Network reporter with Iowa roots ‘out to get the truth’

Brian Ross

Former NBC and ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross says his stories often make officials and politicians not only uncomfortable, but angry.

Ross attended a celebration at Wartburg College of what would have been Grant Price’s 100th birthday. Price was a long time Iowa broadcast journalist and later a Wartburg College professor. He also founded the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting (AIB).

Ross got his broadcasting start at KCHA radio in Charles City, Iowa. He later got his degree from the University of Iowa journalism school and his first TV job at KWWL in Waterloo.

Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS interviewed Ross in front of the audience attending the event. Below are excerpts from the interview. You can watch the entire interview on the AIB website.

Does a journalist of today, 2023, need to have some type of formal training to get into the role to be respected?  I think you might need a degree to get hired and sometimes the master’s degree helps you even get hired quicker. But I think what you need to do is to be able to think, have intellectual curiosity, and a key is to be able to write. And that’s the one thing, I think the one trade or craft where college and high school can help the most.

You said strong editors helped you and have helped you in your career. Why? Because you need strong editors to make sure you get it right. And if you get too close to something, you don’t see your own errors and you can improve.

You describe your career or style of journalism as aggressive. Why? I’m out to get the truth. And too often I run up against government officials who try to spin it, don’t want the truth to be known. And, you know, I include corporate officials. I include people on both sides of the aisle in terms of politics. That’s really our job, to figure it out, what’s really going on, and to explain it in a way that connects with the viewer, the reader, the listener.

We are in 2023, and just a couple of years ago, I remember former President Trump on stage in front of thousands of people pointing out where journalists were standing and saying, ‘they are the enemy.’ How did you react? I took it as a challenge. And I would also say that the shift in reporting techniques that was required by the Trump administration was a good thing for journalism. We had often been too cozy and too tight with government officials. And this reminded us, I think, in a way that we need to challenge presidents and mayors and governors, senators. I think it was healthy for journalism to have a Trump administration which required us to get back to our basics of doing the job.

You’ve been in hot water a time or two.  I’ve made mistakes. I’ve always thought you’re going to make mistakes and if you make a mistake, you correct it. Take the consequences. You know, I’ve been sued probably 12 times, never lost one of the lawsuits. I prevailed or settled. I’ve angered lots of people.

How has the internet affected journalism? I think it’s changed everything in a way. It’s easier in some ways to do our job. Technologically its improved it substantially. There’s more reach and almost anybody can be a journalist now, you know, we aren’t licensed. Talking with students here yesterday at Wartburg we  talked about the need for media literacy. How do you figure out what to watch or what to read?

Could you remind us of a couple of the stories that you have done that you felt were most rewarding? We did an investigation into Walmart. We learned Walmart was using child labor in Bangladesh to make t-shirts and other clothes, which were being sold in their stores under a ‘Made in America banner.’ We went to Bangladesh. And at some of the factories there had been fires where a number of children were killed because they locked the doors for fear they would be stealing t-shirts. I then went to Bentonville, Arkansas to confront the new president of Walmart, David Glass. Sam Walton had just died.

When I handed him a picture of the bodies of the dead children outside his factory in Bangladesh, you could just see the look in his eyes. He got up, walked out of the interview, went to the phone…and called Jack Welch who was the chairman, president of General Electric which at the time owned NBC. And he told Jack Welch, ‘if that story airs, every single GE product comes off the shelves of Walmart.’ So this was a challenge for journalism. And to the everlasting credit of Jack Welch, they decided the story would air. And they said, ‘you’re going to go back and continue the interview.’

 I went back to interview David Glass, and this second interview was even worse because I asked him about these young children working in the factory. And he said something to the extent of ‘well, you know, with those little brown people, they look a little younger than they actually are.’ This was on camera, three cameras rolling.

So when this aired it was a crisis for Walmart. That was a story that had great impact and I was proud to do that. And I was proud of the bosses who withstood the pressure. By the way, the GE products did not come off the shelves. It was an empty threat.

Ross joined the Law & Crime Network in 2018 as Chief Investigative Correspondent, after decades of award-winning work in similar positions at ABC News and NBC News.

Among his more than 75 major awards are 19 Emmys, six DuPont awards from Columbia University, six George Polk awards, five Peabody awards and in 2016, the Harvard University Goldsmith Award for the year’s outstanding investigative report in either print or broadcast. 

Retired QC sportscaster still likes the games

He may have been retired for 10 years from sports broadcasting, but Don Sharp still watches lots of sports on TV and in person. Just ask his wife, he says.

Don Sharp

Sharp had a more than 40 year career in radio and TV, most of it at WHBF in Rock Island, Illinois, where he was sports director (except for a stint in the ‘90’s as the station’s main news anchor).

Here are excerpts of an interview Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS, and Cliff Brockman, a retired Wartburg College journalism professor, conducted with Sharp for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting.

(You can watch the full interview here.)

How did you get into radio? I am originally from Dundee and a friend told me about a broadcasting school because I was really interested in sports and broadcasting. So I went to broadcasting school in Chicago, it was about a three-month deal.

