Joseph Patterson “Patt” Wardlaw, Jr. – businessman, photographer, life-long fly-fisher, and radio pioneer who brought rock ‘n’ roll to Santa Barbara – died peacefully at his home on Friday, April 19, 2019. He was 88.
Patt was born at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. on August 14, 1930, the only child of Joseph Patterson (Pat) Wardlaw, Sr. and Gertrude Young (Gyp) Purdy. His father, a Lieutenant in the United States Army, served in France with General MacArthur during WWI and received a battlefield appointment to West Point Military Academy, class of 1921. After his discharge from the Army, Pat senior worked for 30 years as a Civil Engineer at Picatinny Arsenal in Wharton, New Jersey. Gyp, an accomplished pianist, gave music lessons and taught at a private elementary school in Philadelphia before her marriage.
Patt grew up in Wharton, N.J., attending local schools. He confessed he didn’t get good grades. “But I became an adult my senior year of high school when elected class president,” he recalled. “I stopped being the class cut-up and got serious about properly managing the business and esprit of the class. They voted me “Most Likely to Succeed” for the yearbook, which I helped edit. I shot, developed, and printed all the photos, too.”
Patt graduated from Wharton High in 1947 at the age of 16. His dream to follow his father to West Point vanished when he learned applicants needed to be at least 18. Not wanting to wait two years, Patt decided to apply to the New York School of Modern Photography. His parents did not approve. They insisted he attend, instead, the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where his grand-father had served as Dean of Education for 50 years. Patt chose journalism as his major, but didn’t last at the university more than one semester. Disgusted by the Southern bigotry he witnessed, combined with the weight of living under the shadow of his legendary granddad, Patt flung his textbooks off the Gervais Street Bridge into the Congaree River – intentionally flunking out of school. He would later joke: “I passed one class, French, because I was the only student who could speak the language without a Southern accent.”
After returning home to New Jersey, Patt worked a series of odd jobs, earning 25 cents an hour selling cigars and cigarettes at New Jersey Tobacco, and making photo frames for a picture frame business. Later, he was hired by the Lock Joint Pipe Company to build large concrete drainpipes. The work was dangerous and physically exhausting; the foreman didn’t expect skinny, 17-year-old Patt to last more than a day. But Patt stayed all summer, earning an extraordinary $1.85 an hour as ‘hazard pay’.
In 1949, Patt enrolled in the New York School of Modern Photography where he excelled at landscapes and black-and-white noir. After graduation, he applied for a job as a photojournalist with LIFE magazine. Acclaimed photographer Arnold Newman interviewed him. Newman was impressed with Patt’s work, but said: “You’ll travel all over the world, shooting diplomats and presidents and kings. For that, you need more education and sophistication. Go to college. Come back in four years, and I’ll give you a job.”
Patt took Newman’s advice and applied to Ohio University, the only college in the Midwest to offer a degree in photography. His application was denied: His abysmal grades in South Carolina had caught up with him. Patt wrote a letter of appeal to the Dean of Admissions, who responded: “Anyone who can write this well is not an ‘F’ student.” Patt was accepted on academic probation in February of 1950. He maintained a 3.00 GPA that first semester, and was allowed to stay. After realizing he knew more about photography than his professors, Patt switched his major to Business. He also signed on for four years of ROTC.
During his time at Ohio U., Patt dated Margaret (Marge) Laux, who would later become his first wife and mother of their three children. Marge was a member of Sigma Kappa sorority, so the idea of pledging to become a “Greek” appealed to Patt. Enduring Hell Week under a bunch of “kids”, however, did not. Patt was now closer in age to most juniors, so he and several WWII vets banded together to revive the long-dormant fraternity Gamma Gamma Gamma. By spring semester, the Tri-Gams placed first scholastically among seventeen fraternities and had leased (and would soon purchase and remodel) their own frat house. As two-term President, Patt was instrumental in securing a national charter for the fraternity as a chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
With Patt’s help, the Tri-Gams also built a radio station – WGAM – after discovering an unlicensed by technically legal way to transmit over campus power lines. The station could be heard throughout the school, and operated daily from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., competing against – and beating in ratings – the University station WOUI. “The experience taught me the power of radio,” Patt said. He gleaned even more knowledge and enthusiasm for broadcasting talking to Marge’s father who operated WSTV in Steubenville, OH. Eventually, Patt would begin a radio career that spanned three decades.
