Montana Years (1925-1941)
Bill McGee was born September 30, 1925 in Livingston, Montana, and
grew up on ranches in Park and Phillips counties. As a teen, he felt wanderlust
and rode the rails throughout the West, working odd jobs as a cowboy. One
of his favorite memories was while breaking colts in the Coachella Valley,
California, where he met and rode with General George S. Patton.
Bluejacket Years (1942-1946)
spring of '42, like so many eager and patriotic youths, McGee joined
the Kaiser Shipyard in Vancouver, Washington where he worked as a welder
on Liberty ships.
In October 1942, at the age of 17, McGee enlisted in the regular Navy,
agreeing to serve until he was 21. These minority enlistments were
cruises.” He attended boot camp in Farragut, Idaho; took gunnery
training in San Diego, California; and was assigned to the Naval Armed
Guard, the branch of the U.S. Navy that protected merchant marine ships
and their valuable cargo and crews from enemy attacks and sabotage.
Between 18 March 1943 and 28 November 1945, McGee served in the Pacific
Theater in three Liberty ships (SS Nathaniel Currier, SS David Belasco,
SS Thomas Nelson) and one Victory ship (SS Yugoslavia Victory). He participated
in the Pacific campaigns to take back the Solomon Islands, New Guinea,
and the Marshall, Mariana and Philippine islands. After the war, he served
in the USS Fall River (CA-131) while she was the Target Fleet flagship
for Operation Crossroads, the Bikini atomic bomb tests in the Marshall
(Pictured: Bill McGee on leave, Honolulu,, Hawaii, 1943.)
On 20 August 1946, McGee was discharged from the Separation Center
in Shoemaker, California, with the rank of Gunner's Mate Second Class.
He earned medals for Asiatic Pacific Area Campaign (5 stars), American
Area, Victory, and Philippine Liberation, and the Chief Bureau of Naval
Personnel Commendation for Enemy Air Action off Guadalcanal on 16 June
Cowboyin’ Years (1946-1950)
the war, McGee enrolled at Montana State College on the G. I. Bill
with thoughts of becoming a veterinarian. However, wanderlust was
still with him and, after a year, he left college to take a job as
a horse wrangler in Yellowstone National Park. There he had a flare-up
of the malaria he?d contracted in the South Pacific during the war.
He hitchhiked to Reno, Nevada and checked into the new Veterans Hospital
for treatment. Released from the hospital, he started looking for
In summer of 1947, he hired on at Lake Tahoe as a trail and deer
hunting guide. In fall of ?47, a chance conversation at Reno?s Round
Up Bar, the unofficial hiring hall for cowboys, landed him the job
of head dude wrangler on the Flying M E, an exclusive dude ranch
21 miles south of Reno that catered to wealthy divorce seekers—mostly
Eastern socialites and Hollywood celebrities. To a young and good-looking
cowboy, surrounded by so many wealthy and attractive women at the
ranch, McGee thought he?d “died and gone to heaven.”
(Pictured: Bill McGee on the Flying M E dude-divorce ranch, Washoe, Nevada,
Taste For Radio
In January 1949, during one of Reno?s severest snow storms, McGee was
helping a neighboring rancher round up his straying cattle. In the deep
snow, McGee?s horse somersaulted on him. McGee suffered a serious back
injury and was ordered to recuperate in Reno where the doctor could check
on him daily. Several weeks later, and wearing a back brace, McGee took
a job driving for Star Taxi. One of his fares, an insurance company executive,
liked McGee?s deep voice and asked him to audition for the company?s commercials
on Reno?s KOH-AM radio. McGee was hired and became “John Friendly.” He
spun records, announced the births of new babies, and did the insurance
company?s commercials. After the show, “John Friendly” delivered
free baby books to the new mothers.
At the Flying M E, McGee met many ranch guests from Hollywood and New
York who worked in the entertainment field, including the new medium of
television. They encouraged the young cowboy to try his luck in this field.
However, one guest, radio actor/TV director Norman Tokar, commented, “Why
would you ever want to leave here, Bill? Most men would give their right
arm to have your job!”
In the spring of ?49, McGee married ranch guest Joan Allison in Fallon,
Nevada. Joan was staying at the Flying M E to get a divorce. Bill soon
realized that being a dude wrangler among so many women wasn?t the best
job for a married man. In December ?49, Bill left cowboyin? and headed
East to Joan?s hometown, Englewood, New Jersey.
Automobile Years (1950-1951)
In Englewood, New Jersey, McGee got a job selling
Rocket Engine Oldsmobiles and found he had a talent for sales. The McGee?s
first daughter, Lucy, was born in Englewood.
Restaurant Years (1952-1953)
The McGees returned to the West and settled
in Marin County, California. The family grew with the births of
Elizabeth, William Allison and Katherine. McGee owned and operated
the popular Ranch House restaurant in San Anselmo, a short-term
investment while he looked for something more permanent.
World Trade Years (1953-1957)
Broadcasting Years (1957-1990)
McGee entered the world trade business in San
Francisco, California where he developed a new import division for
Thomas D. Stevenson & Sons. Later, he founded Ferrostaal Pacific
Corporation which he sold to his German partners.
