Former Great Empire Broadcasting Corporate Chief Engineer and “atomic veteran” Clifford Wayne Koch died at the age of 88 on May 8 in Wichita, Kan. Read his obituary here.
From 1967 to 1999 Koch served as corporate chief engineer for Great Empire Broadcasting in Wichita. Journal Broadcast Group acquired the stations for which he worked for 32 years, at which point Andy Laird took over Koch’s duties.
However, even after his retirement, he continued to work for Cowskin Broadcasting, reportedly even doing so within a week of his death.
According to his obituary, Koch began his radio career after being discharing from the Navy in 1947, at which point he attended a two-year technical school in Omaha, Neb., where he majored in radio and television. Upon graduation, he took a job as crew chief for Boeing. After several other positions, he was named chief engineer for radio station KWBB(AM) — now KGSO — in Wichita. He then took a job as world wide field service engineer for the Richardson, Texas-based Collins Radio Co., before heading back to Wichita to work for Great Empire Broadcasting.
Radio World learned of his passing from an email sent by Koch’s friend and colleague, Bryce LeGrand, Wichita director of engineering for The E.W. Scripps Company.
Cliff was pretty legendary around Wichita and Kansas, and was well-known amongst the other engineers who have been around a while. His whole life was pretty interesting, in that at age 15, he literally ran off and joined the circus. He enlisted in the Navy in 1945 and received training as an electrical engineer. He volunteered to participate in “Operation Crossroads,” the atomic bomb tests in the Marshall Islands after WWII. His assignment was to be in the area near Bikini Atoll for the Able and Baker tests, and then afterwards live on-board the heavily damaged U.S.S. Independence and take Geiger counter readings. Many of Cliff’s counterparts who participated in the operation died from cancer, had children with birth defects, or suffered from ill health. Ironically, Cliff smoked cigarettes the majority of his life, was exposed to who knows how much RF radiation, in addition to the gamma radiation of the tests, and lived to the age of 88 without really slowing down. He never seemed to have any long-term effects after being exposed to so much radioactivity.
During much of his life, Koch kept quiet about his work with Operation Crossroads. According to KAKE, the local ABC affiliate, this was at least in part due to a 50-year ban on talking about his work imposed by the government. The article noted that Koch wanted his story to be told after his death because of his concern that the world be free of the destruction caused by nuclear attacks.