Farm Radio Legend - Herb Plambeck
by Keith Nichols

Herb (1908-2001)


Herb Plambeck was born in 1908 in eastern Iowa and grew up on a farm near Eldridge. From childhood, he was interested in writing and journalistic pursuits. Farming was his family’s first concern, and Herb reached his late teens with insufficient high school credits to receive a diploma. However, Iowa State College offered a two-year non-collegiate ag course for those with no high school degree, and Herb entered in 1928. His progress proceeded by fits and starts, since his financial situation required him to leave school every quarter or two to return to the farm and earn a few more dollars. When in 1929 the college dropped the two-year program, he was granted an exemption that allowed him to continue at ISC despite having no high school degree.

During this time, he found work as a county 4-H leader, and his various judging teams enjoyed great success, but Herb wanted more college and returned to ISC in 1933, where he was on the college debate team and took part in a trick riding group called the Cossacks. He was now bent on a career as a 4-H administrator. But just as this opportunity was in his grasp, the managing editor of the "Davenport Democrat" called to say that Herb was to be his new farm editor. So with regrets for his abandoned 4-H opportunity, Herb became a journalist. He returned to ISC in 1936 at age 28 for his last stint at college, while also serving as a stringer for the Democrat. During the summer of that year, H.R. Gross, news director at WHO, asked Herb to start a farm department at the station, and so, he became a radio reporter for the station where he was on the air just about every day until 1970. Gross subsequently moved to a station in Cincinnati and then back to KXEL in Waterloo, where he later became the U.S. representative from the third district.

Herb and his staff covered all the agricultural news there was, including national corn-husking competitions throughout the Midwest. In those days, corn was husked by hand in often severe winter weather, and this was when the contests were staged.

In 1943 he joined the Iowa National Guard, after having been denied entry into the regular military. Shortly thereafter, he was off to England as one of six U.S. editors invited to spend a few weeks covering the English war effort. Following this trip, he acquired full correspondent status and resumed reporting from Europe, where he remained till shortly after the war. He also reported from Vietnam during the U.S. compaign there.

Herb instigated or administered numerous ongoing WHO-sponsored agricultural projects, including the Victory Volunteers Crop Corps, the National Radio Corn Festival, the Master Pork Producer project, the Country Home Program, the Contour Plowing Matches, Centennial Farm Recognition, and farm fire and safety programs. In 1948, at the Contour Plowing Match, near Dexter, Iowa, Herb was called on to do an ad lib interview with the featured speaker of the day, President Harry Truman, on the podium before a crowd that Truman estimated at about 100,000, using his own 10,000-farmers-per-acre rule.

He was a member of the 1955 U.S. Agricultural delegation that traveled to the Soviet Union and was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Agricultural Hall of Fame. In 1970, he became an assistant to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Clifford Hardin and later his successor Earl Butz.

During his semiretirement years, Herb broadcast gardening shows for WHO and KRNT and supervised exhibits in the Iowa State Fair’s agricultural hall, besides writing a number of books about his life and various aspects of agricultural life.

Herb was not only a radio reporter/personality, but a thoroughly useful member of the agricultural community from which he sprang.

I well remember hearing his broadcasts almost every day when I was a kid in Iowa, but I knew little about him till he married into my family late in his life and I had the opportunity to visit with him in his retirement home, where he carried on writing books and broadcasts up until his death in 2001.

Editor's note: A unique thing about Herb is that he was born on a February 29th, so one might say that he died at a very young age if you are just counting birthdays.


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