By Finn J.D. John • Offbeat Oregon • 

Gun-toting 'Oregon Wildcat' was America's first shock jock

Portland Morning Oregonian
This ad ran in the Oregonian on April 15, 1930, in an attempt to gather a group of merchants to legally oppose the fund-raising tactics of “Oregon Wildcat” Robert Duncan.
Portland Morning Oregonian
This ad ran in the Oregonian on April 15, 1930, in an attempt to gather a group of merchants to legally oppose the fund-raising tactics of “Oregon Wildcat” Robert Duncan.

The first radio broadcaster ever to be sent to prison for cursing on air was a hard-charging early shock jock known as “The Oregon Wildcat,” who kept the city of Portland and surrounding regions glued to their radios every evening for most of the first half of 1930.

Robert Gordon Duncan was his name, and he broadcast his scandalous but highly entertaining tirades every single day over Radio KVEP (K-Voice of East Portland), 1500 AM.

The radio station was originally started in 1927 by William Schaeffer, who ran it in the customary way for several years and achieved a modest popularity with listeners. It shared time on the 1500 AM frequency with several other stations, so it had designated hours during which it was supposed to be off the air so others could broadcast.

Then came 1929, and the onset of the Great Depression, and suddenly KVEP was losing money for Schaeffer. In desperation, he struck a deal to transfer control of the station (and later ownership) to The Wildcat: Robert Gordon Duncan.

Duncan was a populist firebrand with what passed, in the late 1920s, for a very dirty mouth. His primary focus was on “chain stores” — outfits like Woolworth’s and Sears that would open a store in a local community and, with the advantages of bulk-buying power and economics of scale, run the local “mom-and-pop” operations out of business. Duncan was running for the Republican nomination for Congress, and he had a little money at his disposal; it seemed like a match made in heaven.

It wasn’t. Schaeffer soon wished he’d never met Duncan. Once the contract was inked, Duncan pretty much took over, and rebuffed any attempt by Schaeffer to rein him in. And as 1929 blossomed into 1930, the Voice of East Portland started drawing community attention like a train wreck in progress. There were several factors that kept ‘em tuning in.

First, The Cat’s vision of how an advocate should behave frequently crossed the line into outright protection-racketeering. On the air, the Wildcat demanded contributions from local merchants to help him fight the chain stores, and if the checks they sent were too skimpy, he’d sometimes accuse them — over the air — of peddling bad merchandise or cheating their customers.

Secondly, after Duncan lost the Republican primary to incumbent Franklin Korell, his attacks on the Congressman became even more vitriolic, and he could be counted on to light into the politician in distinctly ungentlemanly terms at least once a day. Korell seemed baffled by this constant attention. “Who is paying Duncan to continue these attacks on me now that the primary campaign is over?” he wondered, during one of the many judicial hearings that followed.

Nobody, apparently. It seemed The Wildcat was just on a tear, and one of his favorite topics was a rather frank speculation about Korell’s sexual orientation.

“Korell is a bachelor, and when he was asked why he doesn’t marry he says, ‘I don’t care for women,’” he once thundered, according to the testimony of witnesses who heard the broadcast (tragically, there are no recordings; the technology wasn’t available in 1930). “What do you know about that? Isn’t that a strange statement for a natural man to make? … It must be explained thoroughly, and in ways that I can understand, to free the man who says it from the charges of practicing the vices that caused the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Then, perhaps thinking that was putting it too subtly, he went on to claim Korell had been “the roommate and bed-fellow” of a man named Clarence Brazell, and urged all “natural men” to honor the women in their lives by voting for Korell’s Democratic opponent in the fall.

A third attractant to The Wildcat’s broadcast was the entertainment value of good, imaginative swearing. By modern standards, this was fairly tame (“He’s a son of a mother who scratched her ear with her hind foot!” “You undiapered kid!” “He’s a convention grifter and a rum-soaked scamp!”), but it was peppered with “hells” and “damns” and occasionally lapsed into what many considered actual blasphemy.

“I can make a six-shooter sing ‘Come to Jesus,’” he roared into the mic one night just before the election he was about to lose, “and I’m going to shoot the next crook that comes into my office to bully me.”

