Not long ago, two very well known broadcast engineers left us, both part of the U.S. radio technical community. Their lives were intertwined; and they died within days of each other.
Radio World gathered memories from friends and colleagues of Warren Shulz and Jeff Nordstrom.
“TOUGH, BUT FAIR”
Warren Shulz, chief engineer of WLS(AM/FM) and WFYR and WKFM(FM) in Chicago, passed away at the end of 2018 at age 72, following a long battle with prostate cancer. He was a 1964 graduate of the Chicago Vocational High School. Shulz later earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology from Purdue University. He retired in 2012 after 50 years as chief engineer of WKFM, WYFR and WLS(AM/FM).
Shulz was a lifetime member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Society of Broadcast Engineers, a member of the National Association for Radio and Telecommunications Engineers and the Audio Engineering Society. He was also a past board member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (radio division) and ham radio operator WA9GXZ. He enjoyed camping and riding his homemade electric bicycle.
Linda Baun, vice president of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, recalled Shulz as a regular at their annual Broadcasters Clinic.
“Warren would travel from his home to attend the clinic in his RV. I always received his posts after the conference, commenting on the caliber of the educational sessions — he was tough, but fair.”
Colleagues remembered Shulz acting as a mentor to those less experienced, always willing to share his time and expertise.
Art Reis of RadioArt Enterprises said, “Warren was a mentor to any who needed assistance. He famously helped out the CE at KFI Los Angeles, who was having problems with his Continental 317C, by sending him all his notes and documentation on the 317C he had here at WLS. The knowledge he got helped him greatly in solving his problems.
“Warren always had or took the time to help others, and he could go on for an hour or more on the phone helping out. I know because I was the beneficiary of quite a number of those phone calls. His knowledge was beyond that of almost anyone else I knew in the business back in the day. One of our compatriots in the business once told me, ‘If you’re going to get help from Warren over the phone, my advice is to pack a lunch.’ That was true, but we loved it. Sitting and learning at Warren’s proverbial feet was a true treat and a gift.”
Shulz was also known for the sound quality and competitiveness of his stations.
Bob Gorjance, a former Harris sales rep, recalls a story involving Shulz and Gary Shrader, then the CE of WCLR(FM).
“Gary bought a solid-state FM exciter and audio processor from me. Several days later, Warren calls and said he wanted to see me ASAP. When I stopped by his office, he asked me if I’d seen Gary lately. I nodded silently, yes. He then asked me if he had bought something from me. Again I silently nodded ‘yes.’ He said, ‘I want the same thing.’ I filled out the order form and silently pushed it over to him and he signed it.
“Warren had heard a big difference in the sound of WCLR, and wanted to stay competitive with Gary. A few days later, Gary called, asking if I had visited Warren.”
Jeff Nordstrom got to know a great number of engineers through his work as manager of the satellite equipment sales division of Harris/Allied. He suffered a heart attack last December at age 67, just a few days before Shulz passed away.
The two were close friends, first becoming acquainted through Nordstrom’s work for Harris/Allied.
Nordstrom started his radio career at Racine Park High School, and was an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie. He was a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers since 1973. He did a variety of jobs in radio, from disc jockey to chief engineer. Nordstrom worked at stations in Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. In 1983, he joined Allied/Harris Broadcast in Indiana. He started working for Clear Channel Colorado in 2000, and later Westwood One, from which he retired in 2018.
Like Shulz, he was a frequent attendee at the Broadcasters Clinic and made regular presentations.
Nordstrom also loved gardening and a bit of farming. He enjoyed the Denver Botanical Gardens and looking at antique radio equipment, and was an active member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter American Theatre Organ Society. He also enjoyed riding his motorcycle.
Industry veteran Chuck Kelly recalled that Nordstrom had a great sense of humor, which sometimes extended to practical jokes. “I was always in awe of the technical operations at the Chicago stations. I on the other hand was employed by a poor AM-FM combo where nothing worked right, including the directional AM antenna system. I constantly lived in fear of an FCC inspection.
“One morning, the receptionist buzzed my office, letting me know that the FCC was waiting to speak with me up front,” Kelly continued. “I briefly thought of running out the back door, but finally decided to head up to reception and face the music. I was surprised to see Jeff Nordstrom in his motorcycle jacket, laughing in the lobby, when I came out. I don’t think he ever knew how petrified I really was.”
In this industry, paths tend to cross many times, Kelly said.
“So it was with Warren and Jeff. They both continued to impress me not only with their technical knowledge and skill, but with uncommon humility and warmth in careers lasting nearly 40 years. Losing these two friends leaves a void not easily filled.”
Mark Burg, assistant engineer, recalls Nordstrom for his attention to detail.
“My very first contact with Jeff was a phone call I initiated to him following a highly detailed parameter chart I made up to track legal and out-of-parameter readings of a three-tower AM directional near Oshkosh that Jeff had been engineer-in-charge of in the 1970s and early ’80s. It was during that discussion that he informed me that I had made a mistake and had made the chart too broad in the parameters. He highly suggested that I needed to trash that chart and start over.
“Ever since that moment, I have every effort to double-check my math, the facts and spellings. Jeff’s point has always stuck in my mind: Double check what you’re doing, even if it looks correct and great on paper. It’s the ‘practice’ and the implementation of that information that really matters.”
WBA’s Baun reflected, “Success has many meanings. In my opinion, success is measured in your willingness to give of yourself. Growing, caring and sharing with others that need your time and expertise is never a waste. The rich careers of Jeff and Warren made a difference to many in this ever- evolving industry.”