Emily C. Roush
The Ashland Beacon
J.B. Miller has been a mainstay on the region’s airwaves for decades. The Boyd County resident’s storied radio career began when he was still a child growing up in Ironton. His older brother, Bob, worked as a DJ at a station in Huntington and was Miller’s entry point into radio. “He is 10 years older than me. I used to go to work with him when he was 18, and I was eight. I was always so fascinated by it,” recalled Miller.
He continued, “I was so fascinated by it that one year my father and brother built me a radio station in the basement.” Miller’s father wired a microphone to an antenna on the roof of the house so he could broadcast to their neighborhood. “Unless I had homework or was grounded, I would go into the basement every night for an hour and do a radio show when I was eight and nine years old,” explained Miller. He named his radio station after his initials, WJBM, and operated it until he was 15. At this point, Miller began his first professional radio job when his brother hired him to work part time on the weekends at his radio station in Huntington. Although this job meant the end of his neighborhood broadcasts, Miller kept the station his family built; it sits in his home office today.
At 18 years old, Miller began working at the radio station fulltime when his brother moved to Oregon. “I literally replaced my brother on what was then a big radio station in the local area called WGNT. I worked there through 1988, and then I got an offer to leave the area and go to Cincinnati [for what] I thought would be my dream job at WKRC.” This dream job was not without its challenges. Miller was hired to host a talk show, something he had never done before. Also, his new position put him working evenings for the first time. “I had gone from being a morning man for over 10 years on local radio to living in Cincinnati and going to work at 9 p.m. to host a talk show.” The show struggled to find its footing. “It was stressful. It was the same year the Cincinnati Reds went to the World Series. Everyone listened to the Reds every night instead of calling me,” laughed Miller.
Miller eventually struck success by creating a dating show titled Desperate and Dateless. “Basically, guys called one line and girls called the other line to be hooked up with dates. I was very successful with that. This was prior to the internet,” he quipped. Desperate and Dateless went on to become nationally known. Miller was even asked to appear on what was then the number one television talk show in the country, Donahue. He remembered, “It was kind of funny. They flew me [to New York City], picked me up in a limo, and took me to the Drake Hotel. There was a note in my room that said not to leave the room because there was a lot of riffraff and stuff on the streets of New York, and they didn’t want me to get injured. I laid on the bed and watched tv, and at 7 a.m. there was a limo to pick me up to take me to the tv studio. I did the Donahue show, and as soon as [host Phil] Donahue said ‘goodbye’, they put me back in that limo, took me straight to the airport, and I came home. It was pretty quick. Everyone asked ‘how was New York? I responded, ‘well I wasn’t there very long,’” Miller joked. Desperate and Dateless also led to Miller being featured in People. He along with 100 individuals who claimed to have gotten married because of the show gathered in a venue where the magazine photographed and interviewed them for a story.
Miller’s time in Cincinnati ended when the station made changes to programming during the Gulf War. He explained, “Dessert Storm hit, and I was replaced by a satellite and out of work. I picked up a job at WODJ which was the number one oldies station in America [located] in Grand Rapids, MI. I worked there for two years from ’90 to ’92 until I got a call to come back home. I came back here in 1993 and have been back here ever since.” Miller worked at WTCR for three years and was eventually transferred to WKEE which was owned by the same parent company. He hosted KEE’s morning show for ten years until 2006. Miller left to work at WMGA, another radio station in Huntington where he stayed for five years. The five years were not particularly easy. “It was a startup radio station, and the new owners who were out of towners. It didn’t do well, and they sold the station.”
For the first time in over 30 years, Miller was not working in radio. In his quest to figure out his next plan, he discovered an unexpected career path. “I decided after a few months of not doing radio after doing radio my entire life, that I wanted to try something different. That is when I landed at Habitat for Humanity of the Tri-State.” He saw a blind box ad for a job in the newspaper and decided to apply. According to Miller, “I didn’t even know who I was applying to. I was just searching things and seeing what might be out there and who might be interested in my services.” Miller was hired and took over operations of the organization’s ReStore, where donated items are resold to raise money to build Habitat houses. “In the time that I have been here, we have been really successful and growing,” said Miller.
In the decade since Miller began managing the ReStore, its Facebook page as grown from 80 followers to 50,000 and they are getting ready to open a second ReStore location in New Boston, OH. Helping develop the ReStore has been especially rewarding for Miller and he loves the excitement of finding interesting pieces to sell. He explained, “I like the obscure. I like the off the wall. I like the things that make people say, ‘oh my gosh’, the things that make you talk. Every day is Christmas because you never know what you are going to get.” In his time at ReStore Miller has sold unusual items such as decommissioned traffic lights, turf from the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards Football Stadium, and a backdrop from popular show My Brother, My Brother and Me that raised $7,000 for Habitat.
Six months into his work at the ReStore, Miller received a surprising offer from Kindred Communications to be the morning DJ for Big Buck Country. Although he wanted to return to his first passion in radio, he had already grown to love the ReStore. “Kindred called and said, ‘would you like to come back to radio?’ I [responded] ‘I really enjoy working for Habitat. Is there some way I could do both?’ They made that happen, so I get the best of both worlds. I must say that of all the places I have worked, Kindred Communications has been a phenomenal partner for me. I am still enjoying my job at Habitat, and I am also still able to enjoy my radio career and do both jobs every day.” Miller has been at ReStore and Big Buck Country since 2011.
A radio career as prolific as Miller’s is filled with highlights. One of Miller’s favorites is leading a caravan, nicknamed the Red Lobster Express, in 1984 to help bring Red Lobster to Huntington. “Red Lobster wanted to build here, and the city just would not let them purchase the lot. We encouraged listeners to travel with us to Lexington, KY to eat at Red Lobster to show support.” Miller obtained four buses to transport supporters. Those quickly filled, so people offered to drive their own cars. “I did a three-mile caravan down I64 to eat at Red Lobster. A police escort took us all the way down the highway and blocked all the exits. We rolled into town, and it was quite a national event,” Miller joked noting that the Red Lobster Express was even featured on CBS This Morning. Not long after the caravan, Miller was present when the ground was broken for Red Lobster’s current Huntington location. He and the other caravan members were also treated to a special dinner the night before the restaurant opened to the public. On the 10th anniversary of the Red Lobster Express, Miller organized another caravan to help bring Cracker Barrel to Barboursville. “To this day, people remember and talk about that. They ask me all the time what the next restaurant is I’m bringing. Cracker Barrel and Red Lobster are my claim to fame,” he joked.
Miller’s nearly 50-year radio career has earned him numerous accolades such as being inducted into the West Virginia Broadcasters Hall of Fame and placed on the Huntington Wall of Fame. It has also provided a lifetime of amazing experiences. He reminisced, “radio is just so much fun. I have gotten to work with a lot of wonderful people who have just taught me a lot. It’s just been a really great ride. I have put in a lot of great years and have a lot of great memories.” Miller’s love of radio stemmed from his childhood admiration for his older brother. In retrospect, it seems that he was destined for this career path. “I was always doing what I loved. I don’t know that anyone could have pried me away from that.” Miller’s brother, Bob, built his own radio career in Portland, OR where he retired after becoming a household name in the region. While pondering Bob’s retirement, Miller considered his own but asserts he is not yet ready to give up either of his careers. “I have been on the radio since I was 15 years old, and I am 61 now. How many people get to wake up every day and do two jobs that they love?”