Media braved floodwaters to cover big story
Young Byron Blackstone sweeps mud and water in front of the hardware store owned by his uncle, Byron D. Blackstone in the 3900 block of Floyd Boulevard. Leeds was first and hardest hit by the Floyd River waters. (Sioux City Journal file photo by George Newman)

With today's abundance of radio, television, newspapers and online media, it's hard to imagine the Sioux City community with just an afternoon and morning paper, three radio stations and one television station. Somehow, word got out about the flood, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the media.

KVTV-TV (now KCAU-TV, Channel 9) had only been on the air since March when the flood overwhelmed the community.

"I think they had a two-person, maybe at best, three-person news staff," Jim Henry recalled.

Henry hosted a kids' television show, "Kid's Corner" on Channel 9 from 1953 to 1985. At that time, KVTV was located at 614 Pierce St. The news set consisted of a chair and a desk for the news anchor. Behind him was a slide of the world which was changed to a sports photo for the sports broadcast.

"They couldn't take the cameras out," Henry recalled of the huge stationary contraptions.

Instead, the news staff would use Associated Press photos, or if they wanted to show something local, they would shoot slide film to project onto a screen.

"It was so simple back then," said Henry, who is celebrating his 50th year in the broadcasting business, still hosting "Around Siouxland" on KTIV-TV. His other daytime job is at the Midwest Regional office of Pennsylvania Life.

He added, "What I remember most about the flood is that I was selling men's clothing at Weatherwax (located at 600 Fourth St.) and left each day at 3 to do the show. At that point, they were starting to move things because of the water. By the time I tried to return, about 4:30, I couldn't even get to the store; the water was so deep."

George Newman, Journal and Journal-Tribune photographer, found his own way of getting from Morningside to the newspaper, which in those days was located at 419-423 Douglas St. According to a report in the newspaper, Newman was stranded in Morningside without his equipment. He borrowed a camera from someone in Morningside, rented an airplane and took a number of aerial shots of the flood. He was brought down in North Sioux City and eventually caught a ride downtown.

Clarence Olson, veteran night police reporter for the Journal, was also marooned in Morningside and unable to get to work. He covered the Greenville, Stock Yards and Morningside flood news by telephone. Two members of the day staff, unable to get to their homes in Morningside, stayed on the job for two days. Several men on the night news and composing room staffs were also unable to get to work from their homes in Morningside.

Station KSCJ-AM, 1360 on the radio dial, was knocked off the air when high water struck its transmitter station, about two miles north of Leeds. In 1953, radio listeners had two other choices, KCOM-AM, 620, now KMNS, and KTRI-AM, 1470, now KWSL.

Don Stone, best known as host and master of ceremonies for the Little Yellow Dog Auction, the Municipal Band's summer concerts at the Grandview Park Bandshell and the Quiz Bowl, was KSCJ's sports director.

"I remember Jack Todd, one of our newsmen, had discovered most of our weather watchers were not at their posts on Sunday," he said. "He began trying to alert local authorities that something was going to happen."

Once the station went off the air on Monday, the staff busied themselves with trying to get personal messages out when broadcasting resumed.

"I was very proud of the media at that time," Don Stone reminisced. "There was really no way of letting families know what was happening and the media were providing that service."

Stone gave credit to ham radio operators which he said, "did yeoman's service" in helping to communicate the disaster to the community.

Mel Forsling was a teacher/principal in the Smithland, Iowa, community school district who had acquired his ham license in the early 1940s.

"I remember both the Missouri River and Floyd River floods, but I wasn't involved in helping out as a ham operator for either one," he said. "Sadly, most of the guys who were active are no longer alive."

Tom Brosamle, chairman of this year's Hamboree 2003 on June 13-14, an event for amateur radio enthusiasts, agreed with Forsling's insights. Although just a kid himself back in 1953, he recalled names of ham operators who might have been in the trenches the week of June 8, 1953.

"There were so many guys probably all involved back then, but all gone," he said. "It's been my experience that during times of disaster, ham operators are among the first to surface to help out."


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