Vern A. Milton
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Turning his passion into a profession, Vern A. Milton rose from teenage ham operator to a San Diego commercial radio pioneer.

Shortly after installing some of the first radar units on World War II warships, he designed and built radio station KUSN, which in 1950 became KSDO.

Mr. Milton, who retired in 1977 as a vice president of the Charter Broadcasting chain, died June 8 at Scripps Memorial Hospital-La Jolla. He was 92.

The cause of death was complications from pneumonia and an infection, his family said.

" He had a very scientific mind, and he loved solving problems, " said son-in-law Steve Casey. " Besides his family, his life revolved around radio. "

In 1935, seven years after earning his ham radio license, Mr. Milton began his career in commercial radio. Hired by KGB in San Diego, he engineered local and network broadcasts.

At the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park, Mr. Milton helped transmit remote broadcasts of big-band performances for network audiences.

In " Imperial Intrigue, " a weekly KGB drama, Mr. Milton created imaginative sound effects to enhance the listeners ' experience.

" We built a small door and frame to use for all kinds of door effects, " he told The San Diego Union in 1977. " Turning a cylinder of wooden slats against strips of canvas produced great wind sounds; manipulating a sheet of metal made wonderful thunder; and we strung dowels in a frame (to create) the sound of marching men. "

Mr. Milton left KGB during World War II to work as a civilian engineer assigned to the Navy. Employed by Raytheon Corp., he installed radar units on ships in the South Pacific.

Returning to San Diego after the war, Mr. Milton was hired to design and build radio station KUSN. He remained with the station after it changed ownership and became KSDO.

During the 1950s, he added an on-air role to his engineering duties by broadcasting fishing reports, said daughter Adrienne Casey.

After nearly a decade at KSDO, Mr. Milton moved to Cincinnati as chief engineer for WSAI radio.

He joined the Bartell radio chain in 1969, serving as an engineer at KCBQ in San Diego. He rose to assistant director of engineering for all Bartell stations, then joined Charter Broadcasting. With Charter, he became head of technical operations for stations in San Diego, Miami and Detroit, Adrienne Casey said.

After his retirement, Mr. Milton was among San Diego radio pioneers honored in a KPBS-FM " Return to Radio " party staged by the San Diego Press Club.

Mr. Milton was born July 24, 1912, in Seattle and moved to San Diego with his family at age 12.

He became a ham radio enthusiast in his teens, earning his license in 1928. After graduating from Grossmont High School, he paid his way through a technical college in Corpus Christi, Texas, by unloading boxcars filled with cement.

As a longtime ham operator, he communicated over the years with famous people such as Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) and King Hussein of Jordan. " He was well-known in the amateur radio community by his call, W6EPW, " Steve Casey said.

Until shortly before his death, Mr. Milton occupied a home he and his wife, Ruth, purchased in 1949 in Ocean Beach. His wife died in 1992.

Survivors include his daughters, Adrienne Casey of Bandon, Ore., and Esther Karhu of South Carolina; son, Roy Milton of Bolivia; five grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow at Mission Valley Community Chapel, 6964 Mission Gorge Road, San Diego. Donations are suggested to New Tribes Mission, 1000 E. First St., Sanford, FL 32771.

Image: /images/utbullets/utbullet.gif Jack Williams: (619) 542-4587;

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Published in San Diego Union-Tribune on Jun. 15, 2005.