What was your first job? I grabbed a U- Haul, my wife, and our new baby, and pulled a trailer down to Stephenville, Texas, which is about 30 miles or so from Fort Worth. To say it was a small radio station would be putting it mildly. We were out in the middle of a field. Cows came to the window every so often and things like that. But six months was enough of that. We came back to Freeport, Illinois. And I spent a couple of years in Freeport in radio.

Then you went to Aberdeen, South Dakota for about a year and a half. That was kind of neat, because they had minor league baseball. When they went out of town, we did the broadcast when the bus driver would call back after three innings and say, ‘Here’s a single for Wallace, the double, a double play.’ And then we had to make up the game like it was going on. People thought we were actually going to the games. The bus driver a couple of times, one in particular, couldn’t get to a phone and call back. So I’m sitting there having to stall until we finally hear from the bus driver. I mean, I had bases being knocked loose. I had big scrambles for foul balls in the stands because I had to really stretch it out.

Then you came back to Illinois, to WHBF radio and TV in Rock Island. What did you enjoy most about your time there? Doing play by play of football and basketball because it was so big at that time. We’d have a full house in the gym with 5,000-6,000 people and they were filled up whether it was Moline, Rock Island or East Moline.

Any memorable moments from that time? Don Nelson was from Rock Island, played at the University of Iowa, and then was one of the Boston Celtics. He got together with Rock Island’s coach at the time, Bob Riley. And they brought the Boston Celtics to town for an exhibition game before the season. They played Cincinnati. Afterwards, they all got together at what is the Sheraton Hotel and that was one of the neatest experiences I’ve ever had. Bill Russell and a couple of the Joneses, and Jerry Lucas who was playing for Cincinnati, were all sitting around. I don’t think I said hardly a word and listened to their stories.

You’re in retirement now. Do you watch play by play or watch sports for the play by play? Are you done with sports? I watch a lot of sports, just ask my wife. I like watching and listening to the announcers, and it’s fun to compare a lot of them.

Don Sharp received the Illinois Broadcasters Association Broadcast Pioneer Award in 2017. He was named to the Mid-American Emmy Association’s Silver Circle in 2019.

Fredericksen receives top IBNA Award

Iowa broadcast journalist Rick Fredericksen is the 2023 recipient of the Jack Shelley Award, the Iowa Broadcast News Association’s highest honor. Fredericksen’s nearly
50-year career took him to Vietnam, Des Moines, Hawaii, a return to southeast Asia, and finally back to central Iowa.

A native of Des Moines, he enlisted in the Marines in 1967 during the Vietnam war. After Boot Camp, the Marines sent Fredericksen to broadcasting school even though he never thought about journalism or broadcasting as a career. “So rather then pick up a rifle, I picked up a microphone,” Fredericksen quipped during an oral history interview for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting.

Then for a year he was a reporter and program host for the Marine Corps Air Stations Radio and TV Section in North Carolina. Highlights included providing updates to commercial radio stations during a hurricane and covering a missile exercise in Puerto Rico.

At age 19, the Marines sent him to Saigon, South Vietnam where he was a TV and radio newscaster and editor with the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AVFN). He covered military briefings and news in the field. Fredericksen said a highlight was being the lead reporter for President Nixon’s visit with combat soldiers.

While at AVFN he was involved in a controversy when he was one of 10 Marine broadcasters who protested military censorship of some of AVFN’s stories by the Marines. “When I look back now, I don’t think it was as serious as we made it out to be. I think the military has a right to restrict some news. After all, we were broadcasting in the war zone,” he said.

Coming home to Iowa
After finishing his stint with the Marines, Fredericksen returned to Iowa and landed his first job in commercial broadcasting at KRNT radio in Des Moines. After a short time he moved to TV and became a reporter at KRNT-TV (now KCCI-TV) in Des Moines.

Anchoring the news at KCCI-TV.

Fredericksen worked his way into anchoring at KCCI, eventually co-anchoring at 6 pm with Paul Rhoades and at 10 p.m. with Russ Van Dyke. (Rhoades and Van Dyke were long-time KCCI news anchors, and both are previous Shelley Award winners).Here’s a newscast Rick anchored in 1976.

He spent 12 years in Des Moines then took a job at the CBS affiliate in Honolulu, Hawaii. Fredericksen’s brother lived there, and on a visit to see him Fredercksen took along a few resume tapes and interviewed for a job. Growing up in Iowa came in handy, he said, when he had to cover a blizzard in Hawaii! He had driven to the top of a volcano to cover an event when the storm hit. He ended up staying overnight during the blizzard and got altitude sickness before returning home.

Going to work for CBS
After three years in Hawaii Fredericksen was on the move again, this time to Bangkok, Thailand where he worked for CBS Radio and TV as the network’s southeast Asia bureau chief. His stories were aired on all CBS news programs including the “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather,” “ 60 minutes,” “48 Hours,” and “Sunday Morning with Charles Kurault.” Vietnam was still a big story as the country recovered from the war and he went their 20 times to cover stories. Here is a story he reported for CBS.  

While in Bangkok Fredericksen also started his own independent news agency and provided coverage to the Associated Press, various magazines, the BBC, public radio, and many other outlets.

