father had rebelled against his religious heritage, though not its ethical teachings.
Coming of age in the 1930s, the age of the Humanist Manifesto, of left-wing and Marxist politics, and of vast technological projects dedicated to improving the economy, he looked at the claims of the Christian religion and could no longer see any basis for them.
It was while in college at Purdue in 1937, when he was 22, and studying electrical engineering, that he decided he could not reconcile the theological beliefs of his religion with the facts he was learning about the world and how it worked. The experience of being a CO in World War II, and seeing the evil the war brought, no doubt cemented his opinion, as it did for so many of his generation, that God was not looking out for us. He was angry at having been deceived in his youth, and thus began his lifelong hostility toward all things “spiritual.”
My Mom’s parents at first were not that thrilled that their daughter had married such a radical — a religious skeptic who refused to fight in the war. But when I knew them, I never heard my grandparents say a discouraging word about my Dad, but were always courteous and supportive. My Mom, a biologist and avid Darwinist, followed her husband’s drift away from traditional religion, but she did not reject it completely until 1962. That year, until now having gone to Episcopal and Congregational Churches for the sake of not disturbing Mom’s Anglican parents too much, my parents gave up the appearance of being Christians and joined the Unitarian Church.
I went with them for the first time in January 1963 and found it a welcome revelation. Even so, my Mom sometimes confessed that she missed the ritual and pageant of the religion of her upbringing. I was born in October 1949, thus conceived at the same time as KPFA, and baptized at Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) in San Francisco, and named after the minister there, Eric Montizambert, whom my Mom had known back in Oklahoma.
In the mid-1950s, now with two small children to support (me and my brother Ted, born in September 1951), my parents decided they could not longer make it on the small salary they got at KPFA, and that they wanted a more suburban environment for the family. Looking back, I think I probably would have been happier growing up in Berkeley!
He tried to make it there for a while, even trying his hand as a vacuum salesman. But eventually, Dad resigned as chief engineer, though he continued for a while on the Board of Directors and stayed active in the station’s affairs, until after a while the power struggles got to be too much trouble. He says Lew Hill was a brilliant man who held the station together, but whose early back injury made him somewhat temperamental, and whose brilliance sometimes made him impatient with others.
Various groups would try to take over control of the station for their own purposes, and it was always a struggle to keep it on track. As it developed it became more expressive of a left-wing point of view rather than giving all sides a hearing, and featured less classical music, so by the late 1960s or so my Dad lost interest in the station.
Even today, KPFA is subject to takeover attempts by those who seek to water down its programming, such as the shut down orchestrated in 1999 by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the same year my Dad died. I joined the demonstrations to keep it open, even speaking briefly at the microphone. Even then people at KPFA remembered my Dad and his contribution to the station.
Meanwhile, we moved to San Jose in 1953 and Dad got a job at KSJO, which then had both classical and popular programming. A few years later he joined the growing defense and high tech industry in the valley, seeing the opportunity for greater income. He became a writer and an engineer with top-secret security clearance at Sylvania, but was always bothered that he was working in an industry that went against his pacifist beliefs.
Later, he moved over to Lockheed for several years, the company where many of my classmates’ fathers worked. Then he got caught in the first great defense industry layoffs during the 1970 recession. At 55 he lost his job and never went back.
By then he had succeeded with his pet lifetime project, to establish and build his own classical radio station. He was at work at this all the while he was employed in the defense electronics plants. He created The Audio House, Inc., and by 1959 he had finished his work, and radio station KRPM went on the air with studios and transmitter located at Hotel St. Claire in San Jose, broadcasting at 98.5 FM. The studio and transmitter were at 42 W. San Carlos St., with the antenna on the roof.
I enjoyed going up there with him. He also briefly opened a classical music record shop at the studio, the “KRPM Record Shop.” In addition to classical music, he got the chance to present discussions of some important public issues on his new station, which was always an important part of what he wanted to do in broadcasting.
In 1961 he decided to move the transmitter and studio to a more powerful location. It took many years to get permission from the FCC. We remember that it was especially frustrating by 1966. Soon thereafter, though, the red tape was rolled up and KRPM began broadcasting from the Los Gatos Hills near the end of Blackberry Hill Road in 1968.
I spent many hours back in 1963 or ’64 going up to the new site with him and surveying the property; perhaps the closest we ever worked together on anything. Then I helped lay the bricks for the new studio.
My brother Gordon was more electronically inclined, and gave my Dad some help setting up the transmitter and studio, learning much in the process. While Dad (and sometimes Gordon) worked getting the new transmitter on line, in the mid-1960s, I spent many pleasant hours designing and making my own miniature model city nearby. Its ruins are still visible not far from the transmitter. I also tried in 1967 to improve my running skills by running fast around the hills, but I didn’t make the San Jose State track team.
I remember fondly the Christmas of 1968, as we celebrated Christmas Eve listening to KRPM feature a glorious rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, probably my Dad’s favorite music and his favorite composer.
Soon Dick Ingraham had established another remarkable radio station on the same site, with Dad’s help: KTAO in Los Gatos. People still remember it fondly after all these years for its innovative programming.
By 1970, after losing his job, Dad decided that the station alone could not provide the income he needed, and he found selling time too difficult. Dick offered to help as an ad salesman, but his projected fees were too expensive. Ted and I trained to be disc jockeys on the station, hoping to bring the operating costs down. But we never got called to work. Dad decided to take an offer to sell to an aspiring entrepreneur, who founded station KOME. One of our DJs and engineers, John Higdon, continued for a time to do a once-a-week classical program on KOME, the “Classical Kome.” John continued on as the engineer at KOME, and even as late as the 1990s I could take a rare jaunt up the mountain to the old studio and run into him — his hair now whiter — as he came down after his work at the transmitter.
The new station became the flagship for a huge empire of hundreds of stations, and its logo was nationally recognized as standing for one of the best and most innovative rock stations. But recently it got caught in the tide of mergers and corporate acquisitions, and 98.5 FM is now the dial for KUFX (“K-FOX”), and the transmitter site apparently now belongs to KSJO, the station he once worked for. KKUP, the station I work for, now uses the site for a repeater transmitter, too.
Selling the station for $300,000 in February 1971 made Dad a modestly rich man, later noting however what a good deal it was, since it wasn’t long before KOME was worth many millions. Dad continued on as a consulting engineer for KOME for a number of years, and also helped at many other stations. He was someone that radio stations could rely on for help because of his vast knowledge and ability to solve problems. If you had a problem, the most common solution became: “call Ed Meece.”
One of his last jobs was for KSOL, the soul music station on the San Francisco Peninsula. That certainly was ironic considering his own musical tastes, but he soon found a new way to promote these. He became active in the San Jose Symphony in the late 1960s, and his leadership talents and contributions to classical music were recognized right away. He became President of the San Jose Symphony Association in 1971, and was the leading force to bring George Cleve to San Jose as the Symphony’s conductor.
For years Cleve was highly appreciated in San Jose for his brilliance, and he was the major factor in making San Jose’s a major American orchestra. After his term expired in 1973, Ed Meece got active in the symphony’s fund-raising efforts, becoming President of the Symphony Foundation from 1988 to 1990. He had resigned from the Foundation only three months before his death. He and Ethel made generous financial contributions to the Symphony for three decades.
Dad and I were never as close as we might have been. In my early years, he resented my rebellious attitude, and thought I was just naturally too lazy about helping around the house. He was impatient with me and easily angered. He also severely slapped me a few times, most notably in Fall 1964 when I told him I wouldn’t communicate with him. But his idea of “communication” (a favorite “cause” of his) was to respond favorably to his requests, I thought. I believed this was contrary to his pacifist beliefs, and got up the courage to tell him this a few times. He never quite repented of this and similar behavior towards me, but he got easier and mellower anyway as the years passed.
