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Jim Wharton

Journal Regulars columnist Jim Wharton.

The news business is a tough place to reside these days.

If you’re working in a small to medium market like Sioux City, here’s what you face: 1) unpredictable, long hours. 2) a job with a history of low wages. 3) the prospect of criticism from every direction.

Any takers?

This story is personal to me because I’ve been down that road.

From the time I was ten years old, I knew I wanted to be on the radio. Every night at bedtime, I would snatch my sister’s $60 RCA transistor radio and tuck it under my pillow and listen to voices originating from distant cities – towns I would probably never see. Denver, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Chicago, and even New Orleans on a clear night. Big dreams growing up in a small town in central Illinois.

There was Harry Caray and Jack Buck broadcasting the St. Louis Cardinal games on KMOX in St. Louis. When the Cardinals had an off-day, my nighttime listening moved over to the Big-89 – WLS Radio in Chicago with the iconic Larry Lujack. WLS was the Chicago rocker. If there was too much static, I tuned in to Johnny Rabbitt at KXOK in St. Louis. And, yes, there are two “b’s” and two “t’s” in Rabbitt when you’re talking about Johnny. Interesting local note about KXOX in St. Louis - the late Randy Renshaw, who hosted KSCJ’s "Open Line" for many years, did a stint at KXOK in his early radio years.

Aside from Harry Caray and Jack Buck, one of the greatest baseball announcers of all time could be found on KDKA in Pittsburgh, where Bob Prince held court. This impressive array of personalities always eased me into sleep. I could burn through three sets of AA batteries every month.

I was lucky to be able to chase my dream and work in the news business. After undergraduate school I found employment as a news reporter at one of the stations I dreamed about – KMOX is St. Louis. Once the sun went down, KMOX could be heard in 47 states and Canada. The St. Louis gig paid me $100 a week. It cost me $17 a week to park my Ford Maverick in downtown St. Louis. There wasn’t much left over at the end of the month.

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I took another radio job in Central Illinois. I made $1.75 an hour and got a raise to $1.80 an hour after one year. I also worked about 70 hours a week because I needed to net $100 after taxes. I would jump at the opportunity to earn an easy $25 by broadcasting high school games. Occasionally, Bev would handle my score book and keep me company. I’ve even done the play-by-play of parades. It goes something like this: “Here comes a horse. Here comes a tractor. Here comes another horse. Here comes another tractor.” Will talk for food.

The news business brought Bev and I to Sioux City in 1976 when the late Dick Michaels offered me a news job at KMNS Radio. In a few short years I started to plan my exit from the news business. Forty-plus years later the outward migration from the news business continues as very good reporters move out of local media positions into new opportunities that offer better pay, better hours, better everything. I did the same thing in 1983 when I had an opportunity to go to Briar Cliff and do P.R. work for President Charlie Bensman.

The way we receive our news has clearly changed. Why buy a newspaper, flip on the radio or turn on TV when you can swipe your phone and get only the content you want to see? Here’s why.

Local journalism is vital to the well-being of a community. They represent our eyes and our ears and keep those in positions of power accountable. In the spirit of full transparency, I love newspapers. My dad would tell anybody that would listen that he proudly subscribed to six newspapers, three dailies and three weeklies. He wasn’t kidding. I subscribe to the Sioux City Journal, the Nokomis Free Press Progress and the Catholic Globe. In the winter months, I’m able to read the New York Times every day and I absolutely love it.

You know good journalism when you see it or hear it. We have evidence of that right here in Sioux City. Our news professionals are doing an admirable job keeping us informed.

Support local journalism.

Next week: Steve Warnstadt

Jim Wharton, of Sioux City, is a former member of the Sioux City Council and a former mayor of Sioux City. He and his wife, Beverly, have one daughter, Dr. Laura Giese, and four grandchildren.

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