Home again
Fredericksen worked for 10 years in Bangkok, then as CBS began closing its overseas bureaus he took a job as news director of WOI radio in Ames in 1995. He also served as the Iowa host and newscaster for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” While at WOI Fredericksen opened the station’s first full-time Des Moines bureau.

Reporting at Iowa Public Radio

In 2004, the Iowa Board of Regents merged the public radio stations at the three state universities  (WOI, WSUI, and KUNI) into Iowa Public Radio. He became IPR’s arts and culture reporter. During that time he launched “Iowa Archives,” a seven-year project to, as he put it, “discover historical Iowa voice and sound recordings.” He then packaged them as expanded features and one-hour programs for IPR. He retired from IPR in 2016.
Listen to Rick’s feature about restoring Trolley cars.

Keeping busy
During his retirement, Fredericksen writes articles for various outlets, including the Hmong Daily News and Vietnam News. He is also active in the Des Moines Vietnam veterans group.

Fredericksen is the author of three books. “Broadcasters: Untold Chaos” is about his time as a Marine in Vietnam. “After the Hanoi Hilton: An Accounting” examines what happened to 4,500 veterans left behind in the Vietnam war. And, “Lusitania Diary” tells the story of Fredericksen’s grandfather’s emigration from Denmark to the United States more than 100 years ago.

Fredericksen is the winner of a Peabody Award for coverage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, and he has won several IBNA awards for his IPR reporting.

KCCI’s Eric Hanson produced a story about Fredericksen’s career when Rick retired in 2016.

KCCI photojournalist was a ground-breaker

Donna Smith was among some of the first women TV news photographers in the country when she began her 38-year career at KCCI in Des Moines. She says her colleagues at KCCI respected her, but outside of the station people often implied that she was “a woman doing a man’s job.”

Donna Smith

Smith began her full-time work in 1983 at KCCI after working part-time at WOI while majoring in journalism at Iowa State University. She was promoted to chief photographer in 1997 and retired at the end of 2021. 

Here are excerpts of an interview Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS, and Cliff Brockman, a retired journalism professor, conducted with Smith for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting.

(You can watch the full interview here.)

How did you get interested in photography? When I was in grade school, I had a great uncle who was like my grandfather, who gave me his old camera, his old DSLR when he got a new one. And from then on, I knew that’s what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a still photographer. I consider myself very lucky that I’ve known since grade school what I wanted to do as a profession. But when I went to Iowa State and majored in photojournalism, I had friends who worked at WOI, and shot video, and then I fell in love with video and changed from newspapers to TV.

What was the equipment like when you started? We all wore those big power belts, battery belts around our waist. So much of the equipment at that time was geared towards men, because there were significantly fewer women doing the job. So a lot of things I had to adjust for my smaller frame. One of them was the battery belts, I would have to poke extra holes, pull it as tight as I could around the waist and make extra holes. And I remember once running across the street trying to shoot a bad accident. As I ran, the belt just kept slipping down until it got to the point where I just stopped in the middle of the road to pick it up. Obviously, that’s changed over time. But I never felt like anyone at Channel 8 ever indicated that I couldn’t do the job. In fact, the chief photographer when I started at Channel 8 was a woman and the chief photographer before her was a woman. So there was always the representation I could see myself because I saw other women doing it.

In September of ‘83, how many women were shooting video? Not a whole lot. And a lot of women didn’t stay. I’m one of the very few who have stayed for that long. It’s not a glamorous job. At Channel 8, I was loved and respected and honored. But outside of Channel 8, I often had my share of comments and looks in ways that people would let me know that they thought I was a woman doing a man’s job. So it was out there. But my philosophy was always you just show them they’re wrong. But it also meant that you put a lot of pressure on yourself.

Watch KCCI’s tribute story.

What were some of the more memorable historic events then that you covered that stick out? Definitely the floods of ‘93 That one I remember very clearly because we were exhausted at the end of that first week. We were on for days and days, you know, continually. You would start one place and cover that, and then went to somebody else’s live shot and you break down and go to something else, and that just went on and on.

I went to Sydney, Australia in 2000 for the Olympics. Hearst, who owns the station and 20 some TV stations across the country, decided they wanted to send a team to cover the Olympics. And I was chosen, I’m not sure why, as the head technical person, and so I went with six or seven people. And we stayed at the Olympic Village for the media. Compared to the pandemic that was easy because it only lasted a month.

And was the pandemic kind of the end for your TV career? I probably would have stayed a couple more years if it had not been for the pandemic. That was truly the hardest thing I’d ever done professionally. On March 17th, of 2020 the governor closed things down. And so as a manager, I was helping plan what we were going to do. The bulk of photographers took their car and gear home and edited someplace and never came back into the station so that we could keep the station as clean and antiseptic, so to speak, as possible. And then the stress of people being gone. People (other employees) had COVID and so I worked every schedule. I decided in spring 2021 that I’m done. It’s time for somebody else to do it. I’m tired and somebody needs to have more energy because I felt like I’m not doing anybody a service.

