Bill Wattenburg

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Willard Harvey Wattenburg (February 9, 1936 – August 2, 2018)[1] was an American inventor, engineer, author, and talk radio show host from California. Advertisements for his show often referred to him as "The Smartest Man in the World."[2]

Early life[edit]

Born and raised in Greenville, California, in rural Plumas County, Wattenburg grew up working with his father in the logging business.[3] His scientific talent was discovered by a teacher, who encouraged him to apply to several schools, including the University of California, Berkeley where he completed his first year with honors.[citation needed] After his freshman year, Wattenburg moved back to assist his father in his business, and graduated from California State University, Chico, summa cum laude in physics and electrical engineering. He then returned to Berkeley for his doctorate in electrical engineering, completing it in three years, and worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and as a professor at Berkeley until 1970.[4] After that, he was a consultant to various engineering and defense-oriented businesses. He remained a consultant to the Livermore Laboratory until his death.[4]


As an engineer, Wattenburg discovered many of the original problems with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, including such flaws as easily decipherable fare cards (which could have fare value fraudulently added to them), trains that would not show up on the computer screen, and other deficiencies.[5] He published numerous articles in scientific journals and continued to do research as an adjunct professor at California State University, Chico.


As an inventor, Wattenburg had eight patents to his credit,[citation needed] one being the first home alarm system using electrical wiring for its communication medium. Many of his ideas, such as using flatbed rail cars as temporary bridges,[6] unenergized electric water heaters for storage of emergency potable water,[7] and converting plow blades into minesweepers are deceptively simple variants of prior art[8] or folk technology.

Mountaintop removal mine[edit]

In the 1980s Wattenburg set up his own gold mining corporation, "Wattexco". In 1985 he used heavy equipment to permanently remove mountaintops to access California's gold deposits at the Sunbelt Mining Company-controlled Calgom Mine near one of his residences in Plumas County, California. In contrast to the historic practice of gold panning in California, Wattenburg orchestrated[9] mountaintop removal mining to get at the gold beneath an entire mountain in Plumas County.

In a 1992 interview with a private investigator that a television network hired in the course of a due diligence investigation, Wattenburg admitted utilizing such mining practices. The investigator reported:

Radio talk show host[edit]

From 1972 to December 2, 2011, Wattenburg was the host of The Open Line to the West Coast, a talk show heard late Saturday and Sunday evenings 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. PT from San Francisco on KGO, AM 810 kHz.[11] On the program, Wattenburg took calls from throughout the western United States. Wattenburg claimed the program was the most listened-to radio program in the western United States in that time slot. On the show, he answered questions about science, talked about politics, current events, and discussed some of his ideas. Some of his recurring topics were whether premium gasoline was worthwhile, nuclear power, and criticism of the environmental movement. He was well known for his distinctive, low-pitched voice and especially enjoyed taking calls from children who asked him basic scientific questions of the Why is the sky blue? variety. Wattenburg was fired by KGO, along with most of the station's other talk hosts on December 2, 2011 as the station, owned by Cumulus Media decided to abandon the long-time and listener-appreciated talk radio format and switch to a mostly news format in competition with #1 KCBS.[12] KGO's Web site showed his former time slot would be replaced with Spencer Hughes.[13]

In late 2011, Wattenburg began broadcasting on KSCO-AM, 1080, Santa Cruz, California. This was a few days after parting ways with KGO-AM. This continued until January 22, 2012 when he joined the Talk Radio Network[14]

In 2012, Bill Wattenburg signed with Talk Radio Network and his show was available to radio stations nationwide in syndication.[15] His program was called The Open Line to America. Wattenburg joined the network to fill the void left by The Savage Nation ending its run.[16] The program aired Sunday nights from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Pacific Time. From April 2015, Bill's son Eric, a physician, hosts the program Your Care America in the same time slot, with the elder Wattenburg rarely making an appearance.[17][18]

Political views[edit]

He was generally considered a conservative; however, he espoused some traditionally liberal or libertarian positions on a handful of social issues, such as abortion. He was a strong supporter of former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as former president George W. Bush and the Iraq War.

For example, Wattenburg long railed against the use of MTBE, a chemical industry waste product added to gasoline for the purpose of minimizing pollutants from automobiles. Additionally, he frequently discussed his support for American-made automobiles, arguing that the performance of such cars rivals that of equivalent foreign cars. A longtime consultant at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Wattenburg expressed strong support for nuclear power and anger at the Sierra Club and the environmental movement, as well as other public interest groups such Consumers Union for their steadfast, irrational opposition to nuclear power.

Firearms confiscation[edit]

Wattenburg openly suggested having standing armies on American streets and within American homes for law enforcement purposes, once remarking to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, in regard to high urban violence in Oakland, California, "Our troops are going house to house removing weapons in Bosnia. Why not use them to do that in West Oakland or South Central Los Angeles?"[19]


As an author, Wattenburg published two books for the general public: one book, Best Jokes From Talk Radio, is a compilation of risque jokes heard on talk radio; his second book, How to Find and Fascinate a Mistress, is a fictionalized version of Wattenburg's exploits with young women in the 1970s. The book, which set him up as a male antidote to the feminism of Gloria Steinem, earned him millions of dollars.[citation needed] It was published under the pseudonym Will Harvey; the book has long been out of print.

Marriage and family[edit]

Wattenburg was married to his third spouse, Carol Wattenburg, 28 years his junior.[citation needed] They have two daughters; Wattenburg also had three children from a previous marriage.[citation needed]

Appearance in films[edit]

Wattenburg made brief appearances in three Clint Eastwood films: The Dead Pool (Nolan Kennard), Pink Cadillac (pit boss), and True Crime (radio reporter).


Year Title Role Notes
1988 The Dead Pool Nolan Kennard
1989 Pink Cadillac Pit Boss
1999 True Crime Radio Reporter (final film role)


  1. ^ Longtime KGO radio host and scientist Bill Wattenburg dead at 82 —
  2. ^ "KGO Audio and Podcasts". Archived from the original on 2011-11-23. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  3. ^ "CHRONICLE PROFILE / Bill Wattenburg / Radio host keeps creative lines open / Inventor, best-selling author creates simple solutions to complex problems". 7 October 2002. 
  4. ^ a b "KGO 810 AM Biography". Archived from the original on 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  5. ^ "Bill Wattenburg's Background: BART — Bay Area Rapid Transit System". 
  6. ^ "2. Historical Background Of Steel Bridges - Prefabricated Steel Bridge Systems: Final Report - ABC - Accelerated - Technologies and Innovations - Construction - Federal Highway Administration". 
  7. ^ "'water heaters electric' — Google Search of". 
  8. ^ "Chain minesweepers — Google Search". 
  9. ^ M.A. Palmer et al. Mountaintop Mining Consequences, Science, 8 January 2010, Vol. 327, p. 148.
  10. ^ "Bill Wattenburg's Background: The Gold Mine". 
  11. ^ "KGO's Program Schedule". Archived from the original on 2011-11-06. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  12. ^ Matier, Phillip; Ross, Andrew (2 December 2011). "KGO radio going to news format — veterans leaving". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-11-26. Retrieved 2011-12-03. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Dr. Bill Wattenburg Joins TRN Entertainment Bringing a Wealth of Practical Science to Radio". 2012-01-12. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Your Care America with Dr. Eric Wattenburg — Talk Radio Network". 
  18. ^ "Feather River Bulletin April 22 Page 6". 
  19. ^ Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer (7 October 2002). "Chronicle Profile: Bill Wattenburg, Radio host keeps creative lines open; Inventor, best-selling author creates simple solutions to complex problems". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 6 June 2009. 

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