Patt graduated with a B.S. in Business Commerce in February 1954. It was a busy day for him: he was commissioned into the Air Force at 8:00 a.m., took part in commencement exercises at noon, and at 6:00 o’clock that evening he married Marge at his fraternity house. (They would divorce in 1970.)
Patt worked as a salesman for IBM that spring until he was called to active duty as a Second Lieutenant, stationed first in Denver, CO then at the Smoky Hill SAC base in Salina, KS. His civilian photography experience secured him the coveted position of Commander of the Photo Lab, a role usually held by a major. Patt and Marge’s first child, Lee Anna, was born in Salina in November 1955.
In 1956, after his promotion to Captain, Patt left the Air Force, and the Wardlaws moved to Erie, PA where Patt purchased his first radio station: WLEU. The station featured MOR (middle of the road) album music and evangelical programs. Ratings-wise, WLEU placed fifth in a market of four. Employee morale was low. “I remember the day I took over,” Patt said. “When I informed the receptionist I had just become the new station owner, her response was: ‘What are you going to do, turn it off?” Over the next three years, Patt implemented an innovative format: He changed the music to Adult Contemporary (a program he created and coined), hired upbeat personalities as DJs, and hyper-focused on local news, weather, and community involvement. Three years later, with WLEU #1 in the ratings, Patt sold the station for a profit. He then went in search of a better place to raise his growing family. (Son Scott Patterson was born in 1958.)
Patt traversed the country for weeks, visiting 204 stations. In the winter of 1960, he arrived in Santa Barbara at dusk, and turned up State Street, looking to find a motel. “The first thing I saw,” Patt said, “was ‘RADIO KIST’ in eight-foot letters of blazing neon across the top floor the Balboa Building. The red lights on the rooftop tower blinked on and off and I said to myself: I’ve got to have it!” The next day, Patt scheduled an appointment with the station’s broker, and returned to Santa Barbara in April as KIST’s new owner. Marge, Lee, and Scott (son John Joseph was born in Santa Barbara in 1963) joined him two months later.
At the time, KIST rated #6 out of 5 stations. Apathetic disk jockeys playing polka music one moment and a Broadway musical the next – “all the way through the album with dead air between the tracks!” Patt said – were only part of the problem. The station also lacked any semblance of community involvement and local news. Patt changed that. He introduced the city to his signature Adult Contemporary format, hired a new crew of dynamic “KIST Jockeys”, and committed to extensive local news coverage – which included a fleet of 13 mobile units reporting on traffic, crime, and natural disasters. By the end of Patt’s first year operating KIST, the station’s ratings had rocketed #1 – a position it would hold for quarter of a century.
KIST was also the first station on the south coast to play The Beatles.
Patt was making sales calls in L.A. the first time he heard The Fab Four’s single ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ “We’ll never play that on KIST,” he thought. “It’s too hard!” But driving up and down Wilshire Boulevard all morning long, Patt had to listen to the tune every 15 minutes. “It was playing on every station,” he said, “and each time I heard it, it sounded a little better and better – until I was hooked.” After lunch, Patt drove straight to Capitol Records in Hollywood and talked them out of a 45 of the song. Returning late to Santa Barbara, he stopped at the KIST studios before going home and told the evening DJ: “Get this on the air immediately.” It didn’t take long for the song to make the “KIST List” of Top 40 Hits.
