Harmon’s Histories: Libby radio station launched broadcaster on 50-year career
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
December 23, 1950 was a pivotal day in my life, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was only four years old.
A radio station, KLCB (the “LCB” part standing for Lincoln County Broadcasting), signed on the air for the first time in my hometown of Libby.
Voices and music were magically flying through the air from a building at the foot of the “south hill,” just up the street from where I lived on Main Street. How was such a thing possible?
Within a few years I was smitten. I began building crystal sets, then a PA system (audio amplifier) from pieces – parts for a middle school science project, and, of course, I had to have one of those new “transistor radios.”
Eventually, at age 12 or 13, I started hanging out at the radio station to be a “guest announcer” on “Teen Time,” the only half-hour show that played that gawd-awful rock and roll music that I suspect the owner of the station could hardly tolerate.
The rest of the broadcast day was a mix of big bands, symphonies, military marches and other (to a teenager) horrible stuff like transcription discs from Radio Nederland.
The original owner, operator and chief engineer of KLCB was Ollie Coburn, who was born in 1916.
According to his obituary (and something I never knew as a kid), he was raised in England by his parents Charles H. Coburn and Olive Blanche Golding.
He was a world traveler as a kid, “sent by Lord Baden-Powell, head of the English Boy Scouts, to deliver a letter to Boy Scouts of America.”
“Ollie had been part-adventurer and traveler all of his life. He left home at an early age to mostly fend for himself in America. He became very active in radio transmitting technical engineering and broadcasting.”
“Ollie had worked numerous sick radio stations to health. He was well-known for his expertise and worked in many states.”
“Radio was the love of his life, along with the Democratic Party.”
That last part – his association with the Democratic Party – was something I observed while working at KLCB.
He would regularly be meeting with, and interviewing, Mike Mansfield in Libby. I would see the two of them often but, as a teen, could not fully appreciate how unique that was.
Mansfield was one of the most powerful men in Washington. Yet he had this personal and political friendship with a guy from a little town in northwest Montana.
Ollie moved to Kalispell, and later to Whitefish, after he retired, I would bump into him every now and then when, as a TV reporter, I would be covering some high-profile Democratic politician in the region.
Oliver Golding Coburn passed away in 2010 at age 94.
Duane and Peggy Williams bought the radio station in 1977 and still operate it today.
They added an FM station, KTNY (101.7) in 1986. The two have become as well-known in Libby as Ollie Coburn was.
While Duane operates the radio stations, his wife is equally busy – as mayor of Libby.
Peggy Williams was elected to the Libby City Council in 2008, then council president in 2016, and finally elected mayor in 2021.
And there you have it – the prologue to my nearly 50 years in broadcasting (radio, then TV) taking me full circle from Montana to California to Japan to New Mexico to Colorado to Nebraska and back to Montana. It all started in Libby.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at email@example.com. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.