By Jim Stimson
March, 2009

Ron Edwards 1960
from KIOA brochure

I kicked around Des Moines radio, starting at age 12, for eight years. Though, from age 14 on, I usually worked 30-40 hours a week, I was never full-time and I was, in fact (and rightly so) treated as the kid who hung around and hoped for a chance. I was about a third of a click above those kids outside the fishbowl. I got a lot of chances. It wasn’t my talent or skill, but, rather, the fact that I was there. I stayed in the business for two more years, as a TV anchor in Cedar Rapids --- 10 years total --- and retired at age 22. I spent 30 years in marketing. I’m 60 now.

I’ve listened to the long Ray Dennis interviews with the two, I say respectfully, kings of Des Moines radio in the era, Dick Vance and Peter McLane, and both men spoke fondly, if briefly, of Ron Edwards. I worked for both men. And Ron was, in a way, my “Radio Godfather”, for which --- as he knows --- I am forever grateful.

I think Ron deserves more coverage on this site. He was at KSO, then KIOA for some 20 years. And he did something that nobody else did. Both kings said that Mobile News was vitally important to building listeners and making their stations super successful in that era.. Ron WAS mobile news in Des Moines. And he was good. In fact he was great at his job.

My family moved back to Des Moines, after eight years away, in 1960. I was 11. Being the new kid in the big city was a hard move for me. Making friends was slow. I earned a, then cutting edge technology, transistor radio in a contest as a Des Moines Register carrier, and I became interested in Des Moines radio. KSO was my station. I listened all of the time and I was a serious fan. I “knew” all of the jocks; I could sing their jingles and I loved their patter. The Wild Child, P-T 9 to 1, Don Bell and Sam, The Old Youngster and, of course, The Daddio. I fell asleep listening to Frank N. Stein. I lived in Minneapolis for most of my post broadcasting career and had occasion to work with a fellow named Al Viccellio a time or two. He got a kick out of my calling him Big Al. They were like celebrities to me.

I loved the mobile news reports…..That drum roll would break into a song and then that huge voice of Ted Atkins would say NOW !!!, with instantaneous news from where it’s happening, Super Valu spotlights BIG RED... I hate to admit it, but I still get chills, nearly 50 years later, when I think about that. (Serious fan).

Ron would then report from the scene of a fire or car accident or some police investigation, with exciting news about what was going on. We all always knew what was going on, thanks to Ron. Deep voice. Lots of what they now call gravitas. Authoritative. Serious. Good.

There’s a second book recently out about growing up in Des Moines in the 60s by the little brother of a classmate of mine, Mike Wellman. In the book he tells about the time that he and some of his elementary school playmates daringly climbed onto the roof of their house and then were afraid to come down. The first one that figured out how to get down, ran in the house and called KIOA to report the news, so that Ron would come and report on it. I wonder if he did. If it was a slow day, he might have.

One day, not long after I moved to town, a new friend and I were riding our bicycles a couple of blocks from my house. And, if this weren’t a family site I’m afraid that I would have to drop the f-bomb, for the emphasis it needs, adding a syllable right in the middle of the next word: “Unbleepingbelievable!!! Unbelievable!!! We passed Big Red sitting in a drive way less than two blocks from my house. Can you believe it? Big Red is my neighbor!!!” The center of the Des Moines radio on-the-scene news that I loved, was two blocks from my Beaverdale house.

Needless to say, again to use a modern day term for what I was doing, I began to stalk Ron Edwards. I’d ride my bike past his house, real slowly, 15 or 20 times a day. About every four days I might catch a glimpse of him or his wife in the house.

Finally, one day as I was riding by, Ron Edwards (himself!!!...Can you believe it??!!) bolted out of the house, jumped in Big Red, backed out the long driveway and took off. I stationed myself on the sidewalk, right next to the driveway, and kind of waved as he glanced at me, before all-but peeling out on his way to cover the community’s latest act of debauchery. I rode home as fast as I could, grabbed my transistor radio and stuck the ear piece in my ear. Sure enough, a half hour later, Big Red broke into a record and reported on a vehicle mishap.

I kept it up. And within a month we were waving regularly. Eventually, he returned from a story as I was riding by and I screwed up my nerve and rode up his driveway and asked if I could look in Big Red. It was, if station wagons can be cool, the coolest Big Red 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne station wagon you could ever imagine. There were five or six antennas on the roof and two big whip antennas in the back. The outside had BIG RED in large blue letters, and, of course, KSO. Inside was a clipboard on the seat, with a pad, and a whole bunch of Motorola speakers. Each one was dedicated to a certain police frequency. Big Red had the Iowa Highway Patrol, Polk County Sheriff’s frequency, Des Moines Police and at least two more. In addition, there was a two way radio that Ron actually spoke into to advise the station that he was in pursuit of a story. And then, he spoke into that same two way when he did his reports…..NOW….WITH INSTANEOUS NEWS……..He introduced himself and asked my name….”Jamie”, I said.

