Live, from Chico

Bill Wattenburg

photo by vic cantu

Bill Wattenburg is a scientist, inventor and businessman who for 25 years hosted a national radio talk show on Bay Area-based KGO Radio 810 AM, where he expounded on everything from how things work to present-day politics. The opinionated Renaissance man is a Chico native and Chico State alumnus who went on to earn a doctorate in electrical engineering and physics from UC Berkeley. Over the course of his career, Wattenburg worked in governmental research, working on such things as nuclear weapons and guidance systems for NASA programs. He also knows Clint Eastwood and appeared in some of his films. Now, at 76, Wattenburg has moved back to Chico, where he broadcasts his radio show, The Open Line to America, airing Sunday nights, 8-11 p.m., on Chico’s KPAY 1290 AM as well as dozens of other U.S. stations.

What brings you back to Chico?

I’ve always loved Chico and I’m raising two daughters, [ages] 8 and 11. Chico’s schools are better than the Bay Area’s. Plus, it’s one of my favorite areas to broadcast from, since I can meet listeners on the street every day walking downtown.

What do you like best about broadcasting?

The fact that I get to talk to millions of people and let callers take me on. Unlike other shows, I don’t dictate the topics, and that makes for exciting radio.

How did you end up in three Clint Eastwood movies?

I got to know Clint when he was a teenager fighting fires with me in Butte County. We later played celebrity tennis tournaments together. He invited me to be in those movies: The Dead Pool, Pink Cadillac and True Crime. The Dead Pool is a Dirty Harry movie where I play a talk show host who gets stalked and killed by the bad guy.

What are some of your other accomplishments?

I dug the lake in California Park. I started a 60 Minutes-style Bay Area TV show, People’s Five, in the ’70s. Among my many inventions is a helicopter-pulled mine sweeper used in the first Gulf War after Saddam Hussein said his mines would kill 50,000 U.S. troops.

Are you a conservative or liberal?

Neither. Conservatives think I’m a liberal because I don’t believe men should tell women how many kids they can have and I don’t think gays should be told whether they can marry. Liberals think I’m conservative because I believe the U.S. should pay its bills, I’ve worked on nuclear weapons, and I think we should run down terrorists before they run us down.