In 1957, McGee made a successful transition into the broadcasting field,
his targeted career choice since leaving the Flying M E. He enjoyed a
32-year career during which he held various sales and management positions:
Independent Television Corporation (“ITC”),
Los Angeles, Calif., division manager, 1958-62
At ITC, he licensed syndicated television programming
to advertisers and TV stations from coast-to-coast, selling programs
such as “Lassie,” “Fury,” “Four Just
Men,” “Cannonball,” “Danger Man,” “Best
of the Post,” “Our Miss Brooks,” and “My Little
NBC Radio, New York City, New York, spot sales representative, 1960
Peters Griffin Woodward (“PGW”), San Francisco, Calif.,
branch manager, 1962-67
KBHK-TV, Kaiser Broadcasting, San Francisco, Calif., general sales
KEMO-TV, U.S. Communications, San Francisco, Calif., general sales
WATL-TV, U.S. Communications, Atlanta, GA, general manager, 1970-1971
McGee helped pioneer major-market UHF independent
TV with Kaiser Broadcasting and U.S. Communications.
In 1971, McGee launched Broadcast Marketing Company (“BMC”)
to provide affordable sales support and training services to radio
and TV stations and, later, for cable systems. He would soon be regarded
as a leader and innovator in retail sales and co-op advertising.
In 1975, he created and produced the first nationally syndicated,
monthly co-op advertising information service, Broadcast CO-OPPORTUNITIES.
In 1976, McGee pioneered the use of the film medium to sell radio
advertising with “Get It On! Get It On Radio Now!!” The
film was licensed in 137 markets within one year.
McGee authored eleven books on broadcast advertising, retail advertising,
broadcast advertising sales, and the new emerging electronic media:
Retail Sales Training & Development
- Vol. 1, The Professional's Guide To Consultant Selling
- Vol. 2, A Marketing Approach to Building Store Traffic With Broadcast Advertising
- Vol. 3, A What, When and How Guide To Broadcast Co-op: The Untapped Goldmine
- Vol. 4, 1001 Creative Sales Ideas
- Vol. 5, A Primer on Broadcasting and the New Electronic Media
- Vol. 6, Management Guides & Sales Training Manual
- The Definitive Guide to Broadcast Co-op: STILL The Untapped Goldmine
- Changes, Challenges and Opportunities in THE NEW ELECTRONIC MEDIA
- Electronic Media Glossary
1980, McGee produced “How To Make Effective Low-Cost Television
Commercials,” the first retail advertising seminar video presentation
specifically designed to show retailers how to be more comfortable with
commercial production. The presentation addressed the local advertiser?s
biggest concern: commercial copywriting and production. It was packed
with proven “how-to” information from the experts; included
brief excerpts from 50 award-winning retail commercials; demonstrated
effective copy approaches, commercial formats, inexpensive production
techniques; and, most importantly, showed how to maximize television investments
for increased store traffic, sales and profits. The presentation is still
available from BMC Publications on DVD and video cassette.
In 1984, McGee sold BMC?s CO-OPPORTUNITIES service to Jefferson-Pilot
Communications, Charlotte, North Carolina. (Pictured at left with John
Edgerton of JPC.)
During his broadcasting career, McGee received numerous awards and
He is one of six charter members of the Cooperative Advertising Hall of Fame.
- PGW's "Television Colonel of 1964"
- Broadcast Pioneer's "Pioneer Award" in 1982
- Builders of Broadcasting, honored in 1968 for "vision,
dedication and achievement in the field of broadcasting."
Historian Years (1990-present)
1990, McGee retired from broadcasting and turned his interest to research
and writing. His World War II military histories have garnered praised
from reviewers and readers alike. The Library Journal wrote, “…a
thoroughgoing historical record and analysis that historians and scholars
will find invaluable.”
The Marine Corps League praised McGee work with, “Enough gripping
drama, heroism, and heartbreak in McGee?s almost encyclopedic „The
Solomons Campaigns? to supply Hollywood with material for a century.”
In 2000, McGee and his present wife, Sandra, formed a writing collaboration
that produced The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler;
Pacific Express; and Learning To Cope With Sight Loss: Six Weeks at a
VA Blind Rehabilitation Center.
Bill and Sandra have appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, and guest
lectured aboard cruise ships and before historical and military groups.
Bill is a member of Broadcast Legends. Bill and Sandra are members of
Western Writers of America.
In 2010, Bill McGee joined the newly-formed Admiralty Board of the National
Liberty Ship Memorial in San Francisco. The Memorial manages the historic
WWII Liberty ship, SS Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed at Pier 45 in San
Francisco. (www.ssjeremiahobrien.org) Of the 2,710 Liberty ships that
were constructed during World War II, only two survive today and are
operational: SS Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco and SS John W.
Brown in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 2011, Bill selected the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg,
Texas, as the repository for his World War II research and writing files.
Titles in print by William L.McGee include:
Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in
World War II, a Pacific war trilogy
- Vol. I, The Amphibians Are Coming! Emergence of the ’Gator
Navy and its Revolutionary Land Craft (2000)
- Vol. II, The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal
to Bougainville, Pacific War Turning Point (2002)
- Vol. III, Pacific Express: The Critical Role of Military
Logistics in World War II, Editor with Sandra McGee, (2009)
- Bluejacket Odyssey, 1942-1946: Guadalcanal to Bikini,
Naval Armed Guard in the Pacific (1997, 2000)
- The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler,
with Sandra McGee (2004)
- Learning to Cope with Sight Loss: Six Weeks at a VA Blind Rehabilitation
Center, with Sandra McGee (2010)