Joel Hermann retires after 4 decades in Storm Lake

Joel Hermann

Joel Hermann died unexpectedly on June 16, 2020 of natural causes in his Storm Lake home. Joel was 64. Below is an interview done when he retired August 31, 2019.

After 41 years at KAYL/KKIA radio in Storm Lake, News Director Joel Hermann has retired. Joel and I worked together for a few years at the start of our careers when I was the KAYL news director and Joel was an announcer and the station’s music director in the mid-70s. In 1984, Joel became the news director, a position he held until his retirement at the end of August.

Recently I talked to Joel and here are excerpts of our conversation. You can also listen to our entire conversation below.

Why did you stay at KAYL for 41 years?
I just liked the town. The station changed hands a few times over the years, but all the different owners were always very good to me and it was just a nice place to work.

Why did you decide to retire now?
Last winter I kind of got tired of either having to go out at 4:30 in the morning and remove the snow off my driveway or if that was too much to do, walk to work, which is only about 12 minutes, but that’s an awful long 12 minutes in a blizzard. So, I was thinking maybe before winter sets in next year I can figure out how I can retire. I was going to retire at the end of the year. And then I thought, why not retire when the weather’s still nice? So, I retired at the end of August.

What are you going to do now?
I’m never getting up at 4:30 in the morning again! I have a number of projects to do around the house. I have some volunteer work that I’ve been doing for quite a while at our church and they already put me on the board of trustees my second day of retirement. There’ll probably be some other people asking me to volunteer. And, my parents live about three and a half hours away and I need to see them more often.

Have you been able to adjust to retirement yet?
I got on our website last week and was reading some news stories. I noticed that the city council had met, and it didn’t even occur to me that city council was going to meet, even though I’d covered them twice a month for decades. So, I guess I’m already forgetting things. Maybe that’s a good sign.

Of course, there’ve been plenty of technological changes. What are a couple of big things that you can remember?
We don’t have those old teletypes and typewriters like we did when you were working at KAYL. Besides a computer rather than a typewriter, it’s the digital recorders. I can remember going to a Storm Lake school board meeting and it lasted two hours, and you had it all on cassette tape. It took forever to fast forward and rewind to find that actuality you wanted. Now on digital it takes about a couple of seconds.

How has Storm Lake changed over your 41 years there? I know there’s been a changing population.

When I first moved here it was pretty much all white. Now I think our local school district is something like 54 percent Hispanic, 18 percent Asian and 16 percent white or what they now call non-Hispanic Caucasian. It’s been a huge change as far as demographics of the town and it has gotten somewhat bigger. There’s a housing shortage right now.

Is that because of the new jobs Tyson foods has created, along with the increased retail and commercial base because of that?
Yes, mostly they brought in employees from other areas. I’m sure you probably never, ever would have considered that KAYL would broadcast in a language other than English. But for the past quite a few years (KAYL-AM) has been in Spanish, so that has made a change.

I know you covered thousands of stories during your time in Storm Lake, but is there one that really sticks out in your memory?
In 1994, a young woman attempted to kill her daughters by slashing their throats and that was bad enough. But then the hearings on her sanity continued for several years and it was probably the biggest story and probably the most difficult to cover. Eventually they changed her medication and she basically became a different person. The grandmother got custody of the two little girls and eventually I started going to a church that the family went to and I saw the girls grow up.

Scholarships awarded for 2021

Three students were awarded scholarships by the Iowa Broadcast News Association at the IBNA annual convention April 17th in Johnston.

The scholarships are funded by the Iowa Broadcasters Association Foundation. The organization normally awards one Grant Price, and one Dick Petrik scholarship, but this year voted to award three scholarships split among the three.

The winners pictured below with IBNA Executive Director Dar Danielson are: Bailey Cichon, a senior at the University of Iowa; Madison Freeland, a junior at Wartburg College; Noah Sacco, a senior Simpson College. (L-R)

Documentary details President Hoover and radio history

Iowa native Herbert Hoover played an important role in the development of radio.