Is there anything else, are you done working? I am working part time as a lab courier for Unity Point. I go to hospitals and doctors’ offices and pick up tissue samples and blood and urine and I bring it back to the lab in Ankeny where they test it. And I love it. I didn’t want to go from 100 miles an hour to zero. So I felt like I needed to do something. I still feel like I’m using all those skills that I honed over 38 years into a very different way. And I think that’s good for the brain.

During Smith’s time as chief of the KCCI photography staff, the station won eight National Press Photographers (NPPA) Small Market Station of the Year awards, and was runner up multiple times, including 2021.

KCCI journalist retires after 40 years

Dana Cardin spent his entire professional broadcast journalism career at one station: KCCI-TV in Des Moines. Cardin retired this year after four decades at KCCI, 15 years as a reporter, and 25 years as assistant news director.

Dana Cardin.

Cardin is originally from Sheldon, Iowa and journalism is a family tradition. Both his grandfathers were in the newspaper business and his aunt ran a small Iowa newspaper for more than 50 years.

Here are excerpts of an interview Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS, and Cliff Brockman, a retired Wartburg journalism professor, conducted with Cardin for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting.

Watch the full interview with Dana Cardin

After some part time work in print and radio, you enlisted and became a Navy journalist in 1974 serving for five years. Do you have any memorable stories of your time as a journalist in the Navy? I think one of the more fun things combined the journalism and the photography part. One of the ships that I was on had two helicopters. And every now and again, I’d hear over the intercom system: ‘Journalist Dana Cardin report to the flight deck.’ And so I grabbed my camera, and we would go up in the helicopter and they’d open up the floor essentially, they called the ‘hell hole,’ and they would strap me in. And we would go over Russian trawlers or sometimes a Russian frigate. And I would just hover over and take pictures of their spy work.

When you got out of the Navy, you went to Iowa State University, and you started working at KCCI-TV. How did that come about?  I started part time there while I was going to school at Iowa State. And then two years later, Russ Van Dyke retired creating a position for them to hire me just as I graduated. So that’s how I went from part time to full time. And I tell people now that I replaced Russ Van Dyke. (Van Dyke was a legendary KCCI anchor.)

Watch KCCI’s tribute to Dana Cardin

You started as a general assignment reporter. That means you could be doing a farm story one day, flooding the next. You always had a change of clothes; you never knew if you’re going to be in the governor’s office or in the middle of a muddy farm field. Speaking of muddy farm fields, the Iowa Farm Progress Show was going on in Boone (one year) and we had a deluge of rain. And it was a mud bog. I mean, I remember walking out to the trailer that they had set up at the Iowa Farm Progress Show up to my knees in mud. And as I’m walking up and knocking on the door and stepping in to talk to them, the lady sitting at the desk goes ‘Oh, I know you. You’re the person they send to places where no one else wants to go.’ I said ‘Yeah, well today, you’re absolutely right.’

Other stories that you recall? Johnny Gosch (in 1982). It still makes me sad. Dave Busiek was the weekend anchor. He was leaving church and noticed a commotion going on a street corner in West Des Moines and stopped to see what was going on. They said a newspaper boy was missing. He (Busiek) called me in the newsroom. And we started doing the first story on Johnny Gosch vanishing. And an hour later, I was in the Gosch’s home getting a picture of Johnny Gosch so we would have something for our story…knowing little then that his vanishing would take so many different dramatic turns and twists up until today.

1993 in Iowa is going to be known forever as the year of the flood. Whether it was in Davenport or Des Moines there were a pretty big series of stories: no water for days, roads blocked all over the place, people flying in helicopters. What do you remember of the floods of ‘93? It was just 24/7 of going and trying to tell the stories and keep it all in perspective. One bridge on Fleur Drive, which was near where the Water Works plant became flooded, and we lost water. It was kind of Ground Zero for the national media and politicians because it was convenient to the airport. And so we had the scene where there were hundreds of people, sandbagging to help protect the Water Works plant from more damage and more flooding. It wasn’t unusual to look around and see Dan Rather reporting on it or President Bill Clinton to be down shaking hands with the sandbaggers.

For a number of years you did a feature series called “Eye on Iowa.” How did that start? Every morning when I would drive to work this one year during Christmas time, there was this little weed growing up in the median. One day, someone put a Christmas ball on it. A day or two later, there’d be some tinsel. And it just happened every day. And so at one point, I grabbed a camera and went out and shot this thing and did just a short, little 20 second anchor read on it. And it was after that News Director Paul Rhodes came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to be our next feature reporter.’ I would travel to hundreds of Iowa towns and most Iowa counties in and around the country and even overseas once in a while telling the stories of Iowans. My definition of a feature reporter and other people’s definition of a feature story are two different things. I think for a lot of people a feature story is something like big wheel races or something which really doesn’t have a lot of impact. To me, the idea of being a feature  reporter is telling about how people live, why they do what they do, and who they are as a person through the activities that they do.

The pandemic has really changed the way we are able to report stories. Think of all the journalism done via Zoom recording on a computer screen. It allows you to be connected but not to travel. There are some pluses to it but to me, I think the purest form of what we do as journalists is to go out on a bar stool, on a church pew, or a park bench and talk to people and say ‘So what’s your story? What’s this all about?’ And just have a conversation with them face to face.

