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San Clemente Journal

An Unusual Connection: Mike Chamberlin & Richard Nixon

Mike Chamberlin, foreground, bids farewell to the Nixons at Casa Pacifica 1972.

It was the summer of 1966 in San Clemente. An 18-year-old Mike Chamberlin was just graduating from a brand new San Clemente High School. Like every 18-year- old in ‘the day,’ Chamberlin’s life was full of sun, surf and music. His SC Rock ‘N Roll band was taking off as he began his first year at Orange Coast College. Life was good.

Life was good, that is, until one day in 1968. He had already dropped out of college to pursue music full time.  But this day he came home to a brown envelope from the U.S. Government:  “Dear Mr. Chamberlin you have been drafted into the U.S. Army.” His dreams of a music career would have to be put on hold because a tour of duty with the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam awaited him. Ironically, it would be his first connection to President Richard Nixon.  

While in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, he was notified by his commanding officer, that his troop would be one of the first withdrawals under President Nixon’s plan to bring all troops home from Southeast Asia. So he packed his duffel bag and boarded a cargo plane back to the United States to begin his new life.

Returning home, he learned his band had moved on. So he did the next best thing, he used the G.I. Bill to attend a broadcast school in Hollywood. If he couldn’t play music, at least he would spin records as a disc jockey. The plan worked, he graduated and was hired at his first radio station in Redlands, CA. A station so weak in power that Chamberlin says, “I could yell further than the signal traveled.”

But persistence paid off, and in 1971 he was alerted that a brand new 50,000 watt radio station would be going on the air in San Clemente. “My home town!” he exclaimed. He immediately put together an audition tape and mailed it off, keeping his fingers crossed that his tape and his timing were right.

Anxious to get the San Clemente job, he called the owners everyday to inquire whether there was any news. Finally one day, the owner’s wife answered the phone and reported, “I shouldn’t tell you this, but you’ve got the job!”  Chamberlin could hardly contain himself. He had found a broadcasting job in his hometown.

KAPX Radio (107.9 FM) went on the air in 1972. The studios were located in the San Clemente Plaza, across from where Ralph’s grocery store is today. Chamberlin was assigned double duty. Besides playing music he was also named the station’s News Director. This is where the second connection to Richard Nixon took place.

It was by chance that Nixon had purchased the Casa Pacifica in what would become knows as The Western White House. Chamberlin was assigned a White House press credential and suddenly found himself shoulder to shoulder with the brain trust of American journalism. He was in awe as he looked at Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and reporters he respected all his life. But Chamberlin recalls his KAPX boss telling him, “Your job is to cover Nixon in San Clemente. Let the big boys handle world affairs.”

So armed with his new instructions he set out to cover Nixon in San Clemente.  He remembers his first White House press briefing. After the seasoned journalists had finished quizzing then press secretary Ron Ziegler, Chamberlin picked his moment and yelled out, “Mr. Ziegler, does the President plan on swimming in the San Clemente Ocean today?”   
The brain trust of American journalism whirled around and glared at the now red-faced Chamberlin. “I was just doing my job,” he mumbled to no one in particular around him.  
Afterwards, Tom Jarrel, a reporter for ABC radio, came to Chamberlin and said, “That had to be embarrassing. If you ever need information like that ask Ziegler in private or perhaps I can help you.”

Through the Western White House years Chamberlin learned the ropes and handled his duties with small town professionalism.  He added, “It was quite an honor, to cover the POTUS, watching dignitaries from all over the world and it was all happening in my little town of San Clemente.”

Chamberlin was there the day that Richard Nixon resigned and watched the President wave good bye to staff and friends before boarding the helicopter that would take him to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to board Air Force One for the very last time. 
“It was sad,” said Chamberlin, “but Nixon handled it with as much grace and courage as possible.”

Then Chamberlin’s broadcast career took off. He landed TV News Anchor jobs in Sacramento, San Francisco, and spent 10 years with ESPN. During his last 20 years he anchored news at an ABC TV station in Phoenix, AZ.

In 1988 Chamberlin decided it was time to retire and said goodbye to a 40-year career in television.  So what next?  

Remembering that long ago music career, he decided in retirement to pursue music, maybe perform two or three concerts a month at senior centers or retirement homes. This month alone, he has 46 concerts scheduled. He’s performed over 3,000 concerts since retiring from broadcasting. Or, as he puts it, “I’ve got to get a job … this retirement thing is killing me!” 

Of the 3,000 concerts played two stand out. One was last year when he performed his show “Love Songs of WWII,” for a WWII Reunion on board the Queen Mary in Long Beach.  “I have a very special place in my heart for those that fought, served or died in WWII,” says the Vietnam vet. He added, “To see tears well up in their eyes as I perform these romantic songs, puts a lump in my throat.”

The second concert that stands out in his mind has to do with his final connection to Richard Nixon.  On July 8th Chamberlin performed his show at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.   “I’ve gone full circle,” says Chamberlin.  “From a troop withdrawal, to covering him at the Western White House to performing at his Library, Richard Nixon and I have had an unusual connection.”

Chamberlin has now retired to San Clemente where he spends his time singing and golfing. “More singing than golfing,” he smiles.
Mike Chamberlin can be contacted at: