By Joe Sheller / Guest Column
You have to be an Iowa fan, I think, to appreciate “I on the Hawks.” Personally, it’s not for me.
It’s a TV sports talk show about Iowa football. It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea – broadcasting has lots of sports talk shows – except that it combines two sports writers from The Gazette with a sports reporter from Fox 28.
Fox 28 and its sister station KGAN Channel 2 had been part of a different media universe than The Gazette up until last year. KCRG was owned by The Gazette, and it would have been unthinkable for the paper to cooperate with Fox 28 on a show.
That changed a year ago. In September 2015, Gray Television, an Atlanta-based broadcaster that has been gobbling up local stations, announced it was buying KCRG. The changes among the players have been gradual, but we’re finally starting to see the results.
Some new faces have appeared on Channel 9. That station also now features news reports from the Washington new bureau of Gray Televison. The KCRG online news no longer features lots of Gazette stories.
And when The Gazette wants to collaborate with TV, it has more options.
What other changes did we see in media in the Corridor in 2016? Several stand out to me.
First, a former KCRG news anchor, Ashley Hinson, was elected as a Republican to the Iowa House. Another former KCRG news anchor, Liz Mathis, won re-election as a Democrat to the Iowa Senate.
Ms. Hinson took a more direct route from television into politics, leaving KCRG late last year. Ms. Mathis worked in marketing and management for several local nonprofit agencies before winning a special election in 2011 to earn her Senate seat.
The path from televison to government isn’t unique to Cedar Rapids. Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, are just a few U.S. politicians whose careers included a broadcast stint.
Still, we now have two local lawmakers who were once news anchors at KCRG. That’s a reality that doesn’t particularly bother me – after all, politics requires communication skills that certainly a TV career would help teach. But 2016 saw a doubling of the number of ex-news anchors from Cedar Rapids serving in the Capitol in Des Moines.
This year also saw the passing of a local media legend. In June, Bob Brooks died at age 89. His was a familiar voice on local radio covering sports, particularly the Iowa Hawkeyes, in the Corridor. Most recently, his gravelly, deep, resonant voice was heard on KMRY.
The press box at Kingston Stadium is named for Bob Brooks. His long local radio career began in 1943 while he was still a student at Franklin High School and he worked part-time with WSUI.
I listened to Mr. Brooks on KMRY, but didn’t know the man personally. Those who did had high praise for him. In a remembrance column, Mike Hlas of The Gazette wrote: “I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I saw strangers to Bob approach him in public just to give him an appreciative hello. I’d be a pauper if I had a million bucks for every time Bob offered a minimal greeting rather than warm conversation.”
A local voice that was familiar to many since World War II is now gone. That change comes at a time as local media shift. With KCRG now in the hands of a large national corporation, we’ll be watching to see what changes that will arrive in 2017.