Mel was born in Wenatchee to his recently widow mother, Mimi Cole. His father, Spokane Indians’ player/coach, Mel Cole was killed in the team’s bus accident on Snoqualmie Pass on a way to a baseball game in Bremerton. When Mel was a toddler his mom married JK McArthur, an Entiat apple orchardist who adopted Mel. Mel learned to drive the farm jeep at an early age but that was no guarantee that he knew how to drive and he did wreck a few cars and lived to tell about it. He also wrecked a forklift much to his father’s dismay.
Working around the farm Mel learned the apple business, about cold storage/refrigeration, and keeping the machinery humming. His real love however was radio frequency transmission. He built an illegal low frequency AM radio transmitter partially with his mother phonograph/radio player. His mom wasn’t too upset as she encouraged his curiosity. Mel pulled the signal down quickly when he realized what the FCC could do to him if he was caught.
Mel had a love for coffee, while staying with his maternal grandparents in Wenatchee he was upset by his grandparents drinking instant coffee. They caught him one morning standing on the kitchen counter at the age of 5 getting out the percolator. When asked what he thought he was doing he answered that he was going to make a decent cup of coffee. He loved his coffee and could go through 3 pots a day.
As a young kid Mel was a ham radio operator and love to make connections with people all over the world. He built a number of electronic Heath kits. Mel also hiked the hills around Chelan and Antioch helping to install antennas to capture the television stations from Spokane for the first cable system in the Valley.
The summer times Mel’ family would move to Lake Chelan where his grandparents had a cabin. Mel loved boats and was a great slalom-skier. In the winter he would skied at Mission Ridge. He also played alto sax in the high school band. In high school Mel and a couple of buddies mix the wrong concoction and blew up the chemistry lab. No one was hurt.
Mel graduated from the small Entiat high school in 1964 and in the fall head to the University of Washington where he was going to major in physic but didn’t like the math. He joined a fraternity for one year but growing up as an only child living with a bunch of guys was not a good fit. He partied too hardy and almost flunked out. Summer school got his grades back up and he did graduate with a Communication BA.
His first job in broadcasting was working on the university station KUOW as a staff announcer. While still in college in 1965 Mel began his long and multi faceted career at KIRO TV. Unbelievable as it sounds Mel master every job at KIRO in the engineering and production departments except for management which he didn’t have an interest in although he was shop steward for a couple of terms. Mel started when the original owner Sal Hass still owned the place. He was hired by Nick freemen and his first job was working with Dick Jacoby as a film editor. He also was a booth announcer. He start running studio camera when they were still black and white up on Queen Anne under the KIRO tower. He helped prepare the “new Building” at 3rd and Broad for KIRO’s move.
Mel worked in the infancy of video tape when it was 2” wide. His expertise advanced with the technology and he loved playing with the toys. He built and operated KIRO’s first mobile news van. He operated the first ENG camera (The Handy Lookie by Ikegami) camera that KIRO bought. His first mobile phone had an operator attached and was as large as a shoebox but a definite necessary for getting the mobile van to the News source. Ampex made a so called portable 1”inch machine that Mel and his assistant would use to record for JP Patches industrial tours to Paccar, Bremerton Navy Base, and for commercial shoots.
Mel worked the Phil Donahue show when it came to Seattle. Phil, live on the air, reached out and nonchalantly grabbed Mel who was running hand held camera to keep him from falling off the riser. Mel had so many stories to tell if is hard to remember them all.
Mel was the best hand held camera guy in Seattle and one of the top in the country. He was the handheld camera operator under the hoop for the 1979 Sonic Championship. He also was a great video tape/ slow-mo operator. He learned to operate the first slow mo or instant replay machine for Northwest Mobile Television. Mel had never seen or operated a slow mo and he went in a few hours before the game and learned it.
MNT was part of King Broadcasting and would cover sports all over the county. Mel freelanced for them while working at KIRO. KIRO had a policy that you could only work for KIRO. So to get around that and not lose his job at KIRO Mel would be listed as Squeeb Norback or Farnsworth Barnswallow in the credits.
Mel would always do a great job on a commercial shoot. During his career he was a part of the Studio B production team, 3rd Ave Productions, and with Dean Tonkins Creative Division all part of KIRO. There are many stories about throwing a TV out of an apartment on Queen Anne, a wild painted big cat in a hardware store in Magnolia, a religious revival promo shot at Unity Church and immediately pulled off the air. He was a mentor to many and an inspiration to all.
Mel, having made his connections through MNT and having a solid reputation as one of the best, worked the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles at the Forum and also covering the bicycling venue. Mel was in charge of a flash truck at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea that covered Ping Pong and the equestrian events. He worked the 50th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor at Pearl Harbor for NBC’s Today Show. They set up all night in the Pearl Harbor Memorial to be ready to go live East Coast time. He said it was very eerie the stillness and the lights shining up from under the water.
He did boxing in Las Vegas, golf in Palm Springs, Ocean Shores, Maui, and too many baseball games, football games and basketball games to mention. He also did the Seattle Goodwill Games for Turner Broadcasting. But Mel always adamantly said that he didn’t like sports, any sports. That is why he was so good at it because he didn’t get caught up in the game.
Mel moved to Vashon Island in 1990 to become KIRO’s Earth Station satellite Uplinker. He uplinked all the Mariners games to the Mariners’ Network, The Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum with multiple feeds to multiple countries, and the CBS NW Bureau daily feeds. He received numerous awards as Uplinker of the year for never making a mistake. While living at the KIRO AM transmitter site Mel picked up the hobby of building computers. He enjoyed the challenge of getting them to work and increasing their speed. He knew how to write DOS and loved shareware. Although, Mel hated Apple and he called the Ipad an etch-a-sketch.
When KIRO abandon the Earth Station Mel moved back to Seattle and went back to work part-time as Master Control operator. He also helped with the translators and worked on the newscasts and on remotes. Mel moved back to Vashon in 2005 and left KIRO in 2010. He helped Penny on numerous productions and home projects. He was a regular at Granny’s Vashon’ thrift shop and was always dragging home electronic treasures.
Mel leaves behind his best friend and companion, Penny Kimmel and her son Jace Brien of Vashon, his two sons and five grandchildren, John and Monica McArthur and their two children, Hannah and Ashley of Port Orchard, Jay McArthur and his three children Kayla, Peyton, and Cole of Phoenix Arizona. If you feel moved to donate in Mel’s name please donate to Voice of Vashon PO BOX 2397 VASHON, WA 98070. The Memorial/Celebration will be held Sunday March 24th 2013 at Camp Burton’s Lodge on Vashon Island Washington at 3:30 PM.