A truth seeker, KSER’s Ed Bremer leaves public radio legacy

People who worked with him and those who were his subjects recall his fairness, honesty and work ethic.

Ed Bremer, KSER radio’s longtime public affairs director and host of the “Sound Living” program, died last week at 68. (Photo courtesy KSER.)

Ed Bremer, KSER radio’s longtime public affairs director and host of the “Sound Living” program, died last week at 68. (Photo courtesy KSER.)

A seeker of truth. A phenomenal interviewer. The glue that held KSER together.

Since Ed Bremer’s death last week, those he knew through the Everett-based independent public radio station have lauded him as a dogged journalist who cared deeply about the listeners and KSER’s mission.

“He had that heart for community radio. He was so honest. You always knew where you stood with Ed,” said Karen Crowley, president-elect of the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County and a former member of the KSER Foundation’s board of directors.

Bremer, 68, was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. He died Dec. 21 at his Everett home, and is survived by his wife, Lucia Bremer, and by five brothers.

His tenure with KSER began even before the station went on the air nearly 30 years ago. It was 1990 when he was hired by the Jack Straw Foundation as public affairs director of a new station here. In those first years, the KSER-FM studio was in a strip mall on Highway 99 in Lynnwood.

Bremer had worked at KPBS in San Diego and KPBX in Spokane. He put that experience to work developing and producing for the new station — which first aired Feb. 9, 1991, on 90.7 FM. In 1994, the KSER Foundation was formed to operate the station. Bremer shepherded the 2005 move to the station’s own broadcast facility in downtown Everett. He told The Herald he believed the move to 2623 Wetmore Ave. brought KSER closer to the community.

Listeners came to know Bremer’s interview style through his weekday afternoon “Sound Living” program, which featured conversations with political, business and nonprofit leaders, authors, artists and others from many walks of life.

“He was such a gentleman, such a straight shooter,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, who was interviewed by Bremer a half-dozen times. Bremer, he said, was always informed, with questions that were fair but “not softballs.”

Hans Dunshee, a Snohomish Democrat who served 22 years in the state House, talked weekly with Bremer during the session. Through a decade of those chats, he got to know Bremer.

“When KSER showed up in Everett it was great. Ed was really the soul of it. He was everything,” said Dunshee. His father, Robert Dunshee, had been a broadcaster on KRAB, the non-commercial station operated in Seattle by the Jack Straw Foundation years before KSER existed.

“I really wish there were more interviewers like him,” Dunshee said. “He was honest in his criticism. He’d go after me as a Democrat as well as the Republicans.” Bremer’s questions, he said, “weren’t gotcha but they weren’t soft.”

“He was a seeker of truth. He had a purpose in life,” Dunshee said.

That purpose was assuring “the best quality programming that the station could deliver,” Crowley said.

Lucia Bremer said her husband’s entry into the world of radio began with the college station at Eastern Illinois University. After that came a stint as a disc jockey at a station in Charleston, Illinois. When he decided to go to graduate school, he looked into communications programs in places that are “warm with no snow,” his wife said. “He flipped a coin,” and San Diego State University won out over a Florida school.

They met at New Expression Music, a music store in San Diego. He played the banjo, she played guitar, and their lives would go on to revolve around public radio. During his long career, she said, her husband interviewed flying ace Chuck Yeager, astronomer Carl Sagan, and Dian Fossey, who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

Nancy Keith was KSER’s first station manager. She was impressed by Bremer’s commitment to public radio from the start. “He immediately reached out to the League of Women Voters and people at the library,” said Keith, who’s retired and lives in Seattle.

“He was so professional, and such a good person to get along with,” she said.

Bremer, Keith said, had not come out of alternative radio. She chuckled at a memory of him assuming they’d play Christmas music — while with her history at KRAB, she had suggested they offer alternatives to the usual holiday fare.

“When I think of the essential Ed, it was his serious, professional demeanor — and then a big smile would break out,” Keith said. “I think probably KSER wouldn’t be on the air if Ed hadn’t been there.”

Tracy Myers, music director at KSER, said Bremer “was the glue that held that station together.”

“He was so knowledgeable about what made good radio,” said Myers, who worked with Bremer starting in 1994. Myers has been a longtime host of KSER’s “Sunlit Room” music program. Even though Bremer’s focus was news, Myers said he’d often think about music to suit his listeners, perhaps those working all afternoon with a radio on.

“And he was such a phenomenal interviewer,” she said, whether his subject was Congressman Rick Larsen, a tribal leader or an astronaut who’d been aboard the International Space Station.

Her son Sam Myers, now in graduate school at the University of Arizona, spent childhood hours at the station. “Ed always had a soft spot toward Sam. He’d come into the station, he was Ed’s little shadow,” she said.

Mukilteo’s Michelle Valentine for years engineered the League of Women Voters’ “Magazine on the Air,” which is still broadcast the second Monday evening of each month on KSER. “I learned engineering from Ed — and I was in pharmacy. He was always my mentor,” she said.

When technical problems came up just before the start of a candidates’ forum hosted by the league, Valentine said she called Bremer for help. He walked from the station to the county’s administration building to make the fix. “He would do whatever it took to get the program,” she said.

Crowley, the league’s president-elect, now oversees the monthly radio program. She can picture Bremer, hard at work.

“He was so real. It was tough journalism. He had that wonderful bulldog quality,” she said. “In that production room, the microphone was almost like an extension of his body. On the air, he was just relaxed.”

In a blog post on the station’s website last week, KSER Foundation General Manager Tom Clendening wrote of Bremer’s commitment and work ethic:

“Day after day, year after year, Ed was here editing programs, producing shows, interviewing guests, running the control board for volunteer hosts, answering the phones during pledge drives, solving technical problems, drinking way too much coffee, and on at least one occasion I witnessed Ed standing on the top of a step ladder in a driving snow storm, in the dark at 4:30 in the morning, using a broom duct-taped to an extension pole to knock the snow off of our satellite dish,” Clendening wrote.

The station, he said, is working on a tribute broadcast in Bremer’s honor.

“I will miss him,” Crowley said. “The community needs to say thank you to Ed, the legacy he left us.”

Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com

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