But although Duncan’s daily broadcast was attracting eager listeners like a bare-knuckle boxing match, it was also making some big waves in the Portland business community. The chain stores, of course, loathed him with great cordiality, and the mom-and-pop operators understandably felt that a friend and advocate who regularly practiced extortion on them wasn’t much of a friend and advocate. That left, essentially, nobody in the Wildcat’s corner.

And KVEP was making even bigger waves in the broadcasting community, because the Wildcat had quit respecting the time division agreements with other stations and was now just broadcasting his rants for as long as he pleased; Radio KUJ Longview could just wait until he was done, thank you very much.

Letters and telegrams from all these aggrieved groups, plus some V.I.P.s whom the Wildcat had slandered on the air, started pouring into the Federal Radio Commission, which — clearly shocked by the volume and fervor of the correspondence — got going in record time.

At the resulting hearing, Portland judge J.C. Kendall was serving as counsel for a remarkably vast and diverse array of civic organizations and prominent individuals, including the American Legion, the Chamber of Commerce and a big bevy of church groups, all petitioning the FRC to shutdown KVEP.

“There is a mad dog loose in the City of Portland,” Kendall fulminated. “For two hours every night we have had a persistent series of talks so utterly indecent that they offend every human sensibility.”

He then went on to demand Schaeffer be sanctioned as well, because “for the past three months he has had his hand on the faucet of this filth without attempting to turn it off.”

The F.R.C. members were shocked by what they heard, and moved to slam the door on KVEP in record time. Then they initiated prosecution against Duncan himself, taking him into federal custody.

While Duncan was under arrest in the federal building, one young man, the son of deceased Oregonian editor Edgar Piper, tracked him down, burst in on him and socked the 60-year-old Wildcat in the teeth. It seemed Duncan had said some rather uncharitable things about the elder Piper on the air when the newspaperman’s corpse had barely cooled. A U.S. marshal tried to intervene, Piper punched him, and a general melee broke out, which ended with the 1930s equivalent of a blackstick beatdown for Mr. Piper, who was, of course, then arrested.

A sympathetic court subsequently fined the young lad the modest sum of $50 for this crime, to which he freely admitted; he had been, he said, overcome with fury at the criticism of his newly dead father, and determined to have his punch, come what might.

“This young man would rather be a toad, and feed upon the vapors of the dungeon, than allow such procedure to go unpunished,” his attorney explained to the apparent approval and sympathy of the entire court. “It is fortunate that he was unarmed, or were it not so this polecat would be lying today under six feet of earth.”

Duncan himself got no such sympathy on his day in court, and a short time later The Oregon Wildcat found himself convicted of indecent broadcasting and sentenced to a six-month term in the county jail.

Duncan later tried to launch a magazine, but it went nowhere. Eventually he gave up on public life, and in the early 1940s Malcolm Clark found him running a nine-hole golf course near Troutdale — “an inoffensive, frail, rather courtly gentleman who was old before his time,” the historian recalls.

Duncan died at the age of 73, in 1944. He had, as it were, clawed his way into the history-of-broadcasting textbooks with cutlass in one hand and pistol in the other, a 60-year-old political pirate from the crazy maverick state of Oregon. And whatever you might think of his sketchy practices as a broadcaster, you just have to respect that kind of chutzpah.

Finn J.D. John is the author of “Wicked Portland,” a book about the dark side of Oregon’s metropolis in the 1890s. To contact him or suggest a topic:, @OffbeatOregon (on Twitter) or 541-357-2222.



A Dirty Trick Against KPOJ That Shouldn't Go Unnoticed

When I was reading this column yesterday I ran into a very interesting thing. The story concerns an unethical radio personality and radio station in the 1930s. Accompanying the article is a picture of a poster from that time, denouncing what sounds like the Rush Limbaugh of his day (Robert G. Duncan) and the station he broadcast from, KVEP. Both Mr. Duncan and KVEP did a lot of very bad things including intimidation and threats of violence. It is a fairly long piece and throughout about the first half of it the station is correctly identified as KVEP, and those letters are prominent in the poster picture.

