Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the WOC Radio Station Dedication Ceremony in Davenport, Iowa

July 14, 1988

Well, Vickie, first let me say I'm delighted to be back here with all of you. Perhaps some of you know about a huge favor that I owe a lady from Chicago. It was back in 1932. I had just gotten out of college. And this was in the depths of the Depression, and you didn't think about career right then or what you might want to do in the long haul. You just thought about is there any way to get a job—with 26 percent unemployment rate.

And Montgomery Ward had just moved into Dixon, Illinois. And they were going to have a sports department, and they thought they'd get someone who had a background of high school sports there. So I went down. I didn't get the job. One of a more recent high school basketball player got it. And then I hit the road, hitchhiking. And I went into Chicago and up to NBC. I thought, if you're going to start asking for radio, which was what I had thought about I would like to do, well, you might as well start at the top. And I didn't get hired there, but the young lady that I mentioned—I aspired to be a sportscaster, that's what I wanted to do. And this young lady that happened to be in the program department, I guess maybe saw that I was very discouraged and thought maybe I was setting my sights too high. And she assured me that, no, I hadn't. But she said, "You've come to the wrong place. You must go to the smaller towns and smaller stations where they can afford to take on a newcomer and someone without experience and give them the experience."

Well, it was a long hitchhike back to Dixon, Illinois, that night. By the way, for the last 30-mile stretch, I got a ride with a fellow who told me quite unnecessarily that he'd been out trapping skunks. [Laughter] But the following Monday, I took her advice, and my first stop was here in Davenport, where, as we used to say in those days, the West begins and where the tall corn grows. And I went in for an interview with the program director, Peter MacArthur. He had come to this country with Harry Lauder, a great vaudevillian in a vaudeville act and wound up as the program director. And, no, there was nothing here. As a matter of fact, the day before they'd hired an announcer.

So, now, I'm really upset. And as I'm going out the door I said, "How does a fellow ever get to be a sports announcer if he can't get a job in radio?" And I got to the elevator and fortunately it wasn't there, because I heard a thumping down the hall. Pete had arthritis very severely and walked on two canes—or with two canes. And he kept calling me rather profanely, and finally, I realized what—he was coming after me. So, I waited, and he asked me, What was that that I said about sports? And I said, "Well, that's what I'd like to be, is a sports announcer." He said, "What do you know about football?" And I said, "I played it 8 years." He said, "Can you tell me about a football game and if I'm listening to it on radio, then I'll be able to see that game?" And I said, "I think so."

He took me into a studio, it was the original studio, stood me up in front of a microphone, pointed to a red bulb up on the wall, and he said, "I won't be in here with you, you'll be alone. When that red light goes on, you start broadcasting an imaginary football game." Well, there I stood, and I was all alone. And I thought, what am I going to do for names? And then I said, wait a minute, one of our games in the previous season when I was playing we won in the last 20 seconds with a 65-yard touchdown run by our quarterback. And I said, well, I know a lot of the other team's names, and I know all of our team's names. I'll start with the fourth quarter. So, when it came on, I said, "The long blue shadows are settling over the field. There's a chill wind blowing in through the end of the stadium." We didn't have a stadium. We only had bleachers. [Laughter] And then I took for as long as I could go, up to the point that there we were and called that play with 20 seconds to go, and the winning touchdown is scored. At which point, I grabbed the microphone and said, "That's all." [Laughter]

Incidentally, I personally take credit for the first instant replay because on that famous play, I was the key blocker of the first man in the secondary, and I missed my man. I don't know to this day how Bud Cole scored that touchdown, but in that broadcast, I delivered a block that was just Earth-shattering. [Laughter]

Well, Pete came back in, and he said, "Be here Saturday. We'll give you $5 and bus fare. You're broadcasting the Iowa-Minnesota game." So, I was there Saturday, over to Iowa City we went. And then I found out that one of his experienced staff announcers he had along for safety sake and had agreed that we would alternate quarters and that he would do a quarter, I would do a quarter, and so forth. And I guess that was for protection in case my imagination couldn't help me. But I'll never forget the thrill of—when we were coming up, I was finishing the third quarter and then he was going to do the fourth. And I saw a note come down from Pete, who was sitting behind us in the press box. And the note, I could see it myself as the other announcer read it, said, "Let the kid finish the game." [Laughter]

So, after that he told me that they had four more games left in the season for broadcasting, and I was going to get $10 a game and busfare. Then I had to wait a few months after the games were over before there was a vacancy. And then I went on. And you know, I'm proud to have gotten my start in communications here at WOC. I'm even prouder to have been a part of a tremendous broadcasting tradition, one that is 65 years old this year. And I think all of you can be proud not just of this new building but of all that it represents. WOC has been serving the people of the Quad-Cities for more than six decades. When I first came here, it was only the Tri-Cities, and we were in the midst of the Depression. And today we're in the middle of an economic boom, but we must get some help to the farmers who have been hurt by the drought. But through good times and bad, WOC has been there for the people of Iowa and Illinois. You've established high standards of service to the community, and it's my hope that those standards will remain as much a part of your tradition as they have been in the past.

Things have changed a bit since 1932. But in a funny way, the business stays the same: news, sports, weather, information. It's a good way to make a living and a good way of serving others. So, my congratulations to all of you, and my warmest wishes for your future success.

I want to say one more word about farmers that I said earlier today over in Illinois. Once when I was just out in the mashed-potato circuit and before I ever had this job, I was invited to address the Farm Bureau national meeting at Las Vegas, Nevada. And on the way to the hall where they were holding their convention, some fellow recognized me, I suppose from the picture days, and said, asked me what I was doing in Las Vegas. And I told him I was there to speak to the Farm Bureau. And he said, "What's a bunch of farmers doing in Las Vegas?" And I couldn't resist. I said, "Buster, they're in an occupation that makes a Las Vegas craptable look like a guaranteed annual income." [Laughter] And it's true. Our farmers deserve all the help we can give them, and we're going to give them that help there now.

But thank you all, God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:40 p.m. at the radio station. In his opening remarks, he referred to Vickie Palmer Miller, president and owner of Signal Hill Communications.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the WOC Radio Station Dedication Ceremony in Davenport, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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