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.

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.

Robinson wins 2021 Shelley Award

The 2021 winner of the Iowa Broadcast News Association Jack Shelley Award is Tom Robinson of KSOM in Atlantic.

2021 Shelley winner Tom Robinson and his wife Lori.

Tom is an Atlantic High School graduate. He curtailed his college studies to help on the family farm and pursue an interest in radio. He started as the public address announcer for football and provided radio game reports. He covered the State Wrestling Tournament for stations KJAN and KSOM in Atlantic.

In 1999  he accepted a full-time position as Sports Director for  KSOM, and then took on the duties of News Director.

One nomination letter from a colleague describes Tom this way: “From staying until past midnight working on a sports story after a game or election coverage, to turning around at 3 a.m. to bring severe weather coverage to Southwest Iowa. His dedication and instincts to provide accurate and compelling news, farm markets, and sports coverage are unmatched by any broadcaster I have had the pleasure of working alongside. The professionalism he brings to the air every day inspires the rest of us on-air to be at our best as well. Tom Robinson is a world-class broadcaster and I aspire to be as great of a person/broadcaster as he is. ”

Tom has served for several years on the board of the Iowa Broadcast News Association,  including a term as Board President. Tom is also a member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. He has won numerous awards from the IBNA and has also received the Distinguished Service Award from the Iowa Football Coaches Association and the Iowa High School Athletic Association Media Award.

The Shelley Award is the IBNA’s highest honor. It is named for Jack Shelley,  the former news director of WHO, and professor emeritus at Iowa State University.

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 factcheck.org or you can go to politifact.com 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.

North Iowa broadcaster dedicates career to his hometown radio station

News Director Pat Powers has worked at KQWC radio in Webster City for more than four decades. Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS and Cliff Brockman, a retired broadcast journalist and journalism professor, recently interviewed Powers for the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting Oral History Project.

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

What made you decide to get into broadcasting? My father was a farmer in Duncombe (Iowa) and I wanted to work with him. But I was allergic to corn dust. Well, what can I do? I had this interest in radio here. I did the announcements for about a year or two at Webster City High School in the 11th and 12th grades.

And so, you went to Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis? Yes, I did. The school is no longer there. I graduated in June of 1978 and that’s when I had an offer from KQWC. And, I’ve been employed here going on 43 years, officially August 14th (2021).

What do you remember about the equipment that you’ve had? We had typewriters at the time, no computers. Also we recorded via reel to reel tape. We also used cassette recorders.

And now you’re using a cell phone. Yes, it’s amazing how far music and technology has come these 43 years. This is a breeze right now just using this cell phone. As a matter of fact, I use this to record all the meetings that I cover.

Watch a video about Pat Powers produced by Izzy Wootoon.

Was there ever a time where Pat Powers said I think it’s time for me to go, try my hand somewhere else? Never has crossed my mind here, because this is home. I love Webster City. I have great respect for the people here and they have a lot of respect towards me.

And you have been involved, your stitch is all through the fabric of the community. I see you on Facebook, and I know people in Webster City who say Pat hosted this and Pat hosted that and Pat came to this. Why are you at all of these things Pat? Because I want to support these organizations, no matter what they are. I like to be there as best as I can. I’ve announced the Prom Walk, the Raspberry Festival in Webster City, I hosted a Christmas dinner for many years at the Methodist church. I’ve also helped out at Webster City schools. I’ve been an actor, too with the Webster City Community Theater. I got my start in a production called “Charlotte’s Web.” I’ve also appeared in musicals. I’ve also appeared in a drama production, and even some horror classics like Frankenstein.

You’ve received the Iowa Character Award through the Robert Ray Center. Yes, it meant the world to me. I was surprised by the award.

You were also named Broadcaster of the Year in 2017 by the Iowa Broadcasters Association. That was very special to me. My general manager at the time, Mary Harris, told me to come to the IBA summer meeting. I didn’t know what to expect. Lunchtime rolled around and I was just floored when the general manager of KCCI television made the announcement of me getting this award. That was quite a shock.

What are some of the big news stories that you’ve covered?  The biggest story happened 30 years ago on Halloween. It was an ice storm. By mid-afternoon power was out and there was no city-wide generator at that time. Thank goodness, we had a generator here at the radio station. I credit the staff at that time with keeping people informed. We finally signed off that following Sunday night.

That was quite a storm. Any other stories that stick out in your memory?  There was an accident involving a very dear friend of mine back in 2014. I was preparing the news at five o’clock in the morning and received an email from the Iowa State Patrol about an accident that occurred in this area. I was shocked, I was saddened because a dear friend of mine died in the car accident. And a few days later, I had the chance to speak at the person’s funeral.

How is Pat Powers going to be remembered as a radio broadcaster? One that’s devoted to his work and just enjoying what I do. It’s been 43 years.

Do you have a goal in mind of how long you are going to work? Are you trying to get to 50, 60, 70 years in broadcasting? I sure hope so. As long as my community gives me the chance to do that, I will carry on as best as I can.

Iowa broadcast history project gets new life

The Archives of Iowa Broadcasting is reviving its Oral History Project. The project is a collection of well over 100 interviews with noted Iowa broadcasters. The project was started in 1994 by the late Grant Price, a long-time Iowa broadcast journalist and journalism professor.