You compare your career to a race. Why retire now? My lap was done. Here’s the baton. It was my time to hand off the baton and let others do their race and get this team to the finish line. And so I just felt an obligation to do that. And after the last few years, the pandemic, and all that, it’s just like, all right now I truly have done it all.

What’s next for you? I’m going to get back into photography. The very first thing I wanted to do when I started this and got diverted away. So my camera’s a little bit different now than the one that my dad used. I love drone photography. I love the photography and I love the gizmos and the gadgets of being able to go out and fly.

Broadcasting is family tradition for Fleming

Tim Fleming of KGLO radio in Mason City loves sports and loves serving his community. Fleming has worked in broadcasting for nearly 50 years, the last 45 years at KGLO.

Tim Fleming

Keeping busy is apparently Fleming’s motto. He is the Operations Manager, Sports Director and morning show host at the station. He is involved in numerous community activities as well.

Here are excerpts of an interview Paul Yeager, Iowa PBS, and Cliff Brockman, retired journalism professor, conducted with Fleming for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting.

Radio broadcasting is in the family genes. Was there any doubt you were going to do anything but radio? No, there was never a doubt. Not at all. I knew very, very young that I wanted to be a broadcaster. My dad was a broadcaster. When I was a freshman in high school, you know how they give you those little quiz things? Put down your top 10 list of what you want to be when you grow up? Well, I put down radio, radio, radio, radio, radio, radio, radio, radio, radio, radio.

When did you call your first game? I did my first play by play with my dad, I was 15 or 16, 17. At halftime I was running around getting some stats at a football game. And he had always joked, he said, ‘Well listen, you got to do play by play sometime.’ And so he came back and opened up the second half. And he said, ‘and now with the second half play by play, here’s Tim Fleming.’ And he stood up and he walked away. And I paused for a moment and said ‘Thanks, Pat.’ And so I just jumped in and took off.

How do you prepare for games?
For me, it was sitting at home at night, filling out football charts for games for multiple teams. And honestly, the hardest part back then was we didn’t have access to the internet, you just couldn’t pull up rosters and do all of those things that you can do now. It was a little more challenging, because you had to rely on coaches, and actual communication from the high schools and junior colleges, things like that, to send you, you know, hey, can you fax me your starting lineup? Who do this? Does that? Those kinds of things.

You do a morning shift at the radio station, then do play by play of games at night. How do you do that? I’ve always said sleep was way overrated. I could be up early in the morning, and I could broadcast games at night still. On top of that, if my kids had any other activities that they were involved in, they were always involved in something (I would go to that). My day was a little disjointed and probably still is in a lot of ways, but I still enjoy it.

What was it like to call your kid’s games? It was pretty special, honestly. But I can remember specifically telling the kids that when they did something good, I would probably just make it sound pretty average in the broadcast. Where somebody else, if they did something good, they probably got a little extra punch of the play by play. But if they did something spectacular, then it would show in my voice, my inflection. It’s been kind of fun too, because I even had a chance to call my granddaughter’s games.

Watch full interview with Tim Fleming

Besides your work at the radio station, you’re very involved in the community.
I think if you’re going to be at a community radio station, you need to be in the community. I’ve served on a lot of boards and a lot of committees. I never thought I’d be a Girl Scout. But  I was a Girl Scout board member. I was on the RSVP board. I’m still a Salvation Army board member. I was a school board member at Newman Catholic for seven years. And usually, if somebody in the community says, ‘Hey, Tim, will you (volunteer for something)’ there’s a pretty good chance that I’m going to say yes. And it’s almost a running joke in our family.

What keeps you going? How long are you going to keep doing this? What keeps me going is the interest in, and just being a part of the community, and I still think that’s a key for me. I made a deal with my wife a long time ago that if she ever turned on the radio, and she thought I didn’t sound good, then pick up the phone and call me and tell me to come home and don’t go back. So far, so good.

Fleming is part of a  three-generation broadcast family.  His father Pat Fleming was a radio broadcaster for many years at WDBQ and KDTH in Dubuque. His daughter Amy is an anchor at KIMT-TV in Mason City. His son Eric handles many positions with the Alpha Media stations, daughter Kimberly is a first-grade teacher in Mason City and was a part-timer at KGLO while in high school and college, and his wife Sue even worked in the KGLO main office for one year.

Tim Fleming was the 2013 Jack Shelley Award winner, the Iowa Broadcast News Association’s highest honor, and he has won many other IBNA and Associated Press awards for his work.

Riley receives 2022 Shelley Award

Roger Riley has been named the 2022 Jack Shelley Award winner. Riley received the award at the Iowa Broadcast News Association’s annual convention in April in Cedar Falls. The Shelley Award is the highest honor an Iowa broadcast journalist can receive. It is given to an individual for “outstanding contribution to the cause of professional broadcast journalism in Iowa”.

Roger Riley

Riley has been a broadcast journalist for more than 40 years and is currently a multi-media journalist at WHO-TV in Des Moines. His hard news stories often lead the evening newscasts, and he travels to many parts of the state for feature reporting. Viewers also appreciate his severe weather reporting as he uses his camera equipped car.

