Arthur Kent, meet Elwin Huffman

Larry, a loyal reader of this blog, sent this email this morning: There’s something missing from this year’s flood.  We have no "Flood Stud."  How can that be?  You can’t have a second, 500-year-flood in 15 years without a flood stud.  I think we need to start taking nominations immediately.  Who will "man up" and become LD’s successor?

The "L.D." Larry mentions is L.D. McMullen, the former CEO and general manager of the Des Moines Water Works.  But the story goes back beyond the floods of 1993 when the Water Works was swamped and the City of Des Moines lost its drinking water supply. 

Arthur Kent, an NBC journalist, was covering the 1991 Gulf War and as you may recall earned the nickname "The Scud Stud" for his reportage during Saddam Hussein’s launch of so-called "Scud Missiles" in the Middle East.  Linking the word "stud" with another descriptive word became popular, almost as popular as referring to things with the phrase "the mother of all" as a modifier after Saddam Hussein used the descriptive "mother of all battles" to discuss the final battle he envisioned during that first Gulf War.

Fast forward several months and the tendency to give folks nicknames conferred the "Flood Stud" status upon L.D. McMullen who was often seen on local Des Moines television in his hip-waders.  It seemed a bit odd at the time that the man in charge of the utility that failed was rewarded with such a manly and laudable nickname when the studs, it me, were the Army guys who stood on the skids of the Huey helicopters hovering over the swamped Water Works.  It was tough guy work.  The men stood on the skids, connected to the helicopter by a wire clipped to their safety harness.  The inside of the Huey was overflowing with filled sandbags and that man would use his hands to dig into the helicopter and then employ his muscular arms to throw those bags into the flood waters below.  The process was part of an effort to erect a sandbag circle around the Water Works, then pump out the flood water from inside the circle and get the Water Works cleaned out and working again.

Now, with another flood, Larry and others perhaps are looking for another mythical figure to rise from the surging waters in the same way newsman Arthur Kent rose from the sands of the Gulf, I will nominate radio reporters like Elwin Huffman of Oelwein’s KOEL.  Huffman workers out of an office in downtown Waterloo.  He stood on the levee protecting downtown Cedar Falls yesterday to tell his listeners what was happening.  This morning he covered a 5 a.m. news conference, then had to string a generator to the office to get on the air so he could relay the latest information to his listeners.

Another "storm stud" who’s been helping the Radio Iowa newsroom during the surge of storms these past few weeks is Robert Fisher of KLSS/KRIB/KGLO in Mason City.  Bob (as well as Elwin) covered the May 25, 2008, tornado which hit Parkersburg and New Hartford.  If you’ve been following this latest round of flooding, Bob was on the air telling his Mason City listeners of their city’s water woes and when it will be safe to again drink the water from their taps.

Local radio reporters are too often unsung heroes as they go into work at all hours to read weather alerts