Salida lost a much respected and well loved pillar of the community Tuesday, July 21, with the death of Bill Murphy, 95.
Born March 1, 1925 to Daniel and Marie (Lexa) Murphy in Omaha, Nebraska, he was just 17 when he joined the U.S. Navy during World War II in 1943, leaving his senior year of high school in Griffith, Indiana, a small railroad town about 20 miles southeast of Chicago.
He served two of his three years in the Navy aboard the USS Intrepid which was the “most hit carrier” according to a Chicago Tribune article published after the war. He remembered that in the Pacific Ocean in February of 1944 the sailors participated in a particularly sad burial at sea after they lost 32 men in a kamikaze attack.
In addition to his duties as crew, he was assigned to the ship’s band to provide entertainment on board and played at officers’ clubs when the ship was docked. He had helped entertain at boot camp and also played with the San Diego concert and swing bands.
The USS Intrepid is now a major sea, air and space museum in New York City. In 2013, Murphy and his wife attended the 70th anniversary of the ship’s commissioning. He was honored as one of the original crew and recorded an oral history.
He completed two years at Northwestern University before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley, having enjoyed the bay area during his Navy years. He earned a degree in speech in 1950.
Music was a lifelong passion for Murphy. Growing up in a musical family and blessed with perfect pitch, he formed his own dance band in high school. He joined the musicians union and played professionally on and off with various swing bands until 1959 in both the Midwest and California.
When the big band era began to phase out he worked briefly for Travelers Insurance until 1953 before pursuing his interest in radio. After working at a couple of Chicago area stations he purchased KVRH-AM in 1959 and moved to Salida.
Dr. Bill Mehos, a close family friend who met Murphy in the early 60s observed, “He bought a run down radio station and made it Salida’s pride with its news, sports and human interest stories and total commitment to Salida.”
Merle Baranczyk, owner of Arkansas Valley Publishing Company, began working at The Mountain Mail in 1974 and bought the newspaper in 1978.
“When my wife, Mary, and I moved to town there was no question at that time that the radio station was the dominant news source,” Baranczyk said. “Bill put great emphasis on the news. He had a news team that covered the community, including government entities, sports and events, large and small.
“Most stations send reporters to the big events like fires but few put money into covering the small things like Easter egg hunts that make up small town news. Bill did that. What impressed me was he truly valued the news.
“He was a really decent person – a class act in every way. He didn’t back down on hard to cover, controversial issues. He covered them straight up and accurately. I always admired that.”
Bill’s brother-in-law, Jim Morgan, reminisced, “whenever I visited Salida, the radio was on. It was clear that Bill was more than a mellow-voiced personality. He was a journalist with an underlying concern for the well-being of the community.”
Bill and Vicki McCormick expressed what many Salidans remember – “to those of us who grew up in Salida in the 1960s, Bill Murphy was the background music of our lives. His was the voice we heard broadcasting during emergencies as well as in celebratory times and simply the daily news.
“The music he broadcast announcing The Chaffee County Open and The Welcome Traveler program on KVRH evoked feelings of the continuity of life in Salida. These were threads that tied us together while marking the passage of the year. Any Salida native will smile fondly and have a KVRH story about Bill Murphy.”
In addition to increasing coverage of the AM station in the 60s, Murphy became one of the first FM licensees in Colorado in the 1970s, branding them as “All Heart Radio.”
In the late 1990s he also collaborated with Rocky Mountain Media, Ltd., owned by his daughter, Riley, to sell advertising for KBVC-FM “Big Dog Country.” Riley describes her Dad as “embodying the heart and soul of the community.”
When Murphy retired from KVRH in 2000 at age 75, selling to the Rolland Johnson family of Monument, he called it a “bittersweet experience.” Managing the radio stations was not only his job but an avocation which engaged his talents and interests.
“It’s been so much fun for so many years, it’s hard to let go, but change is inevitable,” he acknowledged with characteristic grace and wisdom.
Another passion of Murphy’s was the Denver Broncos, whether Super Bowl Champs or the team from the 60s. A season ticket holder since then, he loved to attend and of course carried the coverage on KVRH. As for college football, in addition to the Colorado teams, he rooted for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame or the Golden Bears of UC Burkley. He always appreciated a gift with a logo from any of his favorite teams.
He was an avid golfer, playing rounds with family and friends and spectating at major pro tournaments on courses around the country.
Dr. Bill Mehos recalls, “Bill wouldn’t get upset even if he would miss a 10-cent putt. He knew he’d win that 10 cents on the next hole” and Dr. Tom Sandell fondly remembers the many shared golf road trips.
Murphy followed his son, Morgan, in his Salida High and CSU matches. He was one of the founders of “Early Birdie,” a popular annual tournament in Salida for years, sponsored by KVRH. If not playing he relaxed by watching golf on television most weekends.
In 20 years of retirement, he continued to be active in the community. Over decades in Salida he served as FIBArk Commodore, was a Salida city councilman from 1964 through 1967, served on boards of Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce, Salida Golf Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the parish council of St. Joseph Church. He was also a member of Salida Elks Lodge, March of Dimes and other organizations. The Salida Rotary Club paid tribute to his many years of service:
“Bill Murphy was an active member for more than 50 years. He led the singing at the Rotary meetings, starting each song with his pitch pipe to keep us in tune. He was willing and able to help at all the Rotary events from pitching tents to serving refreshments. His unending services to the club and positive attitude will be missed.”
During his years in Salida, Murphy continued with his musical pursuits, playing in the Alpine Orchestra, Colorado Mountain College Jazz Project and other musical groups.
Dan Windolph said, “I met Bill when I joined the Alpine Orchestra shortly after moving to the area. Both clarinet players, we immediately hit it off and remained close friends ever since. Music was our common bond. I will miss him both musically and personally.”
Pat Windolph, former managing editor of The Mountain Mail, said, “Bill wanted to be sure we gave the orchestra positive coverage and we were happy to comply. He will be missed by many.”
Murphy was also known for his humor. He joked about “robbing the cradle” in 1954 when he married Mary Ellen Morgan, a neighbor girl in Indiana. They became the parents of five children.
He is survived by Mary Ellen his wife of 66 years, four daughters, Riley Murphy, Molly (Denny) Stewart, Kelly (John) Mulvihill and Kathy (Todd) DeShon and son Morgan (Kasie) Murphy. 11 grandchildren, brother-in-law, Jim Morgan, sister-in-law, Shirley Morgan and two nieces.
Due to pandemic restrictions services will be limited to family. The family is planning a celebration of life for 2021 for members of the community to honor Bill’s memory. Donations in his memory may also be made to any of the following music organizations:
Alpine Orchestra alpineorchestra.org/donate.html.
Salida Aspen Concerts salidaaspenconcerts.org/#Sponsors.
CMC Jazz Project at coloradomtn.edu/foundation. Make a note “for the Bill Murphy memorial for CMC Jazz Project.”
Arrangements are with Lewis & Glenn Funeral Home. Online tributes may be offered at lewisandglenn.com.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of William J. Murphy, please visit our floral store.