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.

Rivera trial media coordinator gives inside look at coverage setup

Cristhian Bahena Rivera listens as his attorney Chad Frese delivers closing arguments in Rivera’s trial. (Pool photo)

Making arrangements for expanded media coverage of the Cristhian Rivera murder trial was perhaps one of the toughest challenges for the man in charge of handling the microphones and cameras in the courtroom.

Mike Ortiz is the media coordinator in the region that includes Davenport, where the trial was held. He’s been the media coordinator for 20 years, but this trial had much more attention than any of the others he’s organized.

Six TV stations, the Fox affiliate from Chicago, radio stations, and newspapers had all filed requests to cover the trial with expanded media coverage, allowing TV cameras and still cameras to be used in the courtroom. While Ortiz handled the arrangements “on the ground” in Davenport, Kyle Ocker of the Ottumwa Courier handled the paperwork and organized the print reporting pool coverage. Ocker is the media coordinator for the region where the trial was originally going to be held before it was moved to Davenport on a change of venue.

Mike Ortiz

Rivera is the 26-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico who was convicted on May 28 of the murder of Mollie Tibbetts of Brooklyn, Iowa. The case generated national interest, including comments from then President Trump, because of concerns over illegal immigration.

“We went to like a month and a half of meetings trying to figure out how we were going to do this and trying to prepare and making sure of how many TV stations are coming down. So it was a challenge,” Ortiz said. Ortiz is a photographer at KWQC-TV in Davenport and volunteers as the media coordinator.

Complicating planning for coverage were COVID-19 protocols requiring spacing out of trial participants. Ortiz said jurors were not in the jury box, but instead spaced out in the gallery area of the courtroom. Because of a renovation project at the courthouse, the only two other available rooms were reserved for family members to watch the trial via a closed-circuit feed, he said.

Normally, expanded media coverage trials have one video camera operated by a photographer in the back of the courtroom. A cable from the camera is run to another room and into a box that reporters plug into to record the trial proceedings. TV stations take turns each day providing the camera and photographer in the courtroom.

Fortunately, Ortiz said, Court TV became interested in televising the trial. Court TV is a cable channel that broadcasts trials live from across the country.

“They were excellent to work with, some really nice people who bent over backwards to help us out,” Ortiz said. He says IT workers at the courthouse also provided invaluable assistance.

Court TV installed three remote-controlled cameras in the courtroom that were operated from a switcher set up in another room. The feed was then sent to a production truck outside the building and from there fed to reporters in their cars and trucks parked a block away.

There was one major glitch in the trial coverage, Ortiz said. A photographer from the Daily Iowan student newspaper took pictures of jury members. That’s not allowed under the expanded media coverage rules and Judge Joel Yates became angry, threatening to put the photographer in jail.

Following a meeting between Yates and Ortiz, the photographer erased the pictures from her camera. She was visibly shaken, Ortiz said, but the judge called her a few days later and told her, “We all make mistakes, and she would go on to bigger and things. I thought that was really classy of the judge,” Ortiz said.

Overall, though, Ortiz said things went well. “It was a good experience, and a lot of work just trying to make sure that everybody was getting what they needed and just trying to keep things so that there were no problems.”

How TV stations covered the trial (Clicking links will connect to verdict coverage)

KWQC, Davenport, recorded the trial at their station from the Court TV feed and used the video in their newscasts, Mike Ortiz said.  The station live streamed the entire trial on its website and a reporter tweeted developments. They did not break into regular programming with live trial coverage.

WQAD, Moline, picked up the Court TV feed at the courthouse and a photographer then relayed it back to the station via their live truck and a repeater. At the station, their main co-anchor recorded and logged the trial at her desk. She reported the stories from the anchor desk and reported live from the courthouse during the opening statements and the closing arguments. It worked out well logistically, assistant news director Andy McKay said, since reporters weren’t allowed in the courtroom. The station live streamed the entire trial on their website and You Tube. Their anchor also tweeted updates during the trial.

