Where Past Meets Present

Stan Milam

Focus In: Stan Milam

Stan Milam is a U.S. Army Veteran, Bronze Star Recipient – Vietnam, Radio News Broadcaster for THE BEAT, Former Radio Host of “The Stan Milam Show” on WCLO and The BIG AM 1380, Former Janesville Gazette Reporter, and Former WCLO News Director.

Were you born in Rock County?

I was born at Janesville’s Mercy Hospital. My father and mother were raised in Southern Illinois. He came from a family of seven boys and when he got back from WWII, there wasn’t much going on in Southern Illinois. He had relatives in Janesville, so after his service, he came to Janesville to work at the GM plant for over 30 years before he retired.

What were some things you liked to do growing up?

We were normal kids, we played ball out in the fields around our house. For many of us, it was a lower to middle income existence. The workers at the GM plant didn’t make a lot of money back then. I can remember when my dad brought home the first check when he cleared $100.

We lived on the south side of town. It was called the Fisher Addition. There were lot of families whose breadwinners were at the plant. Originally, it wasn’t a part of the city. I went to Rock Valley School and it’s no longer there now. It is a park.

As time went on, we were bused all over the place. I remember going to Washington School, way on the other side of town. There was one junior high then and one high school. I went to Janesville Junior High down on Main St. and then Janesville Senior High, which is now Craig High School.

What were your activities in high school?

I guess I had that journalism itch back then, so I work on the Blue Jay, the high school newspaper, and the Phoenix, which was the yearbook. I worked mostly in photography, but did a little bit of writing. My passion was in radio.

Unlike a lot of high school guys, my friend, Jim Mosher, and I skipped school one day, took a train to Chicago, and took an FCC test to get a third-class engineering degree. It was required to work at a radio station. Of course, we didn’t study for it except on the train on the way down, and somehow, we passed it and got jobs at the station when we were just 14 years old!

The reason I did that was because I came across two firemen’s axes. I don’t remember exactly how. And I decided to go to some woods on the corner of Garfield and Holmes. Later it was where Paul Ryan lived. At that time, Bob Bliss, the editor of The Gazette lived there.

Another friend and I decided to go to chop down a tree. We yelled, “Timber!” and this big old tree came down. Of course, the cops came immediately. Bliss decided not to press charges, but we had to come back with our parents, which was worse than going to jail! He explained how serious this was, we chopped down a mature tree and … blah, blah, blah. And I was going to have to pay for it! My buddy just skipped the whole thing. I don’t know how he got off the hook.

So, I had to pay for this tree and I didn’t have a job. I was 14 years old. That’s how I got in the back door at the radio station. They told me I could work there, but I had to have the third-class license. I would not recommend this as a way to employment, chopping down the boss’ tree. But it did work out.

We would sign on the radio on the weekends and sign off. We had a shift on the air. We didn’t talk, but we would spin records, tapes and play commercials. It was a paid job, I think 75¢ an hour, whatever minimum wage was then.

One day, we decided we would build our own radio station. We may have violated some rules. There was a company called Heath, which made Heath Kits. They made this thing which would now be called a karaoke machine. It transmitted a very low power AM signal, so if you had it in your living room, you might be able to hear it throughout the house.

My friend, Jim Mosher, was into technical things and he fixed it up so it could broadcast for about two blocks! I believe it was highly illegal. Instead of doing what other high school kids did, we spent every weekend either working at WCLO or building this radio station. It took a couple of years to do it. We built a studio in his parents’ attic. Our friends, if they were out on a date, would park along one of the nearby streets and we would play requests.

Stan Milam in Lotus Biscayne 1965

Stan Milam in his Lotus Biscayne, 1965

Did you ever cruise the circuit?

Oh yeah, that was called “Scooping the Loop”. My father had a 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne. It was known as a Lotus Biscayne. We had some very interesting times in that car, but we won’t talk about that. At that time, I developed a strong interest in auto racing.

