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The media life of an Appleton – but not that Appleton

Rory Appleton and his dad, Ray Appleton, at Rory’s graduation from Fresno State in May.
Rory Appleton and his dad, Ray Appleton, at Rory’s graduation from Fresno State in May.

“Are you related to Ray?”

It’s a question that I hear almost daily during my life as a Fresno Bee reporter. I call someone for an interview and identify myself, then the person on the other end of the phone interjects immediately. Some wait until the end of the conversation to slip it in.

The co-workers who sit near my desk used to chuckle when they’d hear me, like clockwork, say “yes, he’s my dad” at the beginning of most phone conversations. They don’t notice it anymore.

I was groomed into this call and response at an early age.

I’ve experienced 19 first days of school. At least half of them involved an exchange similar to the ones I get now at work. Some corresponded with political stereotypes. English and art instructors, who often lean left, did not approve of my lineage. The more conservative folks teaching things such as physical education vaulted me to teacher’s pet – despite my limited athletic ability.

It’s a fair question. For as long as I’ve been alive, my dad has been the voice of talk radio – and possibly all conservatism – in the central San Joaquin Valley. I was listening live from a second-grade classroom at Fort Washington Elementary when he interviewed President Bill Clinton. I wanted to play at recess with my friends, but my teacher said it was important. We stopped getting Christmas cards from the Clintons after that day, but we still get them from Laura Bush.

He’s interviewed actors, politicians and actor-politicians. He’s been in movies and rock bands. He claims to be the voice of the English language instructions at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, but I don’t believe him.

He was a rock DJ before that. In all, his radio career stretches back nearly 50 years – nearly all of them in Fresno.

Yes, it’s a fair question, and one that I don’t mind answering. What I do mind is the assumption – often tacit but sometimes clearly stated – that I work here because of him.

Granted, the name is worth money. Businesses pay KMJ 580 AM/105.9 FM money – an unspeakable amount of money – to have his voice and name attached to their products.

But my dad told me for much of my young life that The Bee was a bad place filled with people who hated him. That’s not totally off base; many of my co-workers do not agree with his politics or his brand of talk radio.

If anything, he was an obstacle. He will be the first to tell you he is not a reporter, and there are many reporters who would tell you that what he does hurts reporting. Some of the people who ask if I’m related to Ray hold it against me when I say yes. A few have hung up the phone or clammed up on me, which inhibits my ability to do my job.

I’m at The Bee because I worked hard to be here. I wrote a weekly column, worked three night reporting shifts a week and freelanced for a video game news publication while going to school full time. I racked up 14 front-page stories before I joined the paper full time in June, and I’ve had 20 or 30 more since. I graduated college – the first in my immediate family to do so.

Dad and I get along great, but our jobs make for interesting dinner conversation. He asks how work is going, like all dads do, and I reply. But I certainly don’t tell him the details of my next big story. Those belong to The Bee, not KMJ. He swears that our private conversations are off the record, but I don’t care. I am not getting beat on anything.

And I am starting to bring some fame to our name, too.

People recognize me on the street the same way they recognized him every time we went to the grocery store together 20 years ago. Strangers tell me they don’t know much about video games, but they like the way I write about them. Thousands of people read my print or freelance work every day.

I’ve spoken to elementary school kids about my job the way he spoke in my classes. A college student interviewed me recently because he hopes to review games for a living after graduation. I’ve been on my dad’s radio show a dozen times – partly because I’m his son, but also because I am an authoritative voice in video games and local news.

The ultimate coup happened at last year’s Big Fresno Fair. My dad’s band was opening for the Beach Boys, and two middle-aged ladies came up to us just outside the backstage area. I prepared myself, as I’ve done my whole life, to sit quietly while my dad talks to a stranger.

“I love your video-game column,” one of the ladies said. “I don’t really play, but my son does.”

Take that, Dad.