He was much easier towards my brothers, too. Meanwhile, though somewhat distant emotionally, he was always there for us when we needed him. He complained to school authorities for me when I was put into an inferior seventh-grade class where I was unhappy. He worked hard to see that we had enough money for good clothes and lots of toys, and a nice modern-style house in Willow Glen on Cherry Valley Drive, which he helped to design along with the architect, Alan Walter, who also designed San Jose City Hall.
I declared in 1966 that I had come of age at 16 and wouldn’t obey him anymore (not that I ever did much), which he didn’t appreciate too well. By the time I was 21, and “grown up,” Dad seemed to become a different fellow. He helped and counseled me when I went through my brief and unhappy encounters with drugs in 1972. His help in this was invaluable and appreciated.
Unlike my Mom, my Dad never harangued me about my appearance in those days of long hair and beards. My Dad was always generous with me financially, and didn’t lay guilt trips upon me, helping me out when needed and very appreciative of my 16 years as an independent businessman. He liked the fact that I got into radio, too, finally becoming a DJ on KKUP-FM. Though sometimes the old impatience would show, more often he was kind and helpful, counseling and advising me when I was in pain over my failed attempts to be an athlete like him.
He could always be counted on to fix things for me, though he got tired of helping me with my 1966 Ford Ranchero, which he had passed down to me — for which I don’t blame him! In 1985 he helped offset some of the costs of my getting a new car. Most recently he helped me take out some trees at my house which my neighbors wanted out, and even as recently as a year and a half before his death he thought nothing of climbing 20 or 30 feet up into the trees and engineering the job of taking them down.
Our last effort together was last Summer 1998 when we built support pillars for the new fence to replace the one that had been ruined by the trees we took out. It took all our skills and strength to take off the form for the concrete he laid. He was so proud to show me he could still accomplish difficult things.
It was also in 1966 that I had some borderline mystical experiences, which impelled me the following year to break with the beliefs in science which I had grown up with in the scientific Meece household. My science teachers told me that I had one of the best science backgrounds and brightest minds they had ever seen, but that I wasn’t quite living up to my potential. In effect, I never had to go through the rebellion against religious dogma that my Dad did; he had done it for me. It was perfectly obvious, though perhaps unspoken, that my parents didn’t believe in the religious stuff handed out at the churches we went to.
As a kid spirituality was foreign to me, except in music and nature, and the religious teaching at Sunday school was so tepid and uninspiring that it never took hold. I confessed to my teacher before “confirmation” in 1963 that I was an atheist. Yet, even by 1965 I had told my Mom that I had decided not to be a scientist because I didn’t like dissecting animals. By 1967 I was in the throes of another rebellion. Just as Dad had done, I rebelled — exactly 60 years later — against my heritage, my scientific and atheist heritage, that is. I later conceived that I was just taking my Dad’s intellectual and spiritual journey to the next step. After he rejected religious dogma, I rejected scientific dogma. The “generation gap” revealed itself full-blown in this form between us in the confrontational 1960s.
I discovered the spirit within me. I studied Eastern religions, Western philosophy, and even Scientology, on which in effect I wasted some of my family’s money trying to pursue (which my parents absorbed without complaint). Most disturbing of all to my Dad was my interest in astrology.
I called on him with anger and desperation when I got severely sick in 1980, and he helped me, but he also took the opportunity to blast my distrust for doctors and my pursuit of astrology. When I finally published my own book on the subject, however, he took some pride in that. I never was able to convince him of the errors of his thinking; for some reason he preferred to listen to scientists than to me, however well-reasoned my arguments were. The confrontational attitude I took in the late 1960s certainly didn’t help, and it took years to get past that.
In later years I comforted him with the thought that I didn’t, as he warned me not to do, “throw the baby out with the bath water,” and that I remembered how valuable and worthwhile the scientific method is, even if I disagreed with him that it was the best or the only approach. He also seemed to be more aware in recent years of some of the implications of the new physics, which itself is less dogmatic.
Ed was very inventive around the house when he wasn’t fixing radio stations. His workbench was always a mess, full of gadgets which he had taken apart to see how they worked. He may have invented the mute switch, and we were among the first families on the planet who could turn off the commercials on our TV without moving from our chairs. I later inherited this makeshift apparatus, which I used until Dad bought me a new TV with a remote.
