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Legendary commentator dies at 75
by Andrew Barbano - For the Tribune
May 26, 2012 | 6190 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SILVER CITY — Services for legendary radio commentator Travus T. Hipp were held Saturday in Silver City. Hipp died early May 18 at his Silver City home. He was 75, as old as the Golden Gate Bridge in his beloved San Francisco.

Hipp was buried next to his lifelong companion, Lynne Hughes, a short walk away.

He was born Chandler Atchison Laughlin III to Chandler and Nan Curtis Laughlin on Feb. 20, 1937, in Berkeley, Calif. Hipp is survived by his son, Sean Curtis Laughlin of Silver City; a sister, Sue Fitzgerald and her daughter, Kelly, of San Diego, Calif., and his former wife Sandra Dean Bulkley, also of Silver City. He was preceded in death by his parents, Sean’s mother Dina Cantu, and Lynne Hughes.

Hipp graduated from Berkeley High School and Monterey Peninsula College and attended the University of California at Berkeley in the heyday of Mario Savio’s Free Speech Movement.

If ever anyone was worthy of the appellation “Renaissance Man,” it was the braided mountain man who viewed the world from atop the legendary Comstock Lode. He was an artist who used his voice to soar and slice, a tenor for the tenor of our times. In mourning, many of his listeners talk about the vocal spells he wove, how he soundly organized the noise of daily life into a music that entertained, engaged, enlightened, educated, enthralled and occasionally enflamed.

Hipp was a progenitor of the San Francisco sound which led to the 1967 Summer of Love. “He was Bill Graham before Bill Graham was Bill Graham” his son Sean Laughlin said. (Websearch “Red Dog Saloon” and see what you get. On June 21, 1965, the Red Dog in Virginia City.)

He became the incubator for future rock legends such as Big Brother and the Holding Company [before Janis Joplin], Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Stoneground, The Charlatans and Scott McKenzie. Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer was a regular.

Hipp was a legend in San Francisco and northern California radio — he was present at the creation of album rock on KSAN-fm under the legendary Tom Donahue.

Hipp was an investigative reporter: In 1972, before Watergate became a household word, Hipp and KSAN News traced Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy’s gun to fellow burglar E. Howard Hunt at the Nixon White House.

He was a war correspondent: Donahue sent him to cover the civil war in Yemen, the only reporter from the Bay Area to venture there.

He was a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame who timid Nevada corporate radio stations would not hire for the last two decades of his life.

Hipp was a consumer crusader who lobbied a pro-ratepayer auto liability insurance bill through the Nevada Legislature and into law in 1987.

He was a union man, a longtime member of the Industrial Workers of the World because he wanted to be. Nicknamed “The Wobblies,” the IWW history in Nevada goes back more than a century. Hipp marched through downtown Reno with union members campaigning for hotel-casino worker rights.

He was a media personality who showed how to use the power of the medium: He got on the wrong side of the law when the law was on the wrong side of the street. Acting on a tip from a phone caller, he stopped the proposed Washoe County Jail from being located across from Reno’s largest hotel-casino.

He was an activist who got on the wrong side of the law and paid a heavy price where medical marijuana was concerned: He said that an old enemy worked for years to convince Lyon County officials to arrest and prosecute him. Had he resided a few hundred feet away in Storey County, nothing would have happened, he said in 2009.

He was a seagoing gadfly who owned a Sausalito, Calif., “outlaw houseboat in a floating community the local law has been trying to scuttle for (more than 10) years. (“He’s hip on speaking out” by Cory Farley, Reno Gazette-Journal, 4-19-1982).

He was an educator who convinced the (Reno-Sparks) Washoe County School District that it was acting on erroneous information and to back down and allow debate on nuclear issues into classrooms.

He was a man of principle who suffered for what he said, fired several times because of advertiser and/or political pressure after producing consistently high-rated radio programs. (See below.)

He was an old sailor who, if he so desired, could have tongue-in-cheek asserted that his professional injuries were service-related: He started his radio career while serving aboard the USS Intrepid after talking his superiors into letting him play jazz over the aircraft carrier’s sound system.

Tripp was a satirist in the grand tradition of Mark Twain: He and Lynne Hughes published the hilarious “Bullfrog Times-Picayune,” a newspaper for a legislatively-created Nevada county with zero population. (At least the  resident jackrabbits and wild burros would not be at risk from potential future radiation leaks.) Rare and few copies will be posted at NevadaLabor.com/

He was a man whose grasp caught his reach: Over a five-decade career, he brought his “Rawhide Reality Review” to radio stations ranging from Hawaii to all points of the lower 48 including New York City and listeners worldwide.

Hipp was a man who changed the English language: His longtime associates credit him with originating the word “hippy.” According to Duke Stroud, a member of the original improv group The Committee, the term “hippy” evolved from fans of Travus T. Hipp, Sean Laughlin said. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippie/)

Hipp was a Beatnik who established the Cabale Creamery coffee house in Berkeley in the early 1960’s, an incubator of what later became the Bay Area hippy culture. “He would always say he was a Beatnik and proud of it,” son Sean Laughlin says.