Grant Price

The project has mostly been dormant in recent years following Price’s death, and the death of Dean Borg of Iowa Public Radio who had taken over the project. You can watch many of their interviews here.

Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS and Cliff Brockman, a retired broadcast journalist and journalism professor, have resumed doing interviews. The interviews will also be the basis for a series of occasional articles for the IBNA website.

Most recently Yeager and Brockman talked to Mike Peterson who has a nearly 35-year career in broadcast journalism. He has worked at three different Iowa radio stations: KILR in Estherville, KSIB in Creston, and since 2000 at KMA in Shenandoah where he is senior news anchor and reporter. Peterson is a Nebraska native and earned a broadcasting degree from California State University in Los Angeles. He was the 2011 winner of the Jack Shelley Award which is the Iowa Broadcast News Association’s top award.

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

Mike Peterson, KMA, Shenandoah

How did you get interested in journalism? I was a news reporter for The Rustler, the high school student newspaper. I wasn’t a very good student up until that time, but I think with The Rustler I finally found my niche. I always thought about getting into radio or television, but I think that was my first taste of journalism experience.

While you were at Cal State you had a number of experiences. What were some of those? I worked in media relations for the Olympic Judo events in 1984, probably two of the greatest weeks of my life, being part of the Olympic experience. I was able to get on Falcon cable television in Alhambra, California, my first real broadcasting experience doing play by play of high school football games. And, I had an internship at KCBS Channel 2 in Los Angles.

How did you land your first job after graduation? If I wanted to be on the air in radio or television, I’d have to go to a smaller place.  So I left California after I graduated from Cal State in 1986. I got a call from KILR radio in Estherville saying they had an opening for a nighttime announcer. I worked there from 1987 until 1989. I was news director at the station the last four months I worked there and I was about as green as you get. I learned a great deal and made a lot of mistakes.

Then KSIB (in Creston) came calling? My first weekend at KSIB was when they had the Southwest Iowa Balloon Jamboree, which is kind of like the Super Bowl for Creston. And I spent that first weekend covering Balloon Days not knowing anything about balloon races and it kind of threw me into the fire that first weekend and it was a lot of fun. I spent 10 years as news director there and then I also did a lot of sports there too.

I wanted to tell you about a great story covering sports there. It was a 1992 football high school football playoff game. It was at the Norwalk football field, and it was going to be cold. I had a pair of coveralls that I borrowed, and I dressed up for it, but when we got there, we found out that they put our broadcasting position on top of the building overlooking the field.  We broadcast the game in a 20 mile per hour wind hitting us. It was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. About midway through the game, I think my jaw started to freeze. I was having trouble formulating words.

Then you went to KMA in Shenandoah. Let’s talk about the transition from one station to another. Two days after Christmas in 1999, Bill Bone, who was the news director at KMA back then gave me a call and was wondering whether or not I knew of anybody who is looking for a job in the business who might want to come to KMA as an assistant in the news department. I think there was a voice in the back of my head that said, you know, Mike, you better look into this. And so, I said, well, I’d be interested in interviewing for the job. It’s been 21 years and it’s a move that really paid off for me in so many ways.

KMA is such a legendary station, it’s been on the air for 95 years, it was started by the May family, Earl May was the founder of the station as a method to sell seeds. To me it’s like wearing Yankee pinstripes. We’re a dynasty. This is a dynasty.

And why is that? How did that happen? Was it a dynasty right away? I think it’s because it was service oriented. As Andy Anderson, former program director and general manager once said, we’re geared up in the community, we cover a large area, we still cover Southwest Iowa and Northwest Missouri, and Southeast Nebraska. And regional and local content was always very important.

A few years ago, Ed May Jr. sold the station. And he made sure that he sold it to a group of people here in Shenandoah, local owners, a group of local folks who wanted to keep the station alive. And he did not want to see that station bought out by some major conglomerate. So I think it’s just the local flavor that’s always really sustained KMA over the years and why people still turn to the station to this day.

When you think about the state of journalism from when you were a high school kid in Fremont, to a college student in California to a multi-stop radio news person, has the state of journalism changed over your career? And if it has, for the better?  In some ways it hasn’t. You still want to get things right, you still want to be accurate, you still want to be fair, the basics of news writing: accuracy, brevity and clarity, those ideals and those standards are still there, you still want to get everything right and do a good job, not be perfect, but do a good job. The number one thing that has changed the years is the technology. I mentioned earlier that when I started back in Estherville, and in Creston, we had cart machines, we had cassettes, reel to reel. And now we have computers, we have digital recorders, these digital recorders that are the size of a cigarette lighter.

Another big challenge right now that we’re facing in journalism is the social media, having to contend with Facebook, and Twitter, the information that goes out from people that don’t hold up to journalism ideals. And that’s a major challenge and especially true over the last year with trying to cover COVID-19 and trying to get accurate information out about the virus.

I think that the criticism (of journalists) has gone up dramatically over the last few years. Judging from what some of my colleagues have told me they’re facing a lot more heat than they used to. I think it started well before the previous presidential administration. And it’s all filtered down to the local area, we’re all facing a lot more criticism. But I think if we continue to hold to our ideals and realize that 98 percent of the people in this business want to get it right and want to do a great job for their station and therefore, for their community, if we just hold to our ideals and hold on to why we love the job and why we love this business. That’s how we get through this.