Storytellers Sharing Stories: Meet the Journalists Heard on IPR

Feb 13, 2018

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe goes behind the scenes to get to know some personalities behind the news and discussions on Iowa Public Radio.

Nebbe talks with statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell, producer and host Dennis Reese, and River to River host Ben Kieffer about how they got into public radio, some of the most valuable experiences in their careers, and how they have seen radio change.

Russell began her career in news radio in the 1980s in her home state of Oklahoma. Back then, she says the industry was not entirely friendly to women.

“My first big city job in journalism was with KEBC Radio in Oklahoma City. It was a country music station, but they were committed to local journalism," she says. "It was a twelve-person newsroom, and I was the only woman. Even then, I very much wanted a statehouse job. I came very close to getting the job covering the Oklahoma legislature and in the end they just weren’t quite ready to put a woman there.”

When she and her husband moved to Ames in 1988, Russell started working at WOI—now part of IPR. Within two years, she became a statehouse reporter and has been in the thick of Iowa politics ever since.

Kieffer’s first job in public radio was at WSUI during his time as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa.  He then moved to Germany to work as a radio journalist in Cologne. He remembers watching the Berlin Wall fall in 1989.

“It is next to being there with the birth of my children; it is the most emotional experience I’ve ever had in my life,” he says.

Reese has been a part of public radio in Iowa since 1981, but he began his radio career as a top 40 disc jockey for KWWL in the early 1970s. He has seen broadcast technology evolve from records, to reel-to-reel tape, to mini-disks, to digital audio tape, to fully digital technology. Reese says that public radio continues to play a crucial role in informing its audience.

“If you want to know what public radio is, just listen to what else is out there. Tune across the cable channels. Tune across the AM band day and night. We are an oasis of sanity. I know it sounds self-serving to say that, but it is a spot of intelligence that you can count on to make yourself sane. It is that important of a service today.”