He was a 1964 Goldwater Republican who remained a member of the GOP.

“If you must jam him into a political slot, Hipp might slide most neatly into the one labeled ‘libertarian.’ But you’d have to shim him up with wedges cut from ‘anarchist’ and he’d still rattle around,” Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Cory Farley said.

He was a rock ‘n’ roll movie roadie on the 1971 François Reichenbach-directed rockumentary “The Medicine Ball Caravan,” edited in part by the fledgling Martin Scorsese, who served as associate producer under album rock innovator Tom Donahue. In addition to Lynn Hughes and her group Stoneground, performers included BB King, Alice Cooper, Doug Kershaw, Bonnie Bramlett, Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods. The 1970 bus and van caravan traveled the U.S., played Hyde Park and the Lyceum in London, then went on to Paris and Amsterdam before heading home (not necessarily in vans and buses).   

“Lynn had a moving van called ‘The Hughes Express’ and sometime in the late ‘60s began calling herself ‘Rose Hipp,’” remembers musician Jesse Cahn, a lifelong friend. Shortly after that tour, Chandler Laughlin began using the nom de plume Travus T. Hipp.

Hipp was also an artist devoted to his craft who worked until his death. The day before his passing, he filed both his final on-air commentaries to northern California radio stations and his last column with the Daily Sparks Tribune. His son Sean did his broadcasts on the morning of his death, May 18.

“His long-running tagline described him as ‘The Poor Hippie’s Paul Harvey,’ and though he was a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, he described himself as unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views,” Daily Sparks Tribune editor Nathan Orme wrote in last Sunday’s edition.

“Those views made him a truly unique part of the Sparks Tribune for many years and we were proud to employ his words if not his voice,” Orme said.

“Travus T. Hipp is the hottest thing in Reno since KXXL burned down in 1947,” eminent Nevada author David Toll said. (“Heating Up the Airwaves,” Sparks Tribune, 4-21-1982)

“When the San Francisco Chronicle conducted a Bay Area popularity poll of talk show hosts, Hipp placed seventh despite being off the air at the time, behind the regulars of KGO and KCBS, from the tiny voice of KTIM in Marin County,” Toll wrote.

Hipp’s record numbers on the moonhowler enterprise now known as KKKOH stood for well over a decade as the highest in station history until Rush Limbaugh exceeded them slightly in his morning block where the potential listening audience is generally larger than was Hipp’s afternoon slot.

Shorly after departing KKKOH, Travus got fired from KGU in Honolulu, probably for telling people not to eat pineapple because of all the pesticides and his almost daily irritation of the commander of the Pacific Fleet -- the public information officer of which “would show up to pound on the station manager’s desk every morning,” Travus chuckled. At least he was able to spend some time with his mother who lived there at the time.

He was axed from a Lady Bird Johnson-owned station in Texas because he wasn’t conservative enough. The ownership was fearful of being accused that their hyper-lucrative radio holdings were being supportive of Democratic politics.

Hipp was fired after one day on an Ohio radio station when he said something about Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., that the owner didn’t like.

He lost sponsorship of his commentaries on an Elko radio station for telling the truth about the depredations of the corporate welfare mining industry, a malady which has metastasized into the toxic safety and tax environment that afflicts Nevada a quarter-century later.

The mining company executives might have listened better. He had been a gold broker and advocated investing until the end of his life. Every time he lost a radio job, he would buy gold, calling it “The Travus T. Hipp retirement plan.”

In 1988-89, Hipp again found work in Reno on KOLO 920 AM and in about four months helped remove 40 percent of KKKOH’s audience. Doing the morning news on sister station KWNZ 97.3 FM with music man Bruce Van Dyke, they made KWNZ the top rocker in the region. After leaving Carson City’s KPTL AM in 1993 after Lynne Hughes’ death, he never had his own show in Nevada again, although for awhile he contributed a weekly report to Van Dyke’s show on KTHX FM.

His legions of longtime listeners at KPIG AM and FM radio in the Santa Cruz/Monterey, Calif., area mourned the old friend who had brought them alternative news throughout their lives. Many went back to his days on the legendary KFAT in Gilroy, Calif. In 1996, Hipp reveled that he had regular news listeners in South Africa and Germany via KPIG.com.

“Chan and I go back, almost forever (well, maybe not that long -- but the better part of 50 years),” said Barry “The Fish” Melton of Country Joe and the Fish on KPIG’s website.

“Thank you for playing some of my old music in memory of Travus T. Hipp, KPIG DJs! Chan was always a rebel and remained true to form to the very end. Remember those buttons -- ‘Question Reality’ -- I think Chan invented them. Speaking truth to power was Chan’s calling card,” Melton stated.

_____________

Links, photos, signed album covers, references and more regarding the above will be available at the evolving Hipp section at NevadaLabor.com. All memories and photos will be accepted for permanent posting via barbano@frontpage.reno.nv.us.

Thanks to everyone for the memoirs and memories.

As Hipp might say, “That’s all the news you never knew you needed to know ‘til now.”
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Legendary commentator dies at 75 by Andrew Barbano - For the Tribune


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