WHBF, Rock Island, had a reporter at the station record and log the Court TV feed for use in their stories. Chief Photographer Bryan Bobb said he was at the courthouse to relay the feed from their live truck to the station. They did have a crew at the courthouse when the verdict was announced. The station did not live stream the trial on its website.

WHO, Des Moines, sent a reporter to Davenport who was assisted by a photographer from their sister station WHBF. She reported live during the station’s newscasts. WHO news director Rod Peterson says they only broke into regular programming to carry the verdict. “We decided in fairness, it didn’t make sense to break in as others did for just part of the trial,” he said.  “I said to our general manager ‘is it making an editorial decision or showing any kind of bias (by not showing all of the trial).’” Peterson says they did carry Court TV’s coverage of the entire trial on one of their sub-channels. They also live streamed the trial on their website.

KCCI, Des Moines, had a reporter and photographer at the courthouse for the duration of the trial and provided live reports during their newscasts. The station broke into programming to carry the opening statements from both sides, Rivera’s testimony, closing arguments, the verdict, and post-verdict news conferences. “We are proud of our coverage; we were the most committed of any station in Iowa,” Allison Smith, KCCI news director, said. KCCI also live-streamed the entire trial on their website.

KCRG, Cedar Rapids, dedicated two people to trial coverage: a reporter to watch a live feed at their station, and an anchor who worked with a local defense attorney to provide analysis of the “legal nuts and bolts process and how that worked,” news director Adam Carros said. They sent a crew to Davenport two or three times, he said. KCRG broke into programming to air live the opening statements, closing arguments, and the verdict. They live-streamed the entire trial on their website and You Tube. And, they had a daily 20-minute summary of trial testimony on Facebook live during the lunch hour.

KGAN, Cedar Rapids, had a crew in Davenport for the entire trial. They reported live from Davenport during their noon, 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts, with taped reports in their other newscasts. They broke into programming at the beginning of the trial and for the verdict, live-streamed the entire trial on their website and Facebook, and live tweeted. KGAN is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting and News Director Kristen Hamilton says her station provided reports to four other Sinclair owned stations, and for Sinclair’s national morning show.

KWWL, Waterloo, had a photographer and reporter in Davenport for the entire trial. They did live shots for their noon, 5, 6, and 10 o’clock newscasts. News Director Allison Gibson says they interrupted programming to carry the jury’s verdict live. They live-streamed the entire trial on the station’s website and live tweeted. Gibson says they also provided reports for sister stations in Sioux City and Rochester, Minn. “We ended up covering the case from our news vehicle,” Gibson said. “They were emphatic that if we wanted to cover the trial, we had to be there in person,” she said. “To not be inside and yet to be required to be seated in the parking lot is a bit unusual,” she said. “It was about the huge amount of outside interest and capacity and COVID and all of that, I get it, but I just really am hoping that we’ll be able to get back to normal very soon.”

There were no radio reporters on-site at the trial. Dar Danielson of Radio Iowa says they used soundbites taken from the Court TV feed and thinks that’s probably what other radio stations did as well.

Print media relied on one pool reporter and one still photographer allowed in the courtroom to provide information and photos to other newspapers.

Two TV stations digitize old archive tapes

Digitization of old videotapes from two Iowa TV stations is underway. One project involving KWWL-TV in Waterloo is about 70 percent complete, while a similar process is just beginning at KCCI-TV in Des Moines.

KCCI morgue holds hundreds of file tapes.

KCCI part of Hearst project
KCCI-TV in Des Moines has started digitizing its file videotape and expects to finish by mid to late summer, according to Brian Sather, KCCI president and general manager. He’s unsure of an exact number but says there are “hundreds of tapes or more” with thousands of stories dating back to the 1970’s currently stored in the station’s morgue.

“It’s a floor to ceiling room of multiple shelves full of tapes. I think at one point we converted some film to tape, but now everything is on tape and we’re converting it to digital files,” Sather said.

