There are few workers who have witnessed their industry evolve like Dale Blankenship. The Meyer Communications Inc. veteran has spent the last 50 years with the TV and radio broadcaster and has no plans to slow down.
Blankenship, 86, has spent most of his career on the TV side of operations at Meyer Communications, starting in 1968 as an operator when the local KOZL Channel 27 had only been on the air for a couple of weeks.
He’s been with the company almost since the beginning. Owner Ken Meyer founded Meyer Communications Inc. in 1964 and currently owns six radio stations.
“He’s one of the truest gentlemen that I’ve ever worked with,” Meyer said of Blankenship.
“He deserves to be noticed. He’s always dependable – never have to worry about him keeping his schedule.”
The company honored Blankenship with an anniversary celebration after he hit the 50-year milestone on Oct. 18. He’s the longest-tenured employee at Meyer Communications.
Blankenship made the change to maintenance from operator, and when the company bought a station in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1974 Blankenship was the one to service the tower.
“I was getting close to 50 years old at the time,” he said.
He won’t forget that tower and transmitter. Built in a flood plain, the transmitter took on water three times, including waist-deep water one time.
“That thing was in a swamp down there with the biggest water moccasins you’ve ever seen,” Blankenship said.
“I don’t know why they ever let them build a tower there.”
Meyer Communications sold the Monroe channel in 1984, and the tower was moved.
Around the time of the Monroe sale, Blankenship considered leaving the industry, but Meyer convinced him to stay.
“He had about eight to 10 stations at the time,” Blankenship said, referring to previously owned stations across Missouri in Kansas City, Fulton and Kennett, as well as Amarillo, Texas, and Montgomery, Alabama.
The thought of losing Blankenship made Meyer feel ill.
“It gave me a bellyache,” he said, noting he promoted the maintenance worker to director of engineering.
Blankenship has worked on the tallest FM tower in the area, which reaches 14,300 feet, but he no longer scales structures.
When he was climbing towers, he often did it outside of normal business hours.
“If you’re working on broadcast transmitters, there’s a lot of after-midnight work,” he said.
If working after dark bothered Blankenship, he never let anyone know.
“He never complained about going out at midnight,” Meyer said.
Whenever there was an outage, no matter the time, Meyer knew who to turn to.
“Dale was always able to get us going,” he said.
A few standout qualities Meyer noted of Blankenship were his commitment to the job and his ability to train his staff to tackle any task thrown their way.
“He could train the people in his jurisdiction to get it done. That’s the thing I’ve always liked about him,” he said.
“I never saw him miss an assignment. He knew what needed to be done.”
Today, Blankenship has a three-day workweek directing the engineers.
“I do everything I can’t get someone else to do,” Blankenship said with a laugh.
He helps manage the board operators and DJs through scheduling, and said he does more overseeing than anything else.
Through his decades in the broadcast industry, the biggest change he’s noticed is the evolution of equipment.
“Back then, we still had a lot of tube-type equipment, then transistors. Now, the big change is computers,” Blankenship said. “Computers run the industry now.”
He has noticed a decline in knowledge of the workings of transmission tubes, which are still used today.
“Not many know how they work. The old technicians are retiring,” he said. “Probably about half a dozen people know what a tube is.”
Licensing rules have relaxed during Blankenship’s tenure.
Earlier in his career, stations were required to have a technician with a first-class license on-site until 1990, when a license was no longer required.
“Every company had to have one on-site at all times, and all jocks had to have a third-class license,” he said.
The relaxation of licensing had a negative impact on the industry, in his opinion.
“The quality of professional has deteriorated after that,” Blankenship said of DJs post-1990.
Through five decades of industry changes and different roles, Blankenship doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I’m 86 years old, and realistically, I’m going to be around much longer,” he said.
“I’m in good health, as far as I know. I’m not making any plans now. I enjoy what I’m doing.”
Meyer, 91, who was elected into the Missouri Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015, had the same sentiment for his own career and doesn’t have an end date in mind. However, he has also cut back on duties around the office.
“It gives us both something to do,” he said.
Edd Akers, Rick Huffman, Tracy Kimberlin and April McDonough participate in the discussion.
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