It was incredible, driving around in that car. If you went 17 miles an hour scooping the loop, you could hit every green light down Milwaukee Street. It was one way, three lanes and there were hundreds of us there!

I knew a guy named Vince Agius, who was a bit like Fonzie in Happy Days, but just the nicest guy. He would dress up in a Superman suit, stand up in the driver’s seat of the car, while one of us was underneath the dash, operating the pedals! We would start at the top of the hill and go down, timing the lights. But we did it with a twist, so that we would run every red light downtown!

We were in our teens, and people would shout and wave at us. The police did not find it amusing, and told us there is a price to pay for this hilarity.

But scooping the loop on Friday night was essential, and you had to be seen doing it. Then, we would go down to Knipp’s Pizza, also to be seen. It was fun to look at what kind of car some of these guys were driving. The ones who had good part-time jobs had some good looking 58 Chevys.

It was just a ritual, cruising the circuit. It was a part of our culture. We also had to do the radio station on Friday night, so we had to juggle all that.

Did you meet any girls downtown?

I had a lot of first dates in high school, but not very many second dates. I was too busy with the radio station, and for some reason, I was not very attractive to the opposite sex and never had a steady girlfriend.

Now, when they have reunions of cruising the old cars downtown, it’s a lot of us old guys. We sit on our lawn chairs at my friend’s house near Atwood Avenue, and I give out prizes. It might be for the car that goes around the most times, prizes like a beer or two. I started giving out prizes to the best burnout, which might have caused some problems.

We also used to go out to the root beer stand, Daly’s Frostop, which was out by the Kennedy Road intersection. We’d get our burgers, fries and root beer for $3. Some of our friends worked there and they’d give us $3 in change, so basically were sneaking us food for free.

What’s the story about mischief at the Lincoln-Tallman House?

Stan Milam on chimney of LTH

Stan Milam on the chimney of the Lincoln-Tallman House

Stan Milam in Lincoln hat at LTH

Stan Milam in Lincoln hat at the Lincoln-Tallman House

We knew a classmate who was a docent at the house on the weekends. So, we went to see her there and she offered us a tour.

When we got to the Lincoln bedroom, I hopped over the rope, put on his hat and sat on the bed and had my picture taken by my friend! Our classmate tour guide totally freaked out. We assured her that everything was going to be okay.

We found out the stairs behind the upstairs hallway door led up to the attic and then up to the cupola. So, I made a beeline for that and figured out how to get out onto the roof!

I climbed the chimney and my friend snapped a picture of me there. This was just a normal Saturday afternoon in the life of Stan!

What were your ambitions after high school?

Stan Milam high school senior picture

Stan Milam as a high school senior

My friend and I both planned to go to Brown Institute in Minneapolis, which was THE technical school for broadcasting. But, it didn’t work out that way.

I became more interested in radio and less interested in school and I did not complete my senior year. I was in the class of ‘65, and never graduated with my class. I had planned to go down to the plant and maybe get a head start. My friend, Jim Mosher, talked me out of it. He said, “You’ve got to go back. You’ve got to graduate!” So, I went back under the condition that I could do my entire senior year over. I talked to the counselors and agreed to do it.

My interest in photography and radio continued and I was planning go on to UW Stout. I made arrangements to try and see if I could get in, but at semester, when I went to get my class rank and information to prepare for college, I found out I was ranked 700 of 750! I pleaded my case and they said that all my previous grades were included, as well, and that I couldn’t just wipe that off my transcript. They said, “That will always be with you.” And I said, “Well, you didn’t tell me that!”

At the time, I had enough credits to graduate in January. We had a draft back then, and I soon ended up in the U.S. Army.

Tell me about your military experience.

I was in Germany. I thought, “Hey I got it made!” I was trained as a Supply Clerk, and I thought it was a pretty safe job. However, they didn’t have any openings in Germany. In 1968, when things got really heavy in Vietnam, they moved the unit over there. By the time I went to Vietnam, I was 20, and was the oldest in my platoon. But, it all worked out. I got out a little early to go to college.