The Hearst Corporation owns 33 TV stations including KCCI and is digitizing all video tapes company wide. KCCI is the second station in the project. Sather says Hearst purchased equipment to convert the old videotapes, then ships the equipment from one station to the next as each station is finished. Temporary employees are hired at each location to do the work.

Tad Anderson begins digitizing KCCI file tapes.

The project will not only preserve the old news and sports stories, but it will also make it easier to find file footage. “This felt like the right time to digitize the video and ultimately put it into a database that’s searchable where we can surface it,” he said.

The public will not have access to the video. Sather says the video will be used on the station’s social media and digital platforms, as well as in newscasts. “There’s obviously a huge appetite for unique and new content and sometimes what’s old is new,” he said.

Archives digitizes KWWL tapes
KWWL donated 2,200 videotapes to the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting located at Wartburg College that include news and sports stories from 1978-1998. There are approximately 130,000 individual stories and programs on the tapes, Fred Ribich, interim director of the Archives, said.

Students Josephine Ostenberg (top) and Anshika Singh have worked on the KWWL-TV project from the beginning.

Work to digitize the tapes began in 2019 after the Archives received a $165,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities, secured by former archivist Amy Moorman. The recordings cover news and sports events stories ranging from the OJ Simpson murder trial to eastern Iowa summer festivals, the Iowa State Fair, and the Waterloo Greyhound Racetrack, according to the grant application.

Ribich says the project should be finished by the end of the year. Originally the project was to have been completed a year ago, but the pandemic slowed the process because Wartburg students working on the project were not able to be there as much as planned.

Stories were first categorized, then the tapes were sent to an outside vendor for digitization. Students then began editing the digitized tapes into individual stories.

Jim McKernan, the regional vice president of Quincy Media (which owned KWWL at the time the project began) says, “Being able to preserve the tapes so that people can see a story rather than just reading about it is of immeasurable importance.” As an example, McKernan noted the station recently used footage of the Charles City tornado in 1968.

When the process is finished, the stories will be online and available not only for researchers but for the public and other TV stations. McKernan says the only requirement is that other stations give KWWL a credit when using the file video.

Ribich says the Archives currently receives an average of two or three requests a month from news outlets for videotape. He says the requests are from local and national news producers, including NBC “Dateline,” CBS “48 Hours,” and documentary producers from Discovery, A&E, and the History Channel.

“Being able to more efficiently search our collections for relevant material is a major plus in satisfying these inquiries. And what will be even more gratifying in the very near future is being able to provide a digitized file of the recorded material to those seeking materials of relevance,” Ribich said.

The Archives of Iowa Broadcasting was founded in 1994 by the late Grant Price, a long-time Iowa broadcast journalist and journalism professor at Wartburg.

The Archives hold thousands of papers and more than 28,000 audio tapes, videotapes, and film from TV and radio stations across the state. The Archives is also home to an Oral History Project of 115 videotaped interviews with Iowa broadcasters. In addition, there is a collection of old TV and radio equipment.

Related: Historic WHO radio recordings online.

Northwest Iowa sports voice hangs up headset after more than half a century

One of Iowa’s longest-serving radio sportscasters has finished a 51-year career, the last 48 years at KLEM in Le Mars. Denny Callahan retired April 1, 2021 after calling hundreds, if not thousands of sports events in northwest Iowa. He also worked as the station’s morning announcer.

Denny Callahan, KLEM Radio, Le Mars

Paul Yeager of Iowa PBS spoke to Callahan and these are excerpts from that interview. You can listen to the full interview below. (Excerpts have been edited for clarity.)

Let’s talk about your career. I saw this ad for a place called Career Academy. It was kind of a trade school to teach broadcast radio and television. And so I kind of investigated, got some information. They had schools all over the United States, but I chose Kansas City, Missouri to go to school, went down there for four months, and learned a little bit about the trade. But it was really my first job for Frosty Mitchell (legendary Iowa sports announcer) at KGRN in a Grinnell where I got my real lessons in radio announcing. I really appreciate Frosty giving me that first job because I was green as green could be. I didn’t know what I was getting into for sure. But he was patient and taught me a lot.