A retired Iowa State University journalism professor has produced a new video documentary about an important part of broadcasting history and its connection to Iowa’s only president, Herbert Hoover.

The documentary entitled “Clearing the Static: Herbert Hoover and the Radio Act of 1927” was produced by Steve Coon. The act set out rules regarding licensing for what was then the new medium of radio.

Coon, who is also a past IBNA executive secretary, says he became interested in the topic while researching a possible book about Hoover and radio. He found that much had already been written on the subject, but there had never been a video documentary.

“The reason I got involved is that for decades I had a long interest in broadcasting and then being somewhat of a history buff…it just all seemed to come together nicely,” Coon said.

The 30-minute documentary includes numerous historical pictures and video, much of it from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Coon also gathered information from several universities, and even from a trip to the Library of Congress. And, there are interviews with several historians.

Watch the documentary

Coon worked on the documentary for two years. He said one of his biggest challenges was that there were no recordings from those early days of radio. “I had to rely on scripts, pictures, and for the documentary I was able to use a few recreations,” he said. 

In the early 1900’s radio was a new medium and there were no regulations. Anyone could go on the air, on any frequency, and at any amount of power, Coon said. It was a sort of a “wild, wild west” with stations interfering with each other’s signals, he said.

That’s when the federal government stepped in to regulate radio. Herbert Hoover was the secretary of commerce at the time, and Coon said it fell to Hoover to develop rules governing the quickly developing industry.

Hoover was an engineer and his background of developing regulations for the mining industry was helpful. “He was very much interested in standardization, how you could make sure things worked, and worked properly,” Coon said.

Hoover wanted to bring that kind of standardization to radio. “When you have the unregulated growth of all these radio stations going on,” Coon said, “and no one saying, wait a minute, you can’t have everybody be on that particular frequency and not everyone can broadcast at this particular power, something had to be done about this.”

The Radio Act of 1927 established the Federal Radio Commission, which later led to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1934 that regulates broadcasting.

Many of those first regulations still exist. “The basic structure of radio in terms of licensing of individual radio (and TV) stations, assigning individual frequencies that radio and television stations operate on, and a public service mandate to operate in the public interest, necessity, and convenience still has carried over to today,” Coon said.

“Clearing the Static: Herbert Hoover and the Radio Act of 1927,” is available on You Tube. Coon will be presenting the documentary (virtually) to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library in June 2021. And, Iowa PBS will be using segments of the documentary in its programming.

WQAD TV Journalist wins the 2020 Jack Shelley Award

Chris Minor, who retired in June of 2018 from WQAD-TV in Moline after 33 years in the Davenport-Moline-Rock Island market, was named the 2020 winner of the Jack Shelley Award during the evening banquet of the IBNA convention in Pella.

The Jack Shelley Award is the highest honor presented by the IBNA and is named for the former News Director of WHO TV and radio, and Professor Emeritus at Iowa State University.

Minor joined the convention via video chat.  Here is the audio of 2019 Shelley winner Pam Ohrt making the announcement and then Minor’s remarks:


Here is what the nomination material for Minor said:

Chris is a stellar journalist, teacher, and news leader who spent a third of a century holding the powerful to a higher standard and becoming a voice for those who thought they had none.”

She is one of only two people who have been called legends at the station, joining Jim King as an exemplar of what we all should be.

Her work continues to have an impact on western Illinois and eastern Iowa. She was fearless. Whether confronting shady business people accused of ripping off customers, holding elected officials accountable for their decisions, or asking the questions everyone wanted to know, Chris Minor stood out among her peers from the day she arrived in the Quad Cities in 1985. She was respected and feared by competitors. And that included veteran reporters in both print and broadcast.

Chris broke too many stories to recount.  A few highlights are:

  • The only interview with murderer Cory Gregory, one of three teens convicted of murdering and dismembering classmate Adrienne Reynolds
  • The only exclusive interview with the last person believed to have seen 11-year old Trudy Appleby, the Moline girl still missing since 1996
  • The exclusive groundbreaking coverage of the “Church of Love”, a tawdry story of a mail-order racket that ripped off lonely men around the nation. Her coverage landed Chris on national talk shows in 1988
  • On-the-scene coverage of Rock River flooding in Erie, Illinois which won her a national Associated Press award.