What happened after Vietnam?

I came back and went to UW Whitewater, graduating in 1973 with a degree in English and a minor in journalism, because they didn’t have a major in journalism. I since went on to get a major in journalism and currently I am completing my master’s degree this semester! So, I’m both an alumnus and a student.

When I went back to enroll, they saw my old transcript. It had been such a long time that the classes had changed. I had to enroll in some undergrad classes to catch up. They didn’t know how to classify me, so I was called a Special Student. They said, “I guess you’re special.” And I said, “My mother could have told you that.”

There was a national day of protest against the Vietnam War. I was commuting between Janesville and Whitewater, so I was unaware. There was also a movement to boycott classes, and when I got to classes that day, I noticed there weren’t very many people. I went to the science building and saw the riot police. They told me that in order to get in, you have to show your ID. I didn’t really want to go to that class, anyway, so I left.

Later that day, I went to a Western Civ class. There were only five of us there. The professor said, I would be boycotting, too, but I would lose my job. So instead, I will give you the real objective history of Vietnam. It was enlightening.

During college, I was the manager of the campus radio station. And every morning at 6:00 I signed the station on. On the weekends, I would sign on WCLO and was the disc jockey. This was my path. I applied everywhere in the country, but there were no jobs available.

Because of an illness at WCLO, there was an opportunity for me to fill in. As it turned out, I stayed there. This was in 1973, and I’ve worked either at the radio station or the newspaper for 40 years!

Stan Milam being read his subpoena by RC Sheriff Fred Falk

Stan Milam being read his subpoena by Rock County Sheriff Fred Falk

Tell me some interesting stories from your work.

At one point was promoted to News Director. I had a new beat which happen to be at the courthouse. I covered the courts and the DA’s Office and the County Board. It was a geographic beat, really.

One day, I was at the DA’s Office talking to the DA about what was going on. All of a sudden, the phone rang. He spoke a while, then he slammed the phone down and said, “I’m late for the John Doe hearing! I gotta’ go!”

I wondered what that was all about! The John Doe hearing? They were having a John Doe hearing regarding Beloit College and some sort of issue. This was top secret stuff, you know, and I found out about it. I wrote a story that went on our newscast the next morning.

Well, I got a call from the Sheriff’s Department asking me to come to the John Doe hearing and bring all my notes. I said, “Well, that’s not happening!” I went down to hide out in Tom Berg’s law office, while detectives were out looking for me!

Pete Podewell was out looking for me. Eventually, the sheriff tracked me down, and we went over to the John Doe hearing. They wanted to know who told me about it, and I wouldn’t tell them.

The judge was a visiting judge, a crusty old guy from another county. He said, “You’ll either tell us what we want to know, or you’ll go to jail. You go think about that.” We got a lawyer, and he asked me how it happened. I told him that I was just sitting there when the DA blurted it out, but he didn’t TELL me all about it. I looked into that myself.

So, the lawyer explained it all to the judge. The judge asked me directly if the DA told me about the John Doe story. I said, “No.” I explained how I had overheard the phone conversation, but that the DA never told me what it was about. He said, “Okay, you can leave.” So, this made news, and the photographer was there, and I was in the paper! But, I kept my job.

In another story, I was doing some digging and there was a law that if there were court cases in their final form, waiting for a judge’s decision, and the cases were over 30 or 60 days, the judge had to notify the State as to why they hadn’t been decided. If the judge didn’t do this, they wouldn’t get paid.

I got a tip that there were cases that were years old that weren’t going to be decided. I found out and did stories on these cases. This was a veteran judge who had friends in very high places. There was a big stink, and one of his friends sued me! The other reporters, who were picking up on this story, were also getting sued! An attorney, Jim Welker, also got sued, and he didn’t have anything to do with it!