Oh Man. I’ll bet I didn’t sleep the whole night. Thankfully I was new in town and didn’t have many friends. They simply would not have understood. We were at the age of riding bikes, skipping rocks at Witmer Park and the like. “You listen to the radio?” they would have said.

I picked up my Des Moines Tribunes 10 blocks the other way, but I still rode past Ron’s house on the way to pick them up. My route ended one block away from Ron’s street. Still, I’d ride by on my way home.

Within a few more weeks we were talking regularly and I was getting a seventh grader’s education in news, breaking news….Mobile News!!!

One day I asked Ron if he thought I could ever ride in Big Red. “Sure,” he said. I was beside myself.

Let’s take a time out to fast forward to today. Today when you had a job like Ron’s, the first thing you would be told is that the insurance company prohibits any riders. The next hurdle is that if a 28 year old man was taking an 11 year old boy for a ride, people would look askance. They would ask questions. They would accuse. Not back then. Ron and I became buddies like a chapter out of Big Brothers. No hanky panky here. We were Mobile News Men.

Within a few weeks I would go to Ron’s house a couple of evenings a week and wait for him to leave for a call. He had all of the radios in his house, and his was functionally “on duty” 24/7. Ron, his wife, and their newborn son, Nick, and their big German Shepherd and I would sit and watch TV for an hour. If nothing happened, I’d leave. But, fairly often it did. Ron’s ears were tuned to the radios, and, sure enough, he’d hear a call bark out for a 10-50 J2 (a personal injury accident) and we’d bolt out and jump into Big Red and take off.

So cool.

One night, there was a particularly bad accident on I 35/80 at the Douglas exit. A man’s car had stalled and he was not quite off the roadway, holding a flash light with a low battery, and another car crashed in to him We were on the scene while the ambulance attendants were looking for one of the man’s two severed legs. They wanted to take them both to Boradlawns, in the hope of putting him back together. The attendants, and “Highway Patrolmen” were all out scouring the ditches with flashlights but they couldn’t find the second leg.

NOW….WITH INSTANEIOUS NEWS……Ron did a story from the scene, telling the macabre details of what was going on, as gently as he could, but, still with enough details to draw in the listeners.. Then, he and I helped look, while the ambulance, the attendants not wanting to wait any longer, headed for Broadlawns. A few minutes later, still with no leg to be found, we left for Broadlawns as well. We needed to wait until the man was stabile and then report on his condition. Half way there, the radio suddenly barked: “We found the leg. We’re enroute to Broadlawns,” a Patrol Officer said.

Those were extraordinary times for me. Within a few months I had developed an idea for a program and got myself on the air at KSO, hosting and producing a weekly High School and Junior High “Gossip Line” Within 18 months, KSO was sold, and the talent migration to KIOA began. Ron eventually moved to KIOA. Big Red was no more. But central Iowa listeners still got the benefit of Ron Edwards keeping them abreast of local breaking news for another dozen or so years, as he took on the job at KIOA.

I stayed in the business and after stops at nearly a half dozen stations over eight years, I found myself, while in college, working in news on the weekends, and vacation fill ins at KIOA. Yes, you guessed it. I filled in for Ron for two summers, two weeks each. You can’t imagine the thrill. But, probably more significant, was the thrill of working with him, when something big happened when I was doing the studio newscasts.

I remember once, in 1969, he was remarried and had a new, young family. He went out to cover a serious accident, not too many miles north of the “lost leg” accident eight years earlier. This time, a family of four died. One of the hazards of the job is getting to the scene sooner than you want to. When the bodies were still lying on the ground, or lifeless, in a vehicle. In this case, there were two young sons, about the same age as Ron’s two young sons at home. It took several tries to get Ron through that one. But it was a good report
Authoritative. Serious. Good.

In 60 years you meet a lot of people. But I’ve never met anybody quite like Ron. He changed my life. That’s for sure.

I stop and see him almost every time I pass through Des Moines. Our most recent visit was two years ago when I was back in town for my 40th class reunion at Roosevelt. I had a hard time finding him. He’d moved his RV dealership into a brand new building, leaving Ankeny for Pleasant Hill. But, he was the same Ron…..smiling….a twinkle in his eye….Deep Voice. Authoritative. And a hell of a good guy!!

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