Just one of those would be the pinnacle of a career. For Chris, each lined up one after another, year after year, in a truly memorable body of work we’ll not see again in a local newsroom.
In an extensive career of court reporting, Chris was known as a straight
shooter. Judge Walter Braud, the Chief Judge of the Illinois Judicial District said this of Chris Minor: “She’s part of us and I always thought of her that way. When she would show up with her camera crew, it was, she was, part of what we do: law enforcement, defense. She’s ours. I think she’s the best I’ve ever seen.”

Chris was also a watchdog of local government and its spending. In Illinois, she uncovered local nepotism and graft in ways no other reporter dared. Veteran Rock Island County Board member Don Johnston echoed what many people know: “To this day, people use her name when they shudder about a reporter coming in and wanting to interview them for one reason or another. They’ll sit right up when Chris Minor calls.”

But she was also a teacher, mentor, and friend. Countless reporters and photographers were made better by her help, her example, and her tenaciousness. Just ask veteran NBC anchor/reporter Hota Kotb who began her career at WQAD: “Chris Minor is the quintessential reporter’s reporter. And I remember just watching (her) in the field, breaking story after story and I thought like, ‘Who is she?’, like ‘How does she do this?’. (She was) generous with everything and (she) kept giving it away and (she) said ‘Learn about this’ and ‘Learn about that’. And you know, sometimes when I think about my career, and I’m grateful every day, I think to myself ‘Why did I get to come here?’ and I think it’s largely because of (her).”

The greatest compliment probably came from the WQAD audience. Time and again Chris got the tips no one else got because people knew she would follow the story wherever it led. She was the agent of change for people who ran out of options and were desperate for someone to listen to their story. The plain fact is Chris Minor pursued the stories, not the awards. She seldom entered her work for judging (though she was named Illinois AP Reporter of the Year” more than once).

She lived a life of reporting for the simple reasons you hope every journalist does: she loved the craft, she loved the challenge, she loved the stories, and she loved the people. And she left on top, with the appreciation and respect of the station, the communities, and the people she served.”

Lawyer says police are accountable

The public is entitled to details of police investigations, including those when law enforcement officers kill or seriously hurt people, Cedar Rapids attorney David O’Brien told members of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

O’Brien spoke at the Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s annual meeting, held virtually because of the pandemic, on November 13, 2020.

He has won several lawsuits against law enforcement agencies who’s officers have killed or seriously hurt people during criminal investigations. In several of those cases, law enforcement refused to release details of their investigations.

In a highly publicized case, the Polk County Sheriff’s office refused to release basic information and squad car dash-cam video after a deputy fatally shot a Wisconsin man following a high-speed chase that ended in Altoona in 2019. The Freedom of Information Council sued, and the county recently settled the lawsuit by agreeing to release the video and details of their investigation into the shooting.

O’Brien represented the family of the dead man. He noted in his speech that state law requires the release of information about police investigations. “We can’t hold the government accountable,” he said, “if we don’t know what they’re doing.”

To encourage that release of information, he said an independent, statewide board is needed to investigate and possibly prosecute cases where law enforcement officers kill or seriously hurt someone.

In officer involved shootings, the state Department of Criminal Investigation is called in to investigate. But too often, O’Brien said, the DCI acts more like a criminal defense attorney trying to find ways to prove the police officer’s innocence. He thinks an independent investigation board could avoid that.

“I’m not accusing people of corruption,” he said. But when law enforcement officers investigate other law enforcement officers it becomes a “circle the wagon attitude that they have because they are a brotherhood.”

However, he said most officers are doing a difficult, and at times dangerous job “without violating people’s civil rights.”

Even so, it’s important for journalists and the public remain vigilant. Complimenting the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, O’Brien said “There are people out there right now that are safe because of the work you’ve done, making sure government wrongdoing is not a kept secret.”