We were presented with a subpoena, Welker hired an attorney, and eventually this all went to the State Supreme Court. We were charged with a civil conspiracy to prevent this judge from getting reelected. And the Supreme Court ruled that we couldn’t proceed until we found out if the guy was reelected. It was put in limbo, and the judge was not reelected.

That was a real scary time, because there were some prominent people in the community who were after us, thinking that this was directed toward the judge, when it really wasn’t. All the local papers, The Milwaukee Journal, the Rockford Star were all following it! There were about five of us who were being sued, but I’m glad it all went away.

Tell me about your career.

Stan Milam working a story

Stan Milam working a story

I worked at the radio station from 1975 to ‘80. Then, I went to Ironwood, Michigan as the Managing Editor of a newspaper that the Gazette owned up there. I was there for about three years. To live in the Upper Peninsula, you have to have tough skin. I have a picture of my son on his birthday, which is in May, and he was in a snowsuit!

When I came back, I worked in the press room at the state capitol at the Madison bureau, and was there until the late ‘90’s when they closed the bureau.

I came back to Janesville and did local reporting for a while, until I left and started my own business as a freelancer. Primarily, I still had my desk at the press room at the state capitol. I did that for several years.

Bob Daily at WCLO asked me if I wanted to do a talk show, which I did for five or six years. The creative department worked overtime on this one, and they called it “The Stan Milam Show”.

Then, an opportunity came up to work with Quint Studer at Studer Group. That was an incredible experience. Quint is a real inspiration, encouraging others to do better things. I’ll give you an example.

He would always say, “If you see it, you own it. That includes trash on the sidewalk.” It’s like a cultural thing. I was very impressed working with him. The two years I spent there were just incredible.

I went back and reported for The Gazette for a while, and then a guy from Monroe, Scott Thompson, bought the old Beloit radio stations which had their studios in Janesville. They hired me to do a talk show, still “The Stan Milam Show” on the BIG AM 1380. It has since changed its name to THE BEAT.

I did that until just recently, and they had a format change in music, (‘90’s rock), which I know nothing about. But, they wanted me to stay on and help out with the news department, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m still working and I can’t retire!

What are your plans for retirement, for the future?

Well, I’d like to be a Formula One driver, but that’s not gonna’ happen. I might as well say I want to fly to the moon!

Stan Milam at the 1980 SCCA National Championship race in Atlanta

Tell me about your car racing experiences.

I got out of the army and bought an Austin Healey Sprite, wonderful little English roadster, a lot of fun. A friend of mine took me to a sports car race at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, just across the state line in South Beloit. And I was watching them buzz around in these little sports cars and thought, “I can do that!”

I met a guy who could transform my Sprite into a race car, so I started racing. I raced at Blackhawk, and Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. One year, I raced nationals and qualified for the National Championship race in Atlanta! No way was I ever going to win that, but there were only 20 cars invited, so that was kind of the highlight of my racing.

That was 1980, the year I went from WCLO to the newspaper. I knew I would be going to the Upper Peninsula, so I sold the car and quit racing.

Stan Milam victory lap in Formula Ford in 2006

Stan Milam’s victory lap in a Formula Ford, 2006

Do you miss racing?

Oh yeah, but I was a lot younger, and smarter! I have driven a couple of times since then. The last time was when I drove a Formula Ford in 2006. That was the last time I drove in a race.

Tell me about a historically significant event that impacted you.

I tell people I’m a Jack Kennedy Democrat. In the 1960 campaign I was just 13 years old and had taken an interest in politics, inspired by my eighth-grade social studies teacher, Lew Mittness. I remember doing lit drops for Kennedy, hanging little pamphlets on the doorknobs. I was down at headquarters and it was all big-time stuff.

In November of 1963 I was sitting in Algebra 2 class, but I was not very good at math. It came over the speaker that the president was shot. They announced he had been assassinated!

That had a dramatic impact on my outlook. I thought Jack and Jackie where the greatest thing that ever happened to our country. And suddenly he was gone! Just gone. It was a Friday. We sat out in the parking lot, me and my friends. Normally, we would be making plans for Friday night, but we just sat there. No one was talking.

