It’s rare that I mourn the death of an engineer. We don’t recognize them the same way as pop culture tech titans. Listening to Dr. Bill Wattenburg (or as most of us knew him, Dr. Bill) was something that spanned generations in my family. For forty years, Dr. Bill was an anchor of weekend radio on KGO 810. Back when it was a real, independent radio station, that is.
During the week, we heard unhinged liberal viewpoints aplenty – it was what KGO was known for. But come the weekend, Dr. Bill was the counterbalance. And what a counterbalance he was. Providing take-all-comers open lines, he would challenge liberal after liberal, not with yelling, but with facts. One of the most talented engineers and scientists around, he worked at both getting a man on the Moon, and getting the nuclear bomb to be more strategic and safe. And later in life, his later patents pioneered hydraulic fracture drilling. You may know that as fracking.
Clearly, Dr. Bill’s talents were aligned with his ideology. Studying at the University of California, I enjoyed many all-night study sessions listening to the same man that my father listened to in his college years.
Ironically, Dr. Bill zigged where I zagged, graduated from CSU Chico – instead of the University of California that he touted his belief in for decades to follow. As such, many of his references to small towns in Northen California, were the back roads I knew well.
I didn’t talk much directly with Dr. Bill. Most of it was about the rise of mobile technology, how apps work, etc. But there was no engineering field he wasn’t interested in. Nothing was off limits or too far out there. But as we age, we become those that can tell the story better of those who came before us. It is a natural, albeit painful part of the human condition.
Dr. Bill’s passion for keeping people grounded in facts, over the feelings of the day, is what will be missed the most.