Bill Wattenburg

Willard Harvey Wattenburg (born February 9, 1936), better known as Dr. Bill Wattenburg or Dr. Bill, is an inventor, engineer, author, and radio talk show host residing in the Sierra Nevada region of California. Advertisements for his show often referred to him as "The Smartest Man in the World." [1]

Early life

Born in Chico, California, and raised in the forests of Plumas County, Wattenburg grew up working with his father in the logging business. His scientific talent was discovered by a teacher, who encouraged him to apply to several schools, including the University of California, Berkeley where he completed his first year with honors. After his freshman year, Wattenburg moved back to assist his father in his business, and graduated from California State University, Chico, summa cum laude in physics and electrical engineering. He then returned to Berkeley for his doctorate in electrical engineering, completing it in three years, and worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and as a professor at Berkeley until 1970.[2] After that, he was a consultant to various engineering and defense-oriented businesses. He remains a consultant to the Livermore Laboratory.[2]


As an engineer, Wattenburg discovered many of the original problems with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, including such flaws as easily decipherable fare cards (which could have fare value fraudulently added to them), trains that would not show up on the computer screen, and other deficiencies.[3] He has published numerous articles in scientific journals and continues to do research as an adjunct professor at California State University, Chico.


As an inventor, Wattenburg has eight patents to his credit, one being the first home alarm system using electrical wiring for its communication medium. Many of his ideas, such as using flatbed rail cars as temporary bridges,[4] unenergized electric water heaters for storage of emergency potable water,[5] and converting plow blades into minesweepers are deceptively simple, variants of prior art[6] or folk technology.

Mountaintop removal mine

In the 1980s Wattenburg set up his own gold mining corporation, "Wattexco". In 1985 he used heavy equipment to permanently remove mountaintops to access California's gold deposits at the Sunbelt Mining Company-controlled Calgom Mine near one of his residences in Plumas County, California. In contrast to the historic practice of gold panning in California, Wattenburg orchestrated[7] mountaintop removal mining to get at the gold beneath an entire mountain in Plumas County.

In a 1992 interview with a private investigator that a television network hired in the course of a due diligence investigation, Wattenburg admitted utilizing such mining practices. The investigator reported:

"The first task was to cut 2,000,000 tons of 'overburden' dirt and rock off the top of the mountain and move it a half mile away, where it was dumped into a deep canyon. Overburden is the dirt and rock on top of the ore body beneath it. The gold ore body was at a depth of two hundred feet below the surface ... Here is how one seasoned operator described it: '... he put maybe five or six of us on bulldozers to start pushing dirt on the mountaintop into this trench, up at the top of the trench. Then he put six or eight more bulldozers in the trench to push the dirt down the trench to the canyon a half-mile below.' "[8]

Radio talk show host

From 1972 to December 2, 2011, Wattenburg was the host of The Open Line to the West Coast, a talk show heard late Saturday and Sunday evenings 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. PT from San Francisco on KGO, AM 810 kHz.[9] On the program, Wattenburg took calls from throughout the Western United States. Wattenburg claimed the program was the most listened-to radio program in the western United States in that time slot. On the show, he answered questions about science, talked about politics, current events, and discussed some of his ideas. Some of his recurring topics were whether premium gasoline is worthwhile, nuclear power, and criticism of the environmental movement. He is well known for his distinctive, low voice and especially enjoys taking calls from children who ask him basic scientific questions of the Why is the sky blue? variety. Wattenburg was let go from KGO, along with most of the station's other talk hosts on December 2, 2011 as the station, owned by Cumulus Media decided to ditch the long-time and listener-appreciated talk radio format and switch to a mostly news format competing with #1 KCBS.[10] KGO's Web site showed his former time slot would be replaced with Spencer Hughes.[11]

In late 2011, Wattenburg began broadcasting on KSCO-AM, 1080, Santa Cruz, California. This was a few days after parting ways with KGO-AM. This continued until January 22, 2012 when he joined the Talk Radio Network [12]

In 2012, Bill Wattenburg signed with Talk Radio Network and his show is available to radio stations nationwide in syndication.[13] His new program is called The Open Line to America. Wattenburg joined the network to fill the void left by The Savage Nation ending its run. [14] The program aired Sunday nights from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Pacific Time. Since April 2015, Bill's son Eric, a medical doctor, hosts the program Your Care America in the same time slot, with the elder Wattenburg rarely making an appearance.[15][16]

Political views

"Dr. Bill" is known to have impatience for ideas he believes contradict scientific fact. For example, he has long railed against the use of MTBE, a chemical industry waste product added to gasoline with the purported aim of minimizing pollutants from automobiles. Additionally, he frequently discusses his support for American-made automobiles, arguing that the performance of such cars rivals that of equivalent foreign cars. He has criticized Consumers Union for alleged bias. As well, Wattenburg is known for his impatience with callers who insist on arguing a point without sufficient facts. He is generally considered a conservative, however, he adheres to some traditionally liberal positions on a handful of social issues, such as abortion. He is a strong supporter of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former president George W. Bush.

Wattenburg expresses strong support for nuclear power and disdain for the Sierra Club and the environmental movement, supporters of which he calls eco-freaks, eco-frauds or eco-nuts.

Firearms confiscation

Wattenburg has openly suggested having standing armies on American streets and within American homes for law enforcement purposes, once remarking to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, in regard to high urban violence in Oakland, California, "Our troops are going house to house removing weapons in Bosnia. Why not use them to do that in West Oakland or South Central Los Angeles?"[17]


As an author, Wattenburg has written two books for the general public: one book, Best Jokes From Talk Radio, is a compilation of risque jokes heard on talk radio; his second book, How to Find and Fascinate a Mistress, is a fictionalized version of Wattenburg's exploits with young women in the 1970s. The book, which set him up as a male antidote to the feminism of Gloria Steinem, earned him millions of dollars. It was published under the pseudonym Will Harvey; the book has long been out of print.

Marriage and family

Wattenburg is married to his third wife, Carol Wattenburg, 28 years his junior. They have two daughters; Wattenburg also has three children from a previous marriage.

Appearance in films

Wattenburg has made brief appearances in three Clint Eastwood films: The Dead Pool (Nolan Kennard), Pink Cadillac (pit boss), and True Crime (radio reporter).


  1. "KGO Audio and Podcasts". Archived from the original on 2011-11-23. Retrieved 2010-02-07.
  2. 1 2 "KGO 810 AM Biography". Archived from the original on 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
  3. "Bill Wattenburg's Background: BART — Bay Area Rapid Transit System".
  7. M.A. Palmer et al. Mountaintop Mining Consequences, Science, 8 January 2010, Vol. 327, p. 148.
  8. "Bill Wattenburg's Background: The Gold Mine".
  9. "KGO's Program Schedule". Archived from the original on 2011-11-06. Retrieved 2011-12-10.
  10. Matier, Phillip; Ross, Andrew (2 December 2011). "KGO radio going to news format — veterans leaving". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-11-26. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  13. "Dr. Bill Wattenburg Joins TRN Entertainment Bringing a Wealth of Practical Science to Radio". 2012-01-12.
  17. Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer (7 October 2002). "Chronicle Profile: Bill Wattenburg, Radio host keeps creative lines open; Inventor, best-selling author creates simple solutions to complex problems". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 6 June 2009.

External links

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