Then, of course, that weekend was nuts with the Ruby shooting live on TV. It was an eye opener for me, though, that bad things could happen. That was a pivotal moment.

In 1968, I was on leave between Germany and Vietnam when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. And Bobby was the one who was supposed to save us from all this crap. That was not too long after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.

I’ve been interested in politics ever since, and the only time I’ve ever felt that way, deeply impacted since, was with the election of Barack Obama.

What are some of the significant changes you’ve seen over the years in our community?

So many of us have a connection to the GM plant. The closing of the plant affected our community. My dad who had a sixth-grade education was able to have a family-supporting job, to be a productive member of this community. He supported his family, paid property taxes, all of that, thanks to GM and the United Auto Workers. And that’s gone.

I remember when GM officially closed. I looked up and down the street outside the Gazette building and nothing was different. But things were really different.

A lot of people don’t mention the demise of Parker Pen. Those were really good paying jobs, craftsmen who did that, and it was headquartered in Janesville. It was an international company, and they supported of a lot of things in the community.

I don’t think I would put it on par with the plant, but I think it is misunderstood how important Parker Pen was to Janesville. And we just assumed that they would be here forever.

When I was in the army, we’d meet people from all over the country and they’d say, “Where are you from?” I would tell them, “Janesville, that’s where they make Parker pens.” Then they would say, “Oh, Parker Pen!”

I’m glad to see people like Britten Langfoss, who have grown up here, take an interest. People who are optimistic about the future of our town. I applaud them. Maybe we’ll never be all the way back where we were, maybe it will just be different.

I’m glad that there’s Dollar General and ARISEnow. We have to look in a different direction, but it won’t ever be the same. Thankfully, there are people who just refuse to give up.

Tell me about your community involvement.

I work with a group of AP Government students in a program called Washington Seminar. The students study a federal issue for almost a year. In the spring, we go out to Washington for a week.

It’s amazing how a lot of kids from Janesville had never been out on their own for a while. They go out there and they’re interviewing people, people of power and knowledge, sometimes U.S. senators. Speaker Paul Ryan is a big supporter of the program, Representative Pocan, Senator Johnson, Senator Baldwin.

This is my 20th year and I’ve seen through the years how this really affects these young scholars. They are much better prepared for their future out of high school. Most of them don’t go into politics, but the confidence they gain is priceless.

My wife, Terri Newton, is very involved as a volunteer at the Rotary Botanical Gardens, and I help out occasionally. We have one of the best botanical gardens in the country, here in small little Janesville!

Mark Dwyer has bought that into national prominence. They’re not even allowed to enter some contests because they kept winning! Isn’t that great?

I also work with Tim Cullen and his Internship Program. It is for high schoolers between junior and senior year. They gain experience at the capitol and in the state government. We provide a lot of different activities for them. I have been doing that since the program’s inception.

Also, I’m very supportive of the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra. Edie Baran has really helped to resurrect BJSO and keep it going. We always kid around about what kind of tuxedo the musical director, Rob Tomaro, was going to wear.

In middle school, I played the bassoon and became exposed to classical music. I played in both the band and the orchestra. It provided me with some comfort. I developed a real appreciation for classical music, especially Mozart. He’s my favorite.

When they were starting the Janesville Performing Arts Center, I was one of the contributors, and my name is on the wall down there. Our high school class all got together, we dug deep and helped out.

These wonderful organizations, and the arts, they are what define us and make our community much, much better.

What is it that keeps you here in Rock County?

As time went on, job and family, of course. I’ve done a lot of traveling, and it is still probably one of the greatest places to live. We have great infrastructure, a responsible local government, clean water, safety, streets.

Every community in Rock County I think has those priorities, and Rock County residents don’t have to worry about it. Those services are provided on the cheap. Our municipal employees are great and we have a good work ethic in this area.

It’s not a bad place to live at all! They’re stuck with me.

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