What else do you remember about Frosty Mitchell? What did he teach you? Well, one of the things every game I’ve ever done in 51 years I recorded. And that’s the thing that Frosty did. It was a good way to start critiquing games which continued into my days here at KLEM in 1973, and until the time I retired the other day. I used to spend my afternoons listening to them.

What were your career goals when you started? When I got into this, I thought I was going to be the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals one day. I quickly realized who gets those jobs. And that’s gradually where I fell in love with high school sports. I realized those kids played their hearts out every night. They played it for just the love of being out there every weekend, good or bad. And I’m just happy to tell their story and be a part of their life in that respect.

So, KLEM, did they call you or did you call them? I called them (after hearing about an opening to do sports). When I came to KLEM in Le Mars, I planned on about a three-year stop. This was supposed to be a steppingstone, but the Bulldogs won the state football championship the first fall I was here, so that kind of intrigued me. Maybe this team, these guys will win quite a bit. Maybe I’ll hang around here for a little bit and see how far this goes.

How would you describe your style is as a play-by-play person? I’m a storyteller. Every time they start a basketball game, for instance, or a football game, you kick it off or you tip it off. That’s like you just opened a book to me.

I describe. I don’t want to be a feature in the game. I’m just a part of the game. I usually start the game by talking about the uniform colors and I always want to give a backdrop to some of the other trimmings of the event, not just the game. Anybody can talk about the game, but I want people to feel like they’re there. And that’s the biggest compliment I think I can get. When people say, ‘I listened to the game last night, man, I just felt like I was there.’

And your imagination was also an important part of your background? I always like to tell people when they ask, ‘How’d you get started doing play by play?’ that in reality, I was doing it as a kid in the backyard when my brother and I played Wiffle Ball. That was back when Major League Baseball lineups didn’t change a lot, players didn’t move around like they do today. So we knew their lineups. We knew when they hit left-handed, or right-handed. So we’d play one team against another and we were each one of those teams and, and I just did the announcing during the whole game.

Are there any moments that aren’t the ultimate winning that stand out, you know, adversity, things like that and you were glad you were able to document for historic purposes? The Le Mars baseball team had never been to the state baseball tournament. And I believe it’s 2014 and they won the conference title. They won the sub-state beating a Sioux City Heelan team that they haven’t beaten very often in sub-states. They beat them and then it turned out Le Mars had used a pitcher that wasn’t eligible to pitch. Twenty minutes later they had to carry the banner across the field and hand it to Heelan. It crushed me. Kids went from so happy to crying and it was a pretty heartbreaking moment.   

On the positive side, I got to call a walk-off home run at the state baseball tournament. Gehlen won their first title back in 1995 on the walk-off home run down at Carroll and that was pretty special. There was a 99-yard kickoff return that same fall in ‘95 at the state football tournament by a kid named Brad Sysmon. And that’s never been broken.

What are your future plans? It starts with my kids, my three kids are all obviously grown up. But I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with them, like I’d like to. They’ve sacrificed a lot so I can do this job and do it the way I wanted to do it. I know, they feel sometimes like they were secondary in my life, and they never really were. But this is just a time to spend more time with them.

I’ve got to tell you retirement’s been good. I’m sleeping a little later. I feel pretty refreshed. Not getting up at four o’clock in the morning is wonderful.

When all is said and done. What do you think is going to be Denny Callahan’s legacy?
I just hope they think that I was fair to everybody, whether it was the other team or our team. I tried not to play favorites, because I just knew everybody was there trying to do the best they could. I just like seeing kids achieve things and have success, nothing thrills me more.

Watch videos of other Iowa broadcasters at the Archives of Iowa Broadcasting Oral History Project.

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 are: Bailey Cichon, a senior at the University of Iowa; Madison Freeland, a junior at Wartburg College; Noah Sacco, a senior Simpson College.

Bailey Cichon and IBNA Executive Director Dar Danielson.
Madison Freeland and Dar Danielson.
Noah Sacco and Dar Danielson.

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.

Chris Minor
(WQAD photo)

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.”