Riley is a native of Norway, Iowa and his interest in broadcasting traces to his school days when his dentist’s office was in the same building as WMT radio and TV. Curiosity about broadcasting that he had developed during a high school speech class led him to write a letter to the station, and they invited him to watch a noon newscast. He remembers telling his mother afterwards that “I’m never going to do that, it’s too stressful. I couldn’t ever do that.” But he did.

A graduate of Eastern New Mexico University, Riley’s first TV reporting job was in Roswell, New Mexico at KBIM-TV. However, he missed Iowa and his family and soon returned home where the legendary KWWL News Director Grant Price hired him for a job at KWWL’s sister station, KTIV in Sioux City. Riley became KTIV’s first Spencer Bureau reporter where he covered stories around northwest Iowa.

Riley’s career also included: reporter at KSFY, Sioux Falls; Waterloo bureau reporter for KGAN-TV, Cedar Rapids; and reporter/photographer at WOI-TV, Des Moines, before joining the WHO-TV staff.

Watch an interview with Roger Riley from the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting

In an interview, Riley mentioned several memorable stories he’s covered over the years:

  • A story that attracted statewide attention about a child that was missing for several days in northwest Iowa and finally found alive in a cornfield.
  • A feature story in Storm Lake about a person who received one of the first cochlear implants from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
  • President Ronald Reagan’s visit to Des Moines in 1982. “That was my first time ever seeing a president. So I thought, wow!” Roger said.
  • A ride-along with the Navy’s Blue Angels during an air show in Waterloo.
  • The five-and-a-half-month strike by the UAW at John Deere in 1986.
  • The devastating floods of 1993 in Des Moines and 2010 in Ames.
  • The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 2008 raid at the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville. ICE deployed 900 agents and arrested 400 workers who were illegal immigrants.
  • Lots of severe weather and tornado coverage over the years.

As you might imagine, technology during Riley’s long career has changed dramatically, and he has embraced it all. When he started his professional career, the station in Roswell was using film. The station had a new CP 16 sound on film camera along with several Bell & Howell windup film cameras, and a film processor, Riley said. Then the industry moved to videotape with cameras connected to heavy tape decks, and now digital cameras and digital editing.

These days, Riley says he shoots much of his video on an iPhone, although he also has two cameras that he uses as well. He does most of his editing in the field using a laptop, recording his audio in the car with a blanket over his head to keep out extraneous noise, and then feeding his finished packages back to the station using Wi-Fi at coffee shops and other places.

As for the future, Riley has no immediate plans to retire. “I do like working, telling stories. I don’t really have a set plan. I think I kind of take it one day at a time,” he said.

Bachman mixed broadcasting & religion

John Bachman considered going into Christian ministry, but he says his love for broadcast journalism took him in a different direction, one that lasted for 40 years.

Bachman is a familiar face to central Iowans where he worked as an anchor and reporter at WHO-TV in Des Moines for 25 years before retiring in 2012. His 40-year career as a broadcast journalist also included jobs at WMT-TV (now KGAN) in Cedar Rapids, WMAQ-TV in Chicago, and KARE-TV in Minneapolis.

Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS and Cliff Brockman of Wartburg College recently interviewed Bachman from his Florida home for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting Oral History Project.

Here are excerpts from Bachman’s interview which have been edited for length and clarity.  (Audio of the full interview is posted below.)

You’re the son of a pastor, son of the former president of Wartburg college, and you’re a Waverly Shell Rock High School graduate. So the church is calling you first? I don’t know that I had a calling, but I certainly had the culture around me and felt that faith was important in anybody’s life. And so that was a natural possible vocation. And my dad kind of encouraged me to think about it, although he didn’t discourage me when I started in broadcasting in college. Summers I was over at KDTH radio in Dubuque and then I kind of moved up in summer jobs and got into some television experience. That was while I was still in college. Then I was in seminary up in St. Paul Lutheran Seminary for a year, and then I studied abroad for a year. During that whole time, I was also doing broadcasting. So, I hadn’t had to make a (career) decision yet. It was around ‘72 when I had finally made a decision.

Was that a hard decision? You know, it wasn’t because I found that I love broadcasting. And I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to go into the church with that thought and that experience, guiding my love. So what I thought down the road was maybe I can use some of the training that I’ve had to kind of relate the two. It seems kind of odd to think that broadcasting and religion would have an interrelation, but I tried to do that in my career.

Did your career go as you thought it would? I think when I was young, I had visions of being a network anchor. But when I was in Chicago, I got firsthand experience of what network life is really like. Not only is it tense and anxious-filled, but you make a lot of sacrifices with your family life. And for me, family was really important. So I kind of reevaluated what my future was going to be. That was at WMAQ in Chicago, and it was a great experience for many, many reasons. But I think that really helped structure the rest of my career.

