When you meet John McMullen, one thing becomes immediately clear: He likes to talk. Considering McMullen has spent his life in radio and alternative media, it’s clear he recognized his direction very early.
McMullen, 55, and a Palm Springs resident since 2007, began his obsession with media arts in elementary school.
“I had always been fascinated by the people’s voices coming out of the box on the dashboard,” he recalls. “My uncle was a well-known radio personality (in the Seattle area), and I remember sitting in his lap while he was on the radio. I told my uncle, ‘I’m going to go into TV—you can get awards!’ He said, ‘Why not radio? There are awards there, too.’ He relished having me want to follow in his footsteps. My cousins and I spent summer vacations from age 12 working at my uncle’s radio station.
“I remember in the fourth-grade, my best friend and I terrorized the principal when we discovered they had video equipment. We insisted they let us make game shows. By the seventh-grade, a guy I’m forever grateful to—Dick Dunbar, who taught English, media arts and journalism—let us begin producing a TV show. KING-TV was the station in town, and we got to see behind the scenes. We did our own version of a show, and they came out and did a story on us.
“When I was a sophomore in high school, my uncle’s radio station affiliated with Mutual Radio Network. I wanted to build a high school radio station. I picked up the phone and called the affiliate-relations department at Mutual and asked, ‘If we build a station, can I get programming from you?’ They ended up donating studio gear to the project. I even got to be a guest on Larry King when I was 16!”
McMullen and his younger brother, Matthew, were raised in Seattle. His mom was a housewife and then became a human-resources manager.
“She taught me that we need to be kind to others, sensitive to people less fortunate, and respectful of others’ feelings. She was also a big influence in my being a Democrat,” McMullen says.
Along with McMullen’s grandfather, his father ran a hide-curing business.
“Dad was a life-long Republican, never intolerant but more about how government shouldn’t dictate what happens,” he says. “I watched his metamorphosis into voting for Obama, which blew my mind. It was such a positive thing for me to see him change about public policy out of sheer common sense. His main influence on me was about work ethic and the importance of family. He taught me to never judge a book by its cover.”
During his junior year, a teacher put a halt to the broadcasting.
“He said they were going to bill our parents for the equipment use, or I would be suspended,” McMullen says. “After spending Christmas with my grandparents, who were then in Tucson, they said I could come and live with them the rest of my junior year. I walked into the principal’s office and said, ‘I’m not going to pay, and you’re not going to suspend me.’ They gave me my transcript; I flew to Tucson; and I started school there in the media-arts program. I was in heaven.”
McMullen’s career began to take off while he was a senior in high school.
“A guy from the Seattle radio station was then running KMPC in Los Angeles,” he says. “He asked me to return to Seattle. He had a Christian station they wanted to turn into a Top 40 station, and he wanted me to come back and help him build it. I got to be operations manager for what became KUBE-FM. One of the best things I learned there was that when you think you know the answer to a question, ask it anyway.”
A turning point came when McMullen heard that a man on another station had committed suicide. “He had left a note mentioning that he was an old man in a young man’s game. It made me stop and think: ‘What would I do if I didn’t do radio?’
“I took a vocational test that showed I had an aptitude for desktop publishing, so I got a temp position doing user testing. When the company merged with Adobe, I got the chance to go to Europe for a couple months.
“That led to Reel Networks, which ultimately came out with audio/video streaming software where I got to create a project doing LGBT programming. A friend had just launched Planet Out, and I started doing five-minute drop-ins and a two-hour talk show, Hangin’ Out. Next, I started my own company and built an audience of over 2 million with all-talk for LGBT audiences. That’s when I fully realized the power of digital media.”
McMullen’s radio and media experience includes stints in Honolulu, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, San Diego and New York City, where in 2002, he became director of news/talk entertainment programming at what would later become SiriusXM Radio. In 2005, McMullen moved to Los Angeles, still working for Sirius, and in 2007 accepted the position of director of news, talk and sports programming with KNews Radio, then owned by Morris Media, in Palm Springs.
“At KNews, I was committed to building as much local content as possible,” he says. “Local advertisers want to reach a local audience. When I started, KNews had only three hours a day that was local; when I left five years later, we had seven to nine hours seven days a week.”
McMullen has now started iHubRadio, a streaming radio network with locally generated programming, in conjunction with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), which helps entrepreneurs provide local jobs through their Palm Springs iHub “incubator” for startup operations. (Full disclosure: McMullen hired me to work at KNews in 2007, and I am now on iHubRadio.)
After spine-fusion surgery in 2014, McMullen had another health setback earlier this year: a mild stroke.
“I opened my mouth to speak and only heard gobbledygook,” he says.
Now fully back on the job, McMullen is building iHubRadio into what he hopes will grow and expand into other markets.
“My focus now that we’re up and running is less on the product itself and more on where it goes next. CVEP’s mentorship has shown me how much personal and professional growth I still need to do, like learn to delegate,” McMullen, says with a laugh, “but I could do this the rest of my life and be happy.”
As long as he can talk.
A PERSONAL NOTE: In my article about Jeanie Ribeiro, I accidentally transposed her age: She’s a vibrant 67 years old, not 76. My apologies.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.