Then a strange thing happens. Suddenly "KVEP" is replaced with "KPOJ". This is obviously not a typo. Clearly this was no accident. It's doubtful that it was aimed at the current sports formatted KPOJ, as that makes no sense. I believe that the formerly progressive talk format KPOJ was to be the target of this insult. It is in this section that some of the strongest language against the 1930s station occurs, including "faucet of filth".

The only question is whether this insulting substitution of call letters was done deliberately by the author, Mr. John, or by someone at the News Register after he submitted it to them. I hope, and would guess, that it was not the author himself as I've always enjoyed his columns. If it was not his original text, then I think he would have issues with the News Register for altering his column in this under-handed way which compromises the its quality.

I have posted this information, including the offending portion (attributed), Facebook, both on my wall and on Friends of KPOJ.


Maybe you should do a little quiet checking before spreading unfounded accusations all over the Internet.
News copy is sacred to us. We would never make any unwarranted alterations, and most certainly not to play some sort of dirty trick. That is really a scurrilous allegation.
We published the column exactly as it came to us. As proof, I have forwarded you a copy of the original. If you want further proof, check other published examples, as I'm sure they will reflect the same error.
If we had noticed the transposition, which I am sure was inadvertent on the author's part, we would have notified the author and enabled him to make the appropriate correction for all of his subscribers. Alas, we did not.
Steve Bagwell
Managing Editor


Author Finn John offers apologies for the error, telling client editors:
I don't know if you caught this, but I used the wrong radio station call letters about half the time in the article I sent out last week about the adventures of Robert "The Oregon Wildcat" Duncan.
Shortly before I wrote that article, Portland's Radio KPOJ 620 had changed its format from political talk radio to sports, and there were some hard feelings about the whole thing. Thinking it might be a good story, I did a little research into KPOJ.
The POJ stands for Portland Oregon Journal, and I figured there probably was some good stuff there. Since the Morning Oregonian at one time owned KGW, and KGW was broadcasting on 620 when I was a boy, at some point they must have traded.
Anyway, I ended up writing about something else instead, but KPOJ was still on my mind when I started writing about KVEP (K-Voice of East Portland) and I'm afraid I mixed the two up some, referring to KVEP as KPOJ twice in that story.
Anyway, I'm sorry about that, and I especially apologize to those of you who heard from angry former KPOJ listeners about this. It's totally my bonehead mistake.

So much for the quick-trigger conspiracy theory. We have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in anything of the sort, nor does Finn.

Steve Bagwell
Managing Editor

Dances with Redwoods

I much enjoyed the article, good for some long hard laughs.

Thank you, laughter is always welcome in our home.


is this too long?


Part One:
Practicing "best defense is an offense" Mr. Bagwell? Attack the messenger when you don't like the message. I'm neither intimidated by your response nor impressed by the manner in which it was made. In fact, you're teetering on the edge of "he doth protest too much".

I did not "spread it all over the Internet", a deliberate exaggeration on your part. I put it on the News Register site, on Friends of KPOJ and my own Facebook pages, as I plainly stated. The offending article was public and I believe I have a right to respond to it publicly. You are lucky I don't do Twitter!

At no time did I suggest that the author, Mr. John, and the News Register had "conspired" together. You're either a sloppy reader, don't know the meaning of conspiracy or are a deliberate twister of words.


Part Two:
My suspicion that the substitutions might have been politically motivated was primarily due to their placement in the textual content. It is not long since KPOJ switched formats, suddenly and without warning, and in a most ugly manner, about 2 days after the presidential election. I was a loyal listener and supporter of KPOJ. I didn't openly state it but since I stated that I was posting at Friends of KPOJ that should have been obvious. The News Register has a consistently conservative bias so it would be natural to think that they might not have been fond of progressive talk KPOJ. It was obviously not a typo, given where the respective letters are located on a keyboard.

Your response to me illustrates so perfectly why so many of my friends won't subscribe to your paper due to a variety of issues. "News copy is sacred to us"...puleeze! It's assumed to be so perfect that proofreading isn't necessary?
I accept Mr. John's explanation in good faith and will continue to enjoy his articles. I will post your response to me, this reply to you, and the letter from Mr. John at the same places I posted before.