What was one of the big moments of your career? The Republican presidential debate of  ’99 was probably the one aspect of my career that will be a bit of a legacy. It was a question that I asked George W. Bush among the six candidates. Bush was third and responded to “What political philosopher-thinker do you most closely identify with and why?” And of course, everybody had said, the fathers of our country, Thomas Jefferson, and the like. Bush said “Jesus Christ.” I said, “Well, I think our viewers would want to know how he becomes this most important political philosopher to you.” Bush said, “Because He changed my heart.” So I said, “I think our viewers want to know how he has changed your heart.” And Bush came back with, “Well, if they don’t know, then it’s going to be hard to explain. But I gave my heart to Jesus Christ, my Savior, and he changed my life, and he changed my heart.”

Hanna Rosen of The Washington Post said it’s becoming known as campaign 2000’s, “Christ moment.” Howard Fineman of Newsweek wrote, “I think it was an extraordinary moment where secular politics and religious faith intersected.” Maureen Dowd (of the New York Times) took a typically sarcastic view and accused Bush of playing the “Jesus card.”

What do you think about the current state of the news business? There’s so much misinformation, with private equity groups owning stations, and with all the technology and the social media, and the fragmentation, and the deregulation and everything. People don’t trust the media anymore. And with good reason, because they’re all doing more with less. They don’t have the money, they don’t have the audience. So they’re aiming at one particular audience. And people do not know how to verify or check anything. I think in high school, there should be a journalism 101 course for everybody on how to be a reporter, how to be a fact checker. It doesn’t take hardly anything, even going to or you can go to They’re both good.

You’re starting to see stations come back with editorials. Has that been good for news?  I’m more concerned with the shows that are just total opinion. And people get confused. They think they’re news shows even though the networks still have their half-hour news broadcasts where there aren’t intended to be opinions. People mix the opinionated shows with those newscasts. And so they say ‘I can’t watch anything. I don’t believe anything.’ It’s a blanket whitewash of news programs. Not so much on the local level, fortunately, but yes, if you put the editorial afterwards, you know, I think that’s okay. A quick story about Walter Cronkite, I interviewed him after he had retired and spent about an hour with him. And this topic came up because he told me that his superiors wanted him to do editorials. And he resisted. Back in the day, there were pieces of elucidation, they called them, done within a newscast, or analysis, but not really opinions. Eric Sevareid always bragged about just kind of analyzing the news. And Cronkite told me, “I knew that I could do it, but I didn’t think the audience would accept me reading the news if I was also doing opinion pieces.” And, you know, I think he saw ahead to where we stand today. He saw that people are not going to accept that. They don’t believe that a newsman should do that.

Turning to something a little lighter, give us a humorous anecdote, perhaps an embarrassing moment on air for you?  I’m throwing it to Keith (Murphy) for sports. And he does two stories, one on Shawn Johnson, and one on Zach Johnson. Both were in the news on a regular basis. And he ends his sportscast with those two stories back-to-back. So he throws it to me, and I say, ‘Keith, how do you keep your Johnsons straight?’ And Keith is looking at me and he’s such a great guy, he’s not going to embarrass me. He’s not going to laugh. But in the age of the internet that would have perhaps ended my career.

John Bachman received many awards and honors during his career, including the 2005 Jack Shelley Award from the Iowa Broadcast News Association, and induction into the Silver Circle of the National Television Academy.

Southeast Iowa broadcaster has dual role

Dave Vickers’ career spans almost 45 years, the past 38 years at KROS where he is the news director and general manager. Vickers has served as president of the IBNA twice, as president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council three times, and has been on the Iowa Broadcaster’s Association board of directors. Here are seven questions we asked him.

When did you know you wanted to become a broadcast journalist? I remember sitting at the breakfast table, eating my cereal, getting ready to head off to elementary school, and listening to the Burlington radio station. And hearing the news on the radio and thinking to myself that’s what I want to do when I grow up.

What was your first job? The first job was in Austin, Minnesota. I started there as the second ag reporter. They decided after a time they didn’t need a second person. But I was leaving anyway because I was moving to Ottumwa in southern Iowa to take a job at KLEE radio.

What was your equipment like there in the newsroom? There was a big cassette recorder you carried around that was about the size of a briefcase, and a microphone with a mic cord. And that was what you carried to meetings or to do interviews or whatever else you did. When you were in the studio, you dumped it onto carts (cartridge tapes).

You’re also the KROS general manager besides being the news director. When did you pick up that additional job? In 1999, I took over as the general manager. At the time I thought well, I can do the job, and maybe I can move out of the news. We did have a news person who did maybe the bulk of the news, and I did it part-time. Now it’s, it’s kind of both jobs.

Let’s play a hypothetical game. There’s a story involving one of your largest advertisers. And they have done something that has gotten them in trouble with the law. Which hat do you wear? And how do you wear it deciding how that story is covered? Fairly, honestly, accurately, and ethically. If it’s a newsworthy story, it’s a newsworthy story. You ask (the advertiser) a question, is the story wrong? Is there a mistake in the story? And if the answer is no, then you know the story’s factual.

