SIOUX CITY | Ray Cole opens a folder filled with a collection of photos of him with some of the biggest names in news, politics, show business and sports.
A pair of images show the Siouxland native and longtime Iowa television executive at a 2007 debate with then-presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In a 2006 photo, he's posing on the set of ABC's "The View" with Barbara Walters and Rosie O'Donnell.
In another picture, Cole is smiling on the red carpet of the 2008 ESPY Awards with his son, Brandon, ESPN anchor Chris Berman and then-ESPN Executive Chairman George Bodenheimer.
Also in the folder: a small black and white photo, taken in the late 1970s, of a young Ray Cole at his desk at Sioux City TV station KCAU.
A Kingsley, Iowa, native, Cole joined the ABC affiliate after graduating from Briar Cliff University in 1977. He worked his way up to become the station's general manager before being promoted to his current title as president and chief operating officer of Citadel Communication.
Cole's 37-year-association with KCAU ended in March with Citadel's sale of the Sioux City ABC affiliate to Texas-based Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. The $88 million deal also included WOI, an ABC affiliate in Des Moines, and WHBF, a CBS affiliate in the Quad Cities.
Cole, 58, remains based in Des Moines with Citadel, which kept three other local stations, including KLKN-TV in Lincoln, Neb. and a growing cable news network in Florida.
Along with managing Citadel stations, Cole emerged as a national leader in the broadcast industry. He recently stepped down after 14 years on the board of governors of the ABC Television Affiliates Association. From 2005-2008, he served as the board chairman.
During the association's recent annual meeting in Burbank, Calif., Cole, who will stay on the board in an ex-officio capacity, was honored for his "dedicated leadership"
Since 2009, Cole had chaired the ABC board's sports committee, serving as liasion to ESPN for programming presented on ABC. In that capacity, he was involved in negoitiations for major sporting events, include College Footabll, the NBA, NASCAR and the World Cup.
In an interview last week, Cole said it's been gratifying to see the record ratings that ABC and ESPN has recorded for this summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Bodenheimer, who recently retired after a 33-year career with ESPN, described Cole as a "good friend and sports fan."
"The leadership that he demonstrated really served both his company and ABC Sports very well," Bodenheimer said in an interview with the Journal.
Cole, the ESPN executive said, "was always focused on trying to find something that worked" for all parties involved.
In his long tenure on the board of governors, Cole also formed lasting relationships with figures in the network's news and entertainment divisions.
In the late 1990s, Cole became acquainted with actor Michael J. Fox who was starring in the ABC sitcom, "Spin City." At the time, Fox had just been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
"He was a very young man. If he felt sorry for himself, it lasted for a very short period of time," Cole said.
Fox accepted Coles' invitation to play in a pro am at the Principal Charity Classic in West Des Moines, even though he had only recently taken up the game. Cole described high fiving Fox after he sank a birdie putt to the delight of the large gallery.
In 2010, Fox, an outspoken advocate for increased funding for Parkinson's research, received the NAB Distinguished Service Award. Cole, who serves on the NAB's television board, nominated Fox for the association's top honor.
"One of the great things about being in this busines and being involved in some of the things I've been privileged to be involved with is meeting people like Michael," Cole said.
Cole also formed a close friendship with "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, who has been treated for breast cancer and for myelodysplastic syndrome. Cole had lunch with Roberts the day before her first chemotherapy treatment, and was on the set of GMA in New York after her last treatment.
"To see her handle her challenges in the courageous manner she has is gratifying," he said. "She's doing very well today."
Roberts was a moderator for a Democratic presidential debate that Cole's Iowa stations sponsored in 2007. The debate featured former first lady Hillary Clinton and then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who scored a surprising victory in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses on route to winning the White House in 2008.
Over the years, Cole also has regularly interacted with a host of other ABC news and entertainment figures.
In 1994, while serving as chairman of the the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Board, Cole recruited Nightline anchor Ted Koppel to speak at the Chamber's annual dinner. Cole also arranged for then-Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos to speak at the 2007 Chamber dinner. Stephanopoulous today co-anchors "Good Morning America" and hosts ABC's Sunday program, "This Week."
Bodenheimer said network officials were impressed with Cole's volunteer work in the community, raising funds for needy causes.
"At ESPN and ABC, we bent over backwards to assist him because we liked what he was doing," Bodenheimer said.
Cole is a longtime supporter of the annual telethons to raise money for Variety the Children's Charity. He and his wife, Susan, served as honorary co-chairs for the 2012 telethon which raised more than $3 million for special programs across Iowa.
In April, Ray and Susan, who is also a Kingsley native, served as honor chairs for the All-Star Evening to benefit the Character Counts program in Iowa.
During his many years in Siouxland, Cole also served on boards for a number of local civic and charitable organizations.
At KCAU, Cole started as the business manager, plucked out of Briar Cliff by then-station manager Bill Turner. In that era, Channel 9 was the top-watched station in Siouxland, with a news team that included Dave Nixon Sr. as anchor, sportscaster Gene Sherman and meteorologist Tom Peterson.
Cole worked his way up to KCAU general manager. In 1985, the station was acquired by Citadel, which proceeded to lay off a number of employees in a cost-cutting move. The job fell to Cole to break the news to the affected employees, which included Jim Henry, host of the popular children's program Canyon Kid. Henry passed away in January.
"That was one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in the last 40 years," Cole recalled. "It was the longest-running kids program in the county. By 1985, there weren't many of those programs around any more.
"I talked to Jim about that some years later. He understood the reasoning behind the decision."
Since 1994, after being promoted to president and chief operating officer, Cole has been based in Citadel's corporate offices in Des Moines. But he continues to make trips back to Siouxland to visit family and friends, as well as attend meetings as a member of the Security National Bank Corp. Board.
Cole said it's taking some getting used to no longer being associated with KCAU and the two other stations, WOI and WHBF, included in the Nextstar deal.
"Television stations can have a unique impact and be a powerful force for good in communities," he said. "I'd like to think our three stations have met that charge, and I'll miss it."