Donation helps preserve Iowa broadcasting history

A $1.2 million gift will fund a permanent position that oversees the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting, as well as the Wartburg College Archives. Both archives are in the Vogel Library at the college.

James Petersen (left) and David McCartney

David McCartney and James Petersen of Iowa City donated the money.

Named the Grant Price Endowed Archivist, money earned by investing the gift will pay the archivist’s salary and other costs. Previously the college funded the archivist position but eliminated the job at the end of 2019 for budgetary reasons.

“Grant Price dreamed of this day,” Wartburg President Darrel Colson said. “I can’t help but think that he’s broadcasting this story, a story of a dream fulfilled by David and James, on heaven’s own network.”

Price was a longtime Iowa broadcast journalist who later came out of retirement to teach at Wartburg. He also founded the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting in 1994. McCartney is an original member of the archives National Advisory Board that was organized in 2004. He has chaired the board since 2012.

The broadcasting archives house radio recordings, and TV film and tapes of news events, newscasts, programs, and commercials. Also stored in the archives are historical papers, and vintage radio and TV equipment. All have been donated by Iowa radio and TV stations.

Read more about the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting

The archives are also home to an oral history project that includes videotaped interviews with numerous Iowa Broadcasters. The project is available online.

When donating the gift, McCartney said “The values that Grant represented in terms of fairness and ethics are very important to remember. Our hope is that the endowed position will allow Wartburg and the larger community to continue to recognize that.”

KCRG’s Bruce Aune begins his ‘retirement adventure’

Bruce Aune is retiring after more than 50 years in broadcast journalism, including the past 34 years as the main anchor at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids.

Aune talked about his career shortly before his last day at KCRG on March 6th. Here are excerpts of the interview. The full interview is posted below.

Not many broadcast journalists stay in the profession for as long as you have. Why did you continue working in the news business for so long?
I just have really, really enjoyed it. The aspect of being in touch with what’s going on in the community and in the state, and even beyond that in our country, and having the ability to discern what we think is of value to our viewers gives me a responsibility that I really treasure.

Why did you decide to retire now?
I hit 70 last July. And it was a point where I decided that I needed to spend more time with my wife and we’re going to do a lot more traveling and things. And I maxed out my social security (laughs). So, it was time.

What are your plans now that you’re retiring?
My wife Darcy and I are planning to do a lot more traveling. We are going to Israel and Jordan in just about six weeks from now and then a trip to Portugal next October. And we’re planning to do as much mission work as we can through our church and other organizations.

Our faith is very important to us and we are going to make that kind of the center of my retirement adventure. I think it’s going to keep us busy plus a lot of volunteer work for different organizations here in the Cedar Rapids area too.



You’ve covered a lot of events over the years. Of course, one of the biggest ones I’ve got to assume is the flood of 2008. What was it like to cover that?

Less than a month before that we had the devastating tornado that hit Parkersburg and that was a huge, huge story here in Eastern Iowa. And then to suddenly have this devastating flood was just beyond our belief, but it was a situation where the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids just kept rising and it just kept raining. The Thursday before the crest, I came in in the morning and started working with our morning anchor. I think I was on the air until about one o’clock the next morning. Beth Malicki, my co-anchor, came in in the afternoon and it just continued on for four days where we were putting in these long, long hours, and we lost electricity in our building and were running on a generator.

We again felt that there was a real responsibility for us to really get the information out to people on what exactly was happening. And when you’ve got thousands and thousands of people like this forced out of their homes, not just in Cedar Rapids, but in many of the communities here in Eastern Iowa, it was a time for us to really just shift into that higher gear and take off the neck tie, throw it in the corner, and get to work.

Any other big stories that you’ve covered over the years that stand out?
There’ve been quite a few. (There were) the shootings in Iowa city back in 1991 at the University of Iowa. That was really I think the beginning, kind of the turning point for KCRG-TV news coverage. We were seriously a bad number three in the market when I came in March of 1986 and it took several years for us to really kind of convince the viewing audience that we were serious and we’re trying to take a different step forward and really become more dominant in the market.

