The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 17, 2014

Teenage media men

By Gary Herrity Special to the Herald
The Clinton Herald

---- — During WWII, cities needed radio and newspaper men, but found few, because most of the men were off fighting the Second World War. Women were going into some jobs, such as railroad work, but this had not yet occurred with the media in big numbers.

So, management sought out another source...teenage boys.

When Morgan Sexton came to Clinton and set up Radio Station KROS, their first big story, literally, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Within weeks, he was losing his men. Yes, Darlene Gordon had been hired, but they were thinking then of male on-air voices. Hank Dihlmann was soon off to join the military, and replacements were hard to find.

Sexton had an idea. He asked to sit in on Clinton High School classes, including drama. He was looking for male voices that had “changed” and, especially, for boys who could read orally under pressure. Among others, he found young Richard Husmann, (now an 86-year-old retired aeronautical engineer currently residing in Anaheim, Calif.), who was but a student enrolled in a CHS drama class at the time. Dick was found to have the prerequisite skills.

Young Dick Husmann soon found himself tearing tickertape news stories off the wire and, having scarcely read the text beforehand, would sit in the station booth broadcasting tremendous war and news stories from around the world, immediately and live on the air. These news stories had thousands of Clinton County residents sitting on the edge of their seats each day, waiting for any additional word from the warfront. Sometimes the boys didn’t even know where the Philippines or other places were as they read the news and the audience scarcely was aware of the youth delivering the news.

Imagine the experience that a sharp, young student newsman might attain during those exciting times. Husmann didn’t just read news; he also worked at the Clinton Herald, having been a newspaper boy for several years. At both venues, Dick and other teenagers were doing jobs they’d never before dreamed of doing — nor have those jobs been done by teenagers since those amazing days. Needless to say, those young people had extremely wonderful “on-the-job training” and they performed, first adequately, and then extremely well, during those difficult times. One time, Dick said he was even pressed into service running the Herald’s switchboard… despite the fact that he’d hardly ever seen, let alone touched one.

Older mentors did guide them, like Darlene Gordon or Lee White, who worked off and on for all the media of Clinton for decades. This was also a time for “Extras” — when Pearl Harbor or other important news of the day necessitated that papers be gotten out immediately. (I’ve never experienced reading an Extra, hot off the presses, in my lifetime, and it’s unlikely it will never again be necessary, what with today’s instantaneous communication.)

Young Husmann not only “pedaled” the Extras out in minutes, but he was there to count the rural papers before that. He recalls several times being called out while at the movies, “All newspaper boys, report to the Herald newsroom to deliver an Extra,” would come booming out of the loud speaker.

These boys would grow to become proficient adult-like workers, no longer underlings. They eventually were entrusted with difficult tasks such as doing off-site radio shows from the gas works, in what were call “remotes.”

Johnnie Rohwer and Gil Andrews were some others who did mostly “live” programs at KROS. They would trudge up the mysterious back stairs of the Jacobsen Building and do regular programs like “Music for Moderns” or “Sunrise Serenades.” Darlene often would watch the action and direct the mayhem. Occasionally she, herself, would do a program to intersperse a good female voice amongst those of her male colleagues.

And so these young men would tote their rigs around town for remotes and do all kinds of adult jobs and they were paid a hefty dollar per hour. They didn’t mind because it was fun and they got paid.

One incident involved Husmann doing such a live radio show from the Modernistic Ballroom at one of the big band events and being housed right near the girls from the band dressing rooms. That was part of his growing up. Dick grew a lot in those few years and then he was drafted in 1945 and went off to the war, returned to use his G.I. Bill and go to Iowa State University and then to California, where he worked for many aircraft businesses and even the aerospace industry and lived in the same house for all of it, because the factories were so close together.

Dick was able to stay on his radio/newspaper jobs until he graduated from Clinton High School. His birthday was in February and those students from that month on were allowed to finish high school, while those with an earlier birthday were called up to military service. You could tell from his strong radio voice, even at 86, that he valued his early career and its merits just as much he did those of his later life.

• Next week — More on downtown Clinton and KROS.

Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears only in the Herald on Fridays.

Sources Archives of the Clinton Herald; Dave Vickers, KROS; Don Schneider; and, Richard Husmann of Anaheim, Calif. (CHS class of 1945).