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.
I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Dr. Bill. He and my husband, Lee Rodgers often spoke together either on my husband’s talk show (KGO and then KSFO). Lee thought very highly of Dr. Bill’s intellect and great humor, as did I as a listener.
Another great voice of reason has passed on and I hope he and Lee are sitting somewhere enjoying a cool beverage and talking over events of the times together.
I send my heartfelt condolences to his family and want them to know Dr. Bill will always be remembered with great affection and a contributing voice of reason and intelligence. – With great respect to him. Susan Rodgers
It is kinda late to be leaving a reply to your post at this date, but I thought of Dr. Wattenburg after a long time just last week after the horrible fire that has destroyed Paradise, CA. For decades Dr. Bill railed against the “new environmentalist” approach of letting the forest be and not clearing the deadwood. He predicted that this will lead to bigger, more devastating fires.
AT this point I have to say that, though it may not be the only factor, mismanagement of forest management practices has caused the havoc that Dr. Bill warned us about.
In a way I’m glad that he didn’t live to see what has happened to Paradise, CA. (Redding too by the way) because he was from that corner of the state and probably considered it all his backyard. But I do miss the great old engineer that I listened to on so many Saturday and Sunday late nights. Called his show and talked to him a few times too.
Rest in peace, Dr. Bill.
I remember staying up late while living in Houston(TX) so I could listen to Dr. Bill’s show. I was lucky one night to get through to him and asked a couple questions regarding tsunamis and their potential impact on the West Coast. He was incredibly nice and would leave you inspired. I was saddened to hear of his passsing, he was a national treasure.