Summary: For those following the story of the substitution of KPOJ call letters in a historical article in which an earlier radio station (KVEP) was very negatively characterized. The article had been published in the Yamhill News Register in the regular "Offbeat Oregon" column written by Mr. Finn John. I had found the error suspicious, for reasons which I documented. Subsequently, Mr. John admitted that the error had been made by him rather than by the News Register. Mr. Steve Bagwell of the News Register responded to me both by emails and online posts. In the latter he got a little nasty which I didn't appreciate and responded to online. Since it was quite time-consuming to find and copy all of the correspondence I don't want to do it twice. I have posted everything, copies of emails and online postings, at the FRIENDS OF KPOJ Facebook site. Please go there if you care to follow this story. Posted on my Facebook site a few minutes ago.

Dances with Redwoods

"is this too long?" --mitebug

This quote in particular kinda jumped out at me as being funny--->"This young man would rather be a toad, and feed upon the vapors of a dungeon, than allow such a procedure to go unpunished."

I don't do Facebook, but even without having read those 'post's, I'm gonna guess yes?

Dances with Redwoods

....oOps....sorry about the above obvious typo, it's been that way (been happening) ever since we'd had our 'junior editor' buttons confiscated by Jeb.

Speaking of which, brings me to the topic of 'Editor's, Steve Bagwell in particular. Obviously we're all entitled to our own opinions, and my particular take on Steve over the years is that I'd always viewed him as a slightly left leaning Liberal, more so than a middle of the road kinda guy. And I've at times (on many occasions)openly accused him of being a 'progressive' thinker.

After reading your above extremely judgemental soliloqui... well ...I found it to be not only ironic, but quite laughable as well....

Dances with Redwoods

....and by the way, Chief, I'm still waiting on your hat size.

Jeb Bladine


As readers can note, the correction has been in this online article and in our permanent newspaper archive.

Steve Bagwell's reference to “conspiracy” reflects the fact that it would require involvement of multiple people for us to publish that kind of thing on purpose.

While I can appreciate your negative response to his direct language, it’s important to remember that your original post was very accusatory. You called it a "dirty trick," which is one of our best-known political insults. You stated outright, “Clearly this was no accident.” You said the only question was whether it was a deliberate act by Finn J.D. John or by the News-Register.

In our world, that’s a significant slur. We take the integrity of our news reporting very seriously, which does not, of course, mean that we don’t make mistakes. Sorry that a proof-reading oversight on our part escalated into such unpleasantness, but that often comes with the territory.

As for the claim that we have a “consistently conservative bias,” I don’t know exactly what that means. It’s so hard these days to know just what people consider “conservative” or “liberal.” In my experience, claims of “consistent bias” usually are based on a very small number of articles from the thousands that we publish each year. I always invite discussion of specifics related to such claims.

There has been only one incident of picketing and threatened boycott of our newspaper in the past 40 years of my memory here, sparked by accusations that we have a consistently liberal bias. As a newspaper, I suppose we shouldn’t mind claims that we are biased on both sides of our political reporting.

Jeb Bladine

troy prouty

Litebug. Maybe yu saw what you wanted even when it wasn't there. Ever think about challenging those thoughts? I doubt it was intended and I'm sure that maybe yu felt a dig from some sort of wound. But in reality what's the point if it was? I don't think KPOJ really cares at this point and in my opinion if someone doesn't share my views... that's okay, it's better for discussion than someone always in agreement with everything I say and do, plus I prefer each person be their "special self"

What I suggest is write some of those accusations out and on the other side challenge them. Let me help:

"Clearly this was no accident"


Maybe he had a memory lapse in the article.

("The POJ stands for Portland Oregon Journal, and I figured there probably was some good stuff there. Since the Morning Oregonian at one time owned KGW, and KGW was broadcasting on 620 when I was a boy, at some point they must have traded)

here some more "formerly progressive talk format KPOJ was to be the target of this insult" "The only question is whether this insulting substitution of call letters was done deliberately by the author, Mr. John, or by someone at the News Register "

Once you understand that emotions aren't always true and you challenge them it leads you to wise mind which can help in making better decisions.


troy prouty

opps "thought should have replace emotions" see.. typo.. thinking.. advanced just like the article.. wink..


If you challenge your thoughts you might change the emotion and lead to a different behavior. Not always easy..


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