Any last things you’d like to say?
I just want to point out how much I appreciate the loyalty of viewers here in Eastern Iowa. The friendship, the kind, kind words that are coming in now with my retirement, it really is very humbling to find out the impact I, as a human being, had on other people.

Aune is the 2015 Jack Shelley Award winner, the highest honor given by the Iowa Broadcast News Association.

By Cliff Brockman, past IBNA president, Jack Shelley Award winner, and Professor Emeritus, Journalism & Communication, Wartburg College.

Historic WHO radio recordings now online

Archivist Amy Moorman holds original recording.

A large collection of WHO radio recordings in the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting (AIB) has been digitized and is now available online to the public. There are more than 500 recordings, from 1938 – 1961, that are accessible at the AIB website.

Archivist Amy Moorman says the recordings are primarily Iowa shows including farm shows, news reports, entertainment shows, and some sports broadcasts by former President Ronald Reagan who worked there for a time as sports director.

There are also broadcasts of the Iowa Centennial celebration. And, there are some World War II broadcasts by News Director Jack Shelley and Farm Director Herb Plambeck, both of whom reported from Europe and Asia.

The recordings provide a “history of broadcasting in Iowa and the development of radio in that time period,” Moorman said. “They’re a pretty unique resource.”

Listen to the WHO radio recordings.

The recordings, called acetate discs, look like large records. They were stored in a climate-controlled vault at the former WHO-TV building. But, in some cases, “the discs were being used as door stops” by people who didn’t know how important the recordings were, George Davison, a former WHO journalist, said. Davison was one of several people who played a role in saving the recordings.

Machine used to record acetate discs.

WHO in Des Moines was one of the first radio stations in Iowa, going on the air in 1924 and broadcasting at 1040 AM with 50,000 watts of power. Because of that signal strength, the station could be heard throughout the Midwest.

Joel McCrae, a long time Iowa broadcaster and manager of WHO, was one of those who understood the value of the recordings.

“I have always been interested in the history of WHO radio as I grew up listening to the station.  In fact, when I was 12, I recorded the entire 50th anniversary broadcast day in April of 1974,” McCrae said.

“The acetates were at risk of ruin from time and we were wanting to preserve the recordings,” he said. So, the station donated the discs to the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting located at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.

 “The material represents the people of Iowa as they were at that time, and how they helped to make the state what it is today,” Davison said.

Digitizing the recordings
The discs “are some of the most fragile formats of audio recordings that we have in the archives,” Moorman said. “We wanted to digitize them to save the content that’s on them before the discs further deteriorated.” Some of the more heavily damaged discs were sent to a company that specializes in a procedure to recover the sound from those recordings.

Moorman said digitizing the discs took 15 months and cost more than $47,000. The project was funded by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

The expense and work to save the recordings was worth it, Davison said. “It gives an Iowa slant to momentous events. It’s a wonderful treasure trove and broadcasting professionals should be happy it’s been preserved.”

Wartburg students produce Grant Price documentary

Wartburg students working on the documentary “Grant Price: Setting the Standard” interview Jim Waterbury, retired general manager of KWWL-TV.

Iowa broadcast journalism icon Grant Price is the subject of a new documentary produced by a team of Wartburg College students.

Grant Price

The project was part of the journalism and communication department’s capstone course during the 2019 winter semester. “Grant Price: Setting the Standard” premiered in April at Wartburg and is now available on You Tube.

Watch the documentary.

Before they began work on the documentary, none of the seven students on the production team knew much, if anything, about Price, Madison Bloker, the project manager, said. But, after working for more than 500 hours on the documentary, Bloker said that changed.

“I literally feel like he’s a part of my life because he had such a profound impact on so many people.

“And it felt like we knew him,” she said.

Price had a 50-year career in Iowa radio and TV news, then taught at Wartburg for another 15 years where he started the TV broadcasting program. He died in 2008. (Read Price’s biography.)

