We’ve learned today that Jim Dunbar, California radio great and lifelong friend of Russ Gibb passed away, age 89 on April 22.
Jim and his younger brother Bill grew up on Hartwell street in Dearborn, their father an executive at Detroit Seamless Steel Tube, later Sharon Steel. The brothers attended Lowrey Junior High and Fordson high where they would meet Russ Gibb. Jim studied piano and played Alto Sax and Clarinet in his high school combo, “Ronnie Richards and his Rhythm Ramblers”, a group bankrolled by Richards’ stage dad. The trio of Jim, Bill and Russ got into plenty of mischief, even venturing into areas of the city like paradise valley. Jim and Bill sophisticated Jazz fans and Russ the planner and toastmaster. Jim and Russ both developed an early fascination for radio.
Dunbar, who was two years older than Russ, broke into radio first while still in college at Michigan State University. Jim would soon get a gig in Flint and then at WXYZ in Detroit. Later he would get married and move west.
Gibb recalled driving to the coast for Jim’s summer wedding by car, paying cash for a new Ford Thunderbird (a memory partly discounted by the fact that Dunbar had been married since December 22, 1958 and arriving in San Francisco in 1963). Young Steve Kott from the Civil Air Patrol recalled their visit was by air in the spring of ’66. Dunbar was already acquainted with rock concert promoter Bill Graham through his KGO television talk show. “Bill and I had a mutual respect for one another and I thought it would be of interest to Russ to go to the Fillmore. I wanted to introduce him to Bill Graham.”
Jim arranged for members of the Dunbar family, Russ and Steve Kott to make the trek down to the Fillmore Auditorium for a show. Jim, always the jazz fan did not care much for the music: “I thought it was ridiculously primitive.”
This important connection facilitated by Jim Dunbar would famously spark Russ’ idea to bring a Fillmore style venue to Detroit, the Grande Ballroom.