Patt believed that a radio station should be “the private citizen’s command post.” During the next 25+ years, with him at the station’s helm, KIST would serve as exactly that. The station received numerous awards from the National Associated Press and other agencies/organizations for its coverage of local news, weather, and sports. The station also won 13 Golden Mikes for outstanding news reporting, including its extensive coverage of the Coyote, Romero, Sycamore, and Eagle Canyon fires. In 1972 California State Assemblyman W. Don MacGillvray passed a resolution commending KIST for its “active participation in civic affairs…and its accurate reporting of the news.” In 1978, Patt won a Golden Mike for a series of 18 editorials he wrote on Santa Barbara’s economy. Two other stations that Patt owned and operated – WIN-W in Canton, OH, and KMGQ in Goleta, CA – were also the recipients of many accolades.
Patt retired from radio in 1987, but not from business. That same year, he and his son, Scott, became partners, purchasing Specialty Tool and Bolt in Goleta. Patt would later say that one of his life’s proudest achievements was the two of them turning that company around with the assistance of son John, and later with Patt’s wife, Penny. (They were married in 1990.) Patt took on other business leadership roles, as well, such as helping to found the Santa Barbara Industrial Association (serving as Director, and later Chairman) and the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization (which named him Citizen of the Year in 1989). During his nearly 60 decades in Santa Barbara, Patt was also an active member of the California Broadcasters Association, the Santa Barbara Jaycees, Santa Barbara Rotary Club, Kiwanis International, the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, and Old Spanish Days.
Despite an intense work schedule, Patt always found time for photography (especially enjoying photo shoots of Penny when she rode in Arabian horse shows) and fly-fishing. He was considered a legend in the latter, holding world-records for catching Bonita, White Sea Bass, Tarpon, and 50-pound-plus Chinook Salmon. He’d fished in Alaska, Costa Rica, and Canada, but his favorite spots remained the Santa Barbara Channel aboard his boat The Purist, and the Smith River in northern California. He and Penny spent many happy days in their beach house in Crescent City, CA.
Patt’s heroes included his father (who, Patt said, “cut a dashing figure in his Sam Browne belt, riding boots, medals, and West Point saber); his Uncle Linc, another West Point grad and an amateur magician; General Douglas MacArthur; the poet Robert Service; novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand; economist Milton Friedman; Scottish economist/philosopher Adam Smith, and political writer Thomas Sowell. Patt also loved the music of Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton, and never missed a local concert featuring Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
With his daughter, Lee, Patt had planned to one day write a book titled Camelot: When Radio was King, which would focus on his memorable years at KIST. But, when recently asked how he wanted future generations of his family to best remember him, Patt replied: “That I tied effective flies, cast with grace, and landed more trophy fish on my Bogdan reels than any other angler. And that I loved my family.”
Patt is survived by his beloved wife of almost 30 years, Penelope (Penny) H. Wardlaw; his daughter, Lee Wardlaw Jaffurs, son-in-law Craig Jaffurs, and grandson Patterson Wardlaw Jaffurs, all of Santa Barbara; his son Scott Patterson Wardlaw, of Goleta, CA; and his son John Joseph Wardlaw and daughter-in-law Tricia Waddell Wardlaw of Bend, Oregon. Patt was preceded in death by his parents.
The Wardlaw family wishes to thank Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care, and doctors Jeffrey L. Kupperman and Jon R. Uyesaka, for their expert care and support. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Patt’s memory to: ResQCats – www.resqcats.org/; Animal Shelter Assistance Program -www.asapcats.org/; or the Young America’s Foundation – www.YAF.org
Grease your brogues with dreamland tallow,
Forth with me and fish like kings,
And by pot and swirling shallow,
Fill a creel with fingerlings!
Where our noses first got blistered,
Where our greenhearts first went ‘swish’,
Where our boyhood knuckles glistered,
With the scales of little fish.
– Muriel Foster
Tight lines, Patt!