As he became hard of hearing, he had his phone wired so that a whole bunch of lights would flash on and off as it rang. If someone left the door open, a light on the phone would turn on to remind us. Dad had no interest in spectator sports, but he loved to watch old episodes of “Perry Mason,” “Columbo” and other detective shows. His favorite movie, “Dr. Strangelove,” reflected his pacifist beliefs as well as his sense of humor. Thanks to my brother Ted for reminding me to mention these lighter facets of Ed’s generally “serious” and sober personality.
Ted found his own success as a lawyer and moved to Portland. (Ironically, Mom and Dad thought that I might be the one to become the lawyer, since “I liked to argue so much.” I became a philosopher instead). My youngest brother Gordon, however, had his problems. My Dad related to him best of all, since he was an electrician like himself.
Gordon had much success as a contractor, despite setbacks, and with his wife Barbara became the first (and so far only) of his sons to bear two blood-related children (Ted and his wife Nancy adopted a son). But Gordon’s drug problems made mine look like a picnic. It was my Dad who frequently came to the rescue for my brother’s periodic financial and psychological problems.
He was consumed with worry over these in December 1998 and January 1999, and on January 11 he drove down to visit my brother to help him get his car back, which had been impounded by the police for no good reason (actually the car belonged to Dad). My Dad took good care of himself and his health, was younger than his age, and took medicine to stave off a stroke or seizures.
I hoped and expected him to be around for a number of years yet. But he was felled by a stroke anyway that night in January 1999, while driving down Blossom Hill Road near my brother’s house. His car was maneuvered off the road before he could crash by some anonymous “good Samaritans,” and then was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital — near my house.
I went over to visit him as soon as the hospital called me. He was still coherent, though his head hurt badly. Our last moment of humor together was when I picked up an old “KRPM Record Shop” business card which he had dropped on the floor. “I know this has to be yours,” I said smiling. “I use these as scratch paper,” he said smiling. I made sure they gave him an ice pack right away, and that they spelled his name right.
But the next day, his stroke had worsened, and he was lost to us for all practical purposes. I went and visited him at Good Samaritan every day until, two days before he died, he was moved to Stanford Medical Center. I bear some feeling of guilt for not having done more to reassure him about Gordon, and ask him not to worry so much. I don’t know if he would have listened to me, though. He had always been the one to be in charge of and in command of his own affairs, and he didn’t ask me for much or depend on me for much of anything. His death was quick, as he had wanted, so that he would not have to linger in a nursing home, or be a burden to us. I felt that in devoting so much of his time and resources to helping me and, especially, Gordon, that he had sacrificed himself for his family.
Services were held at the Palo Alto Unitarian Church, on Charleston Rd. south of Middlefield, on February 14, 1999, at 3:30 PM. Bill Jacobsen, former minister there, and current leader of the Humanist Community which my Dad and Mom recently started attending, led the service. Dad always enjoyed discussions of public affairs, and he appreciated the Humanists and other Forums he went to which offered this. In recent years he and Mom also greatly enjoyed their association with the “Floating Commune,” a group of people their own age which would share fun activities and local trips together.
As my friend Mike aptly put it, my Dad was a hero. Though he didn’t fight in the war, in all other respects he was typical of his heroic generation. He took an unpopular stand for peace. And KPFA might not be what it is today without him. He wanted to build a radio station that would extend human communication and present good music, and he accomplished his mission, even though things didn’t turn out exactly as he wished. A few times when he was down on himself, I reassured him how proud I was of him for this, and how I enjoyed telling my friends of these achievements. His work for the San Jose Symphony will long endure. Few of us will ever make so many contributions to his community as my Dad did.
Two weeks before his stroke, at our Christmas dinner, the subject of Bishop Pike’s tragic death came up. I mentioned that this was not long after he had published a book about “the other side” (life after death), at which my Dad let out a hearty laugh. I wonder if he is laughing now. God-speed, Edward W. Meece. I love you.
Reprinted by permission of the author.