The group chose Price as their documentary subject from choices provided by the course’s instructor, Penni Pier. Pier worked with Price at Wartburg for several years.

“I understood inherently his role, not only in the history of Iowa journalism, but how he also contributed to journalistic practices nationwide.” Because of that, she said, it was important to produce a documentary about him. “We are responsible to, and for, history,” Pier said.

Documentary takes shape
At first, Katie Kreis, a digital producer, said the group focused on Price’s impact at Wartburg. But after researching Price’s career and receiving feedback from the department faculty, that changed.

“We realized that he was across the country such an impactful and influential guy. So, we needed to make this even bigger than we thought,” Kreis said.

The students interviewed 30 people for the documentary, including former professional and faculty colleagues, former students, and Price’s two daughters. They traveled to Des Moines, Marion, Iowa City, and Minneapolis, as well as Waverly, to do the interviews.

The documentary includes numerous pictures and film clips, many of them from the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting that Price founded while at Wartburg. Pier says that while the students interviewed lots of people who knew Price, the historical material from the Archives was key.

“A documentary full of talking heads about Grant isn’t the same thing as hearing Grant’s voice and seeing him on the screen,” she said.The first draft of the documentary script and soundbites was 40 minutes, Bloker said. Since the assignment was for a 15-minute documentary, the team rewrote the script eight times, Kreis said.

Bloker said they learned several things about Price that people may not be aware of:

  • He was a leader in diversity in news coverage. He made sure the station’s reporting included minorities, she said.
  • Price hired one of the first black anchors in Iowa (sports director Rick Coleman).
  • Price was one of the first to hire male and female co-anchors (Ron Steele and Liz Mathis).
  • Price was a “stickler for details.” For example, he once sternly corrected Mathis for calling a ship a boat, she said.
  • And, Bloker said along with his deep interest in the news, Price was a devoted family man.

Beloved professor
Kreis said the former students they interviewed all talked lovingly about Price.

Former KWWL General Manager Jim Waterbury told them Price could have easily ended his career in the broadcast journalism field when he retired. But, Waterbury said Price “wanted to take the baton and pass it off to younger, strong writers. And that’s exactly what he did.”

Producing the documentary “was a huge learning experience for all of us,” Kreis said.
Not only did they learn about making a documentary, she said, they also learned a great deal about journalism history.

Bloker echoed that sentiment. “I just feel really grateful the we got the opportunity to learn more about him.”

See the team’s website and their Face Book page.

Wartburg professor wins Shelley Award

Pam Ohrt

Pam Ohrt of Wartburg College is the 2019 Jack Shelley Award winner. She received the award from the Iowa Broadcast News Association at its April 13th convention in Johnston.

The award is named after the long-time WHO news director who later taught at Iowa State University. The Shelley Award is the highest honor an Iowa broadcast journalist can receive.

Watch Ohrt award video.

Ohrt had a 27-year professional career in radio news, most of it at KOEL radio in Oelwein where she served as assistant news director to the legendary Dick Petrik. She became news director when Petrik retired.

 KOEL had a major commitment to news at that time with a news staff of four full-timers and one part-timer. They had a unique operation, making more than 200 daily phone calls in a several county area to police departments, sheriff’s offices, city halls and county courthouses to gather stories.

Ohrt brought her professional experience to the classroom during a lengthy teaching career, including the last 13 years at Wartburg College. At Wartburg, she teaches journalism and radio broadcasting, and advises KWAR, the student radio station.

“I absolutely love instilling this passion in students and watching them blossom as they learn how to do radio shows and do their newscasts,” Ohrt said.

“A lot of them will say ‘I didn’t think I was really going to like this, but I absolutely love it,’ and that’s what it’s all about for me,” she said.

Tyler French, a former student and one of the award nominators, currently works in radio. He says Ohrt pushed him to become a better journalist.

“She applies the perfect guiding hand to the students on staff, allowing them to succeed and learn from mistakes, but also making sure things are accomplished and KWAR continues as one of the best college radio stations around,” French said.

See a complete list of Jack Shelley Award winners.