We suppose it was an occasion for celebration eight months ago but the day kind of slipped past us. It was a Saturday anyway, three days before the start of the 2010 legislative session and we were pretty consumed with anticipation of that event. Friday was a holiday so nobody was around. Monday was two days after the event and besides it was Monday and you know how Mondays are.
So the Missourinet’s 35th birthday just kind of slipped by.
Nostalgia too often becomes a drag so we’re not going to get all dewy-eyed about your younger days when life was simpler and broadcast journalism was still pure and untainted by the idea that the public should be battered 24/7 by outrage and outrageousness. Heck, the phrase 24/7 hadn’t even been invented yet. Nostalgia also has a tendency to fall into inaccuracy, too. So, no nostalgia here. Just some history.
The Missourinet exists because a young graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism thought Missouri needed a statewide radio network that filled a niche in local radio in those days. He made the idea the topic of his Master’s Degree project. Later, when Clyde Lear became the assistant news director at KLIK Radio in Jefferson City he and his boss, Bob Priddy, occasionally chatted in the newsroom on the top story of a creaky old antebellum house four blocks from the Capitol about the concept. Clyde eventually decided he and his family could not survive on $95 a week and all the leftover 45rpm records he could eat and left the business to sell a driveway-sealing compound for a local lumber dealer. Clyde, who used to make a ton of 1970s money during college summer vacations by doing door-to-door Bible sales, not only was an outstanding reporter (he was, however, lousy at sports), he had a great knack for interpersonal relations and for marketing a product. And dream of a state network.
About 1972, he, the lumberyard owner, the farm director at KLIK–Derry Brownfield–and some of Derry’s buddies started to make the dream come true. The GM at KLIK, a hot-headed sort at times, got wind of the negotiations and before Clyde could make a pitch to make the station a key part of the system, fired Derry and made Clyde a persona non grata at the station. But these two then-young men, Clyde and Derry, went ahead and stepped out on the high wire on January 2, 1973 with the first broadcasts on the Missouri Network. The farm network did well enough that Clyde and Derry decided to go ahead with the news network. In November, Clyde’s boss from KLIK joined the staff (which really, really irritated the GM, who had previously lost his FM sales manager to Clyde and Derry’s farm operation). For two months, Bob Priddy worked on hiring Jeffrey Smith–another former KLIK newsman who was in Joliet, Illinois at the time–and Charles Morris, a young man from KRKE in Albuquerque, as the first staff members of the Missourinet.
About that time, the Jefferson City Library moved into a new building and a big three-sided desk desk that had been the checkout desk was sold at an auction. It became the studio desk in the first Missourinet newsroom.
You see, the Missourinet’s first studio/newsroom consisted of two rooms in what had been an efficiency apartment on the second floor of Jefferson City’s first funeral home, just down the hall from what had been the casket selection room with its hand-operated elevator down to what had been the embalming room that by then (as we recall) had been turned into the kitchen/break room for KWOS, our landlord. (Jefferson City’s first actual funeral home was at 216 E. McCarty Street, built by a man named Thorpe Gordon in the 1920s or so. Until then, coffins were sold through furniture or hardware stores and undertakers were more independent business people.) The stairway to the second floor was narrow, with a handrail and the studio desk/library desk was three or four feet tall (or wide if it was sideways, which it had to be to get up the stairs). To get to the newsroom, a person had to go up those stairs and turn left, take about two steps and then turn to face the door on the right. The door was not wide. Getting the desk to the top of the stairwell wasn’t all that hard. But getting the darned thing around that corner and then turned so it could to through the doorway was, well, shall we say, a “bonding experience” for Bob and Jeff and Chuck. Three guys trying to wrestle a big awkward desk around two corners that went in different directions within about four feet in a narrow hallway at the top of a stairway might have been the hardest thing the Missourinet has ever done. We’ve covered some difficult stories. But taming that desk was a fight to the finish that exceeds any other battles we’ve ever fought with any politician or county sheriff.
For most of one day Bob and Jeff and Chuck tried to wrestle the thing through the newsroom door. After several minutes of struggle, they’d dismantle it a little bit, then struggle and dismantle, then struggle and dismantle. At the end of a long day the desk was in at least a half dozen pieces but By God it was in the newsroom!! We had defeated the desk but we were pretty whipped ourselves and decided putting it together in the studio was something for the next day. A week or so later, Bob Priddy sat in the slot of that desk and at 5:55 a.m. on January 2, 1975 pushed a couple of buttons, threw a switch and said into a microphone, “This is news from the Missourinet” for the first time, on more than thirty radio stations.
Clyde’s dream came true that morning. It is not boasting to say a new era in Missouri broadcasting journalism and in Missouri political coverage began that day.
35 years. It’s okay to talk about those yesterday’s events. But tomorrow’s news is where the excitement remains.