A Tribute to Walt Reno
by Ray Dennis
(much assistance from Walt's loving family and friends)
"A life lived to the fullest"
That best portion of a good man's life are his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.
The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.
Walt Reno, a devoted family man, athlete, humanitarian, and broadcasting legend, lived every day of his remarkable life to the fullest. Both larger than life, and salt of the earth, Walt was a modern-day renaissance man who excelled in most everything he tried.
From his first days as a broadcaster on the college radio station at the University of Iowa in the late 1940s and into the new millennium, Walt did it all in the radio and television industries. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Walt was a huge broadcasting force in the Midwest. His first stops along the way included radio stints in small towns in Ohio and Wisconsin before landing for several years at WOC in Davenport, Iowa, where he also became well known on television as "Cowboy Whitey," the popular kids' show host.
From Davenport, Walt returned to his hometown of Des Moines, where he become the top-rated morning radio disc jockey in Central Iowa, working for many years as the morning man for KRNT radio. During those years, Walt was the voice of Des Moines, and people always tuned in to hear his booming voice and to hear what crazy thing Walt would do or what corny joke Walt would tell next. In the tradition of old-time radio shows like Fibber Magee and Molly, Fred Allen and Jack Benny, Walt demonstrated his vocal and comedic talents by introducing Iowa radio listeners to a host of hilariously funny characters while at KRNT, including Emma Bitty, the station cleaning lady, and Hawkshaw Reno, the local cowboy.
Walt also hosted numerous popular television shows for Des Moines' CBS affiliate, Channel 8 (then KRNT, now KCCI, including "O, Gee," "Family Fun Time" and the daily "Telefunnies," in which Walt, in Sid Ceaser-like fashion, would tell funny stories in all kinds of different voices and dialects, wearing all kinds of different hats.
Walt was also the most recognizable commercial pitch man on radio and television in Central Iowa for many years, selling everything from milk to cars. He hosted variety shows throughout Iowa, and was a fixture at the Iowa State Fair every summer, mastering various shows and concerts for kids and other fairgoers.
Walt also traveled all across the country in the 1960s interviewing movie stars, including Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and many more.
When Walt moved from KRNT to KSO in the late 1960s, it was big news in Des Moines. A full-page ad in the Des Moines Register announced that Walt had moved to KSO, which became a rock station. Walt went from playing adult contemporary music like Frank Sinatra, which he loved, at KRNT, to Top 40 rock music like The Beatles, which he also loved, on KSO.
Moving to Las Vegas in 1972, Walt's career continued to flourish. He joined the staff of KORK radio, where he worked the afternoon drive at that station which was also an adult contemporary format. While still on the air at KORK, Walt subsequently became the weatherman for the NBC news affiliate in Las Vegas. Again, he did all kinds of radio and television commercials, and quickly became the most recognizable broadcaster in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s.
When he made the move from KORK radio to KVEG radio, a country station, in the early 80s, his ratings soared and he became the number one morning radio man in Las Vegas.
Walt did it all during his years in Las Vegas, hosting Easter Seal telethons, hosting the hugely popular "I Love You Las Vegas" parties, writing a golf column for Las Vegas Magazine, the Vegas Visitor and various other publications, and doing thousands of commercials. It's doubtful if Walt ever paid for a meal, a movie or a round of golf while living in Vegas the past 30 years.
More recently, Walt hosted Las Vegas entertainment show for KLAV radio in which he interviewed all kinds of stars, from Jack Jones to Gordon Lightfoot. A friend to celebrities such as Jerry Lewis and Marty Allen, Walt loved show business, and enjoyed meeting the stars.
Walt also was the Voice of Las Vegas for the nationally syndicated Travel Talk Radio show hosted by Sandy Dhuyvetter and co-hosted periodically by Walt's son, Jamie Reno.
On the national front, Walt was the announcer for several years on the legendary Mike Douglas Show, and did numerous voices for the animated satirical USA Network comedy show "Duckman," which was written and executive produced by his son, Jeff Reno. In the late 80s, Walt was also the Las Vegas editor for The NFL¹S Official Guide to the Super Bowl, whose editor was Walt's son, Jamie.
But Walt was as great a success as a person as he was a performer. Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, he attended Roosevelt High School, and the University of Iowa.
A great athlete and fitness fanatic, Walt lettered in swimming at Roosevelt and at the University of Iowa. He swam the butterfly stroke. At the University of Iowa, where he got his degree in Speech, Walt was a member of the Alpha Tao Omega fraternity.
Walt was a World War II veteran, a Navy man who was stationed on Guam during the war.
Walt was also a tremendous golfer, a three handicap at one time, and won numerous golf tournaments in Iowa and Las Vegas. And he wrote about the game he loved for years.
Walt met and interviewed virtually every major golfing great, from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to Jack Nicklaus. And of course, his favorite golfer, whom he met and interviewed many times, was the legendary Arnold Palmer. Walt, the number one booster of Las Vegas golf, helped transform Vegas from a city with only a handful of golf courses in the early 70s to an international golfing Mecca.
Walt was also a music buff who loved spinning records for the last 50 years. He loved Mel Torme and Bobby Darin, and worshiped Frank Sinatra, but his musical idol was big-band leader Stan Kenton, whom he interviewed several times. Walt also stayed up with the times, and loved rock bands such as Chicago, Pink Floyd and Yes.
Walt played some trumpet as a kid, too, and kept that trumpet through the years, but he laughingly admitted he only knew how to play one song well: "The Girl From Ipanema."
Walt was a natural entertainer who had an amazing sense of humor, and could make anyone laugh. A man of a thousand voices and faces, he was a brilliant public speaker and remarkably adept at improvisation. He had no equal in the joke-telling department. A huge fan of movies, his favorite actor was Burt Lancaster.
And Walt especially loved comedy. Among his favorite comics and comic actors were Jonathan Winters, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, W.C. Fields, Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Phil Hartman, Dennis Miller, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, and his favorite new comic, Larry the Cable Guy.
Walt and his wife, Donna, were divorced in the 1970s but remained very close friends through the years. In Las Vegas, he lived with his longtime love, Diane.
Walt Reno got the most out of every single day. An immaculate dresser with a flamboyant personality and a deep, masculine voice, Walt was, above all, a family man. He spent every free moment with his three children, Jeff, Michele and Jamie, and his five grandchildren, Mandy, Lindsay, Jenny, Taylor, and Stephanie. The entire family is devastated by this loss, but determined to keep Walt's loving memory and his remarkable legacy alive forever.
Jamie Reno (Walt's son)
Walt passed away September 9, 2002.
A tribute to Walt from longtime friend, Dick Vance
Walt Reno Aircheck -KSO 1971
Walt Reno Production 1971 audition tape which may have helped him get Las Vegas job
Walt heard himself on DesMoinesBroadcasting.com
Michele Reno Brown (Walt's daughter) and KRNT-TV at age 6
Additional Pictures from Memorial Videos
Two videos were produced for Walt's memorial services, one from KCCI in Des Moines and the other by the funeral home in Las Vegas. These pictures were captured from the video tapes.
KRNT and KRNT-TV pictures
Memorial montage celebrating Walt's life
Family Funtime Friday night Laurel and Hardy show ad
Movie Quick Quiz ad KRNT-TV 50's
Walt Reno O Gee game show
Walt Reno Colors Your Day Bright KRNT Radio
Get a Lift with Walt Reno KRNT radio
KRNT Radio ad October 3, 1966
Walt Reno Des Moines' Most Happy Fella
PM Drive ad - KRNT 50's
Walt also did some public TV for Iowa Public Broadcasting
DesMoinesBroadcasting.com home page