Remembering Jack Shelley

Jack Shelley
Jack Shelley during his WHO Radio days.

Iowans of today have to dig deep in their memories to remember a man who changed journalism.

Those of us who trained and practice the industry today know what the name Jack Shelley means and need no reminder of his impact on our craft.

Jack Shelley was a longtime reporter for WHO Radio, WHO-TV and eventually professor at Iowa State University, until his retirement at the age of 70.

Jack Shelley died late Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 in Ames. He was 98.

To call Shelley a legend, is short-changing him.

If there’s a mountain of important Iowans, he would be on it.

Shelley covered World War II for Iowans and reported live at the signing of the armistice to end WW2. He was on the tower looking down below as the general signed the documents that ended the war when Japan surrendered to the United States.

I had never heard this story as a kid growing up in northeast Iowa. But that’s why we go to college, to study, to learn and interview legends in their living room.

During the summer of 1995 I was working in Waverly between school years at Wartburg. I was managing KWAR, board operating at KWAY and running camera for Grant Price, another legend we’ve lost, for his History of Iowa Broadcasting project which would later become Archives of Iowa Broadcasting.

Our summer adventure was a car ride to Ames with a camera, tripod, tapes, lights and tapes. But to operate the camera you need power, like say, batteries or a power source to plug into the wall.

Grant and I arrived at Mr. Shelley’s Ames home for the interview and I sheepishly said to Grant, “I forgot the batteries and power cord.”

Grant kindly asked Mr. Shelley for the use of his phone to WOI’s newsroom to beg off a battery or power source for our interview.

I’m so glad we were able to get a power source and record these two Iowa broadcasting giants swapping stories. I remember Grant wanted to interview Jack early in project because Jack was already 83, so one never knew how long he’d be around.

That’s just one story of thousands that many of his former co-workers, employees and students have to say about him. KCCI’s Kevin Cooney was a former student, as was

There’s a few pages with links to his old newscasts and stories. This link will load up your iTunes and is worth the listen.
Here’s Iowa State’s story on his passing.
The Des Moines Register’s Perry Beeman has this story as well. This is a great write through on Shelley.

You can hear Jack’s distinctive and fantastic voice on this report Peace Through Corn, done for Market To Market.

Here is O Kay Henderson’s blog on Jack’s death. She won the Shelley back in 2002.

Trent Rice, president of IBNA, Jack Shelley and Brian Allen, president-elect of IBNA. Photo taken May, 2009 at IBNA convention..

Each year at our spring convention, the Iowa Broadcast News Association hands out our highest award, at the end of the night, to a journalist who best embodies what Jack Shelley worked so hard to build, the foundation of truth and fairness in story telling. Two conventions ago in May of 2009, the IBNA met in Ames. We were able to get Jack to the dinner and present the award. But you could tell Jack was starting to his age catch up with him. He was there to see a former student, Jeff Stein receive the award. I know it was a personal highlight for Jeff, and for us in that room that night, to see Jack one more time.

Jack Shelley award winners past and presents in 2006. From L, Dave Busiek, KCCI, Ron Steele, KWWL, Cliff Brockman (then-KCAU), Cary J. Hahn, KGAN, John Bachman, WHO, Jack Shelley, Jim Boyd, WHO, Grant Price, KWWL, J.K. Martin, KBUR, Kay Henderson, Radio Iowa, Dale Woolery, KRNT.

This picture was taken in 2006 at the IBNA convention and features the winners in attendance that night to see Carey J. Hahn be inducted into the club.

Click on that picture to see the greats of Iowa broadcasting of today to see what influence Mr. Shelley had on the rest of us.

Back to Jeff Stein, he’s also the executive director of the IBNA and penned this note to the membership this morning.

The Iowa Broadcast News Association joins thousands of journalists, former students, and those who remember his broadcasts in mourning the death today of legendary Iowa broadcaster Jack Shelley.

Shelley died last night in Ames at the age of 98.

“Jack Shelley was respected nationally for his clear and concise reporting, his dedication to the craft of journalism, and a deep caring for his audience,” said IBNA executive director Jeff Stein. “He truly shaped what broadcast news would become in Iowa and the nation.”

Shelley joined the staff of WHO radio in Des Moines in 1935 after a short time as a reporter for the Clinton Herald. He became radio news director in 1940 and was one of the few local station reporters to do broadcasts from World War II.

His reporting from both the European and Pacific Theaters during the war was not only treasured by listeners throughout the midwest for news of their sons fighting overseas, but was also carried by the NBC network and the BBC. He reported on the Battle of the Bulge and the Japanese surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri, and secured the first radio interviews with the crew of the Enola Gay after the first atomic bomb was dropped.

In 1954, when WHO added television, Shelley assumed duties as news director of both radio and television. He was most known for his daily 12:30 p.m. radio newscasts, and anchoring the 10 p.m. television news.

Shelley left daily broadcasting in 1965 to join the faculty of Iowa State University. He taught broadcast journalism to hundreds of students there until his retirement in 1982.

He was a co-founder of what is now the Radio-Television Digital News Association, the leading international association of broadcast journalists, and was one of its first presidents. He co-founded what is now the Northwest Broadcast News Association, and also served a stint as executive director of the Iowa Broadcasters Association.

“Jack Shelley not only wrote the book on broadcast journalism in Iowa and the nation, but his legacy challenged us to read the book, to understand the book and then follow the book to the letter,” said Brian Allen, current IBNA president.

The IBNA’s lifetime achievement award was created and named for Shelley in 1972. He personally presented the honor all but four times, the most recent being in 2009 in Ames.

“This is truly the end of an era,” Stein noted. “But the standards Jack Shelley set and taught us all will live on in newsrooms forever.”

Services details are not yet available.

The Iowa Broadcast News Association offers its sincere sympathy to the Shelley family, and expresses its gratitude for the life of this most unique newsman.

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3 thoughts on “Remembering Jack Shelley

  1. Paul, you are right. “Legend” just doesn’t do it any justice. Jack, Grant, Dick, and others are Iowa broadcasting. It doesn’t come close.

  2. So Paul, what exactly did Grant say to you when you admitted you forgot the power cord and batteries?? Great summary and links for Jack Shelley–thanks!

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