The station is known for having a cat. What’s that about? Our engineer said we needed a cat because he was tired of mice chewing up wires. So, we went to the Humane Society and got a cat and named it Smiley. And the cat was here for about 10 and a half years. I don’t know whether he ever caught a mouse in 10 and a half years. But there was no evidence of mice when we’d come in the morning. (After Smiley died) we went to the Humane Society and picked out another cat. We named her Krosby because our station call letters are KROS. People who come to the studio know she’s here. And the first thing they say is where’s the cat? So, it’s kind of a mini-celebrity thing.

The station is celebrating 80 years, you’re celebrating a few years there as well. How many more years are you going to be at the station? What’s the plan? Somebody told me one time when it comes time to retire that simply you’ll know when you know. And there’s no mistaking it.

The above excerpts are from an interview with Vickers for the Oral History Project of the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting. Listen to the full interview conducted by Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS.

Quad Cities journalist marks 35 years at WQAD

A longtime Quad Cities journalist says news gathering technology has changed incredibly over the years, but good reporting, writing, and photography are still the most important elements of journalism.

WQAD’s Andy McKay checks out one of the TV station’s drones. (Photo courtesy Quad City Times)

Andy McKay began his 35-year career at WQAD as a photographer, later becoming chief photographer, and is now assistant news director at the station.

Cliff Brockman, a retired broadcast journalist and journalism professor, and Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS interviewed McKay for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting Oral History Project.

Here are excerpts from McKay’s interview which have been edited for length and clarity.  (Audio of the full interview is posted below.)

TV news is transient, people will stay maybe two years in the market, and then move on to the next bigger market. Or they get out and get into public relations. Why have you stayed for 35 years at WQAD?  I was doing a story in the emergency room. There was some overnight stuff and I’d leave my equipment there. I met my future wife, through that story.  (She was an ER nurse.) And I like the Quad Cities. I like the kind of stories we get to do. We’re not overrun with crime and breaking news all the time. So, it’s not that constant turnaround, we get to meet people and do people’s stories.

What do you dislike about working in the news business? Sometimes you show up places, and the only reason you’re there, and the only time you show up, is because something bad happened. You see a lot of sad things that happen. You have to focus on your job and doing what you’re assigned to do. And you kind of try to block some of that stuff out.

What are a couple of the biggest stories you’ve covered? The biggest story was the Dusty Hill story, a local soldier that was injured over in the Middle East. He was in a tank (blown up by an IED) and he was severely injured, I don’t know how he survived. We went down to Texas to visit him where he was recovering. We did like a five-part series, then we ended up doing an hour special. And that story consumed my mind, every waking minute. I’d wake up and I’d be thinking about it.

Another big story had to be the 1993 flood. It flooded downtown Davenport and several housing areas. That broke the 1965 flood record. And in a lot of ways, it wasn’t that exciting. It was a big event because it drew national attention, all the networks came in. But watching the river rise was like watching water boil, just slowly inching up. But it was like hand-to-hand combat with sandbags, and everybody was on their own. It went on all summer. It felt like we didn’t have a summer because it just rained and rained all the time. It wasn’t from snow melt or anything like that. It was just all rain.

Listen to the full interview with Andy McKay

Let’s turn to technology. When I first started, we were still using film. Then by the time you started we were using ¾ inch tape with a heavy camera and side recorder, along with a heavy tripod. How has that changed?  Yes, those cameras and decks were heavy. Now we’re digital and we’re using SD cards. The cards can hold more and better video than a big 3/4 inch tape.  

Also, communications. When I started, we had two-way radios in the cars. Then we had pagers, so you’d get paged, but then you had to go find a payphone to call and always had to have a quarter in your pocket. Then pagers went away because we got cell phones and there’s texting, there’s no more two ways.

The live element used to be satellite trucks and live trucks. Now it’s the little backpack and you can just go live so much easier. All our crews have GoPros. And we have drones too. We’ve never been better equipped to be out in the field covering news.

What about the editing? It used to be the large tape decks that weren’t mobile, and you had to be in the station to edit. It was a slow process. Now everything’s nonlinear. And you can edit on laptops. We can go anywhere, and we can feed from anywhere.

On a little lighter note, can you think of any anecdotes, anything that’s happened to you? Something people wouldn’t have seen on the air? These weren’t funny at the time, but they’re funny now. Nicholas Sheley was a serial killer and Chris Minor and I went to Galesburg to cover a visit by his parents in court. We went to Galesburg, and as soon as I parked the car outside the courthouse, I turned off the key. I realized I did not pack my camera. No camera. Galesburg is 45 minutes from our station. Chris had a new phone and I figured out Chris’s phone and shot the video on her phone.

Another one was when I first started in Montana, and I was covering Senator Max Baucus. I was covering a delegation from Japan visiting some Montana ranches. We went one place and we’re shooting and then we’re going to pack up and go to another location. I accidentally locked my keys in the car. Senator Baucus was able to break into my car and at the time that was, you know, embarrassing.

What do you enjoy the most about your job? Working with new reporters. We have some really good reporters who want to learn and do better. When you see them “get it,” and they start putting things into practice, and they start developing those skills and have good storytelling skills, that’s a good thing. And I enjoy that, enjoy that a lot.

What’s the future hold for you personally? I hope to retire on my terms. But I still have some work to do. I still need to work a few years yet.