An "Ice" Day for a Fire
February 26, 1963, was a typical February morning in Des Moines - below zero with the wind blowing in all directions. I woke up to the sounds of my steam radiator tap dancing in the corner, and the next door lady playing a record by Herb Shriner and the Hoosier Hot Cakes. I was all out of "Lucky Tiger" so I knew that with the lack of alcohol my hair would freeze when I went out. There was nothing left to do but wear my hat with earflaps (I bought it at the airport.) I had to walk only a half block and then through a parking lot to get to the station. As I went around the corner, all I saw was a basement full of rubble with the front of the building still standing. Fire engines were all over the place. And the ice on the street was a foot and a half thick. I spent about two minutes wondering why all this activity didn’t wake me up (I was out the night before, celebrating National Corn Squeezin’s Week.) But I decided it was just so damn cold that the sirens froze up. It was about then I realized that the hair on my legs was sticking through my pants. So I headed home and went back to bed. About an hour later there was a lot of banging on my door (I had a clown face doorbell but nobody wanted to touch it.) It was Art Sullivan, the program director. "What do you want?" I said.
"The station burned down!"
I told him I knew it, and I was going to start looking for a job as soon as I woke up. He said that all the employees were meeting at DeCarlo’s Restaurant and then we would all go out to the transmitter in Hartford, Iowa.
If you are old enough to remember that Turhan Bey is not a body of water then you might remember when it was unheard of for a radio station to go off the air for any extended amount of time. I don’t know why, but it was sort of like show biz. "The hot air must go on!"
When we all got out to the KIOA transmitter everyone seemed to still be in shock. All the engineer had to put on the air was three versions of the national anthem and a Blue Baron album that somebody had put under the coffee maker to catch the drips.
The all night "Bernie Shapiro Show" was on tape and played at the station. Bernie was our answer to Marcel Marceau: "He didn’t say much, was kind of quiet and shy" and he looked a lot like Al Capone with a little mustache.
KIOA lost everything in the fire so there we were with no music or anything else to play and all we had was one mic with a long cord and a small amp that was plugged into the transmitter. With all those guys that talked for a living, what did we do? We went on the air and we talked! And we talked! And we talked! And when one of us ran out of gas we handed the mic to the next person. This went on for what seemed like many hours (but it was probably just an hour or two.) Then somebody showed up with some records, but no 45 adapter Then one of the engineers in the other room found a little plastic one in his wallet (it was behind a picture of Gale Storm.) I guess radio engineers carried them just in case, while all the on-the-air guys were ad-libbing about what a bummer it was that what was left of KIOA was now in a hole in the ground. Good old Doug McKinnon was speculating that "The fire was probably started by the Boy Scouts" (who rented an office in the building) - rubbing two Girl Scouts together. See picture and article of fire.
Soon other stations came to our aid with most of the stuff we needed to stay on the air. Over the next few days they managed to put together what would pass for a broadcasting facility in most small towns. (Speaking of small towns, the KIOA transmitter was located in Hartford, IA.) The Hartford in CT has the Mark Twain House. The one in Iowa had the Hotel Hartford (see picture.) We continued to broadcast from these sparse surroundings until the following summer.
Here are some current political observations:
- With the Republican Party acting so strange, if Ronald Reagan were alive, he'd probably go back to being a Democrat. "Wellllll . . . Here I go again. The GOP can't solve the problem; the GOP is the problem."
I'll bet Gerry Mander was a very oddly-shaped person.