The late longtime KBCR newsman John Larson displayed dry sense of humor | SteamboatToday.com

The late longtime KBCR newsman John Larson displayed dry sense of humor

Pictured in this late 1980s vintage photograph of members of the KBCR radio staff are, from left, office manager Gina Andrews, on-air personality and sportscaster Tom Whiddon, on-air personality Brian Harvey, newsman John Larson, who died Feb. 4 in Oregon, and on-air personality Laura Nelson.

— When I learned this month of the death of longtime KBCR radio newsman John Larson, the news took me back to a different era in radio in the Yampa Valley when on-air personalities had more latitude to improvise.

John Peter Larson, 68, died of natural causes Feb. 4, 2017, at his home in Portland, Oregon.

Larson, who majored in English and education at the University of Nebraska, was devoted to toting a broadcast-quality microphone plugged into a little cassette deck to community events and government meetings to gather the news. He would often stay up late to cover a contentious city council hearing and rise early to deliver his morning newscast.

But he was also a genuine character, portraying his alter-ego, "The Cowboy," in live broadcasts that often took unexpected turns.

"He was definitely a journalist," former longtime KBCR "morning man" Tom Whiddon said.

Whidden recalled one of the biggest breaking news stories Larson ever covered was the crash of a Rocky Mountain Airways commercial aircraft on Buffalo Pass in December 1978.

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"He would broadcast election coverage live from the courthouse," Whiddon said, by using the output jack on his cassette recorder to plug into any phone in the courthouse he could gain access to.

And he also reported breaking state and national news to the Yampa Valley, relying on a noisy Associated Press teletype machine that was kept in a closet on the second story of the old Good News Building at the corner of Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs.

Whiddon, who broadcast many high school sporting events over his career at KBCR, had a regular gig behind the microphone from 6 to 10 or 11 a.m. Larson and Mike Smith used to help him liven up his shift by pre-recording humorous skits.

"They called them cowboy cookouts," Whiddon said. "They had outlandish recipes for people to cook — fictitious cowboy delicacies like Bat Monte Cristo."

Later, Whiddon developed an impersonation of Denver television weather-caster Sam Allred, and he and "The Cowboy" regularly bantered about changes in the weather and the state of Steamboat Springs.

"John had a really dry sense of humor, and we were political opposites,” Whiddon said. “I was a little more conservative, and he was a liberal. But we could always find something funny or odd and (take it) right down the middle."

One summer, local iconoclast Alan Barbee sponsored a fundraiser to raise money for a good cause, based upon how long he could sit outside the Good News Building in a bathtub filled with pudding. Larson would broadcast frequent updates by lowering a microphone from the second story radio studio to the sidewalk, where Barbee, in his cowboy hat, was submerged to his waist in vanilla pudding, or was it banana flavored?

One of Whiddon's regular chores at KBCR was to read the school lunch menu, so he and Larson decided to have fun with it.

Larson asked Whiddon questions like, "What part of the bird do chicken nuggets come from anyway?" And Larson always closed each reading of the menu by urging the school children to wash their meal down "with a nice, tall, cold, frothy glass of effervescent milk."

Larson is survived by his son Lars Larson, of Corvallis, Oregon, and sisters Linda Lea Larson of Flower Mound, Texas, and Debora Larson of Ivins, Utah. The family plans to have a memorial service in the Steamboat area in June.

"He always said to just prop him up against an old tree with a bottle of good Scotch and let the coyotes have their way, but legally speaking, we may have to find a more subtle way to honor his remains," Lars Larson wrote in a Facebook post announcing his father's death. "I’d love to get everyone together in the aspen trees on a fine summer day to celebrate his life."

Here's hoping the milk in radio heaven is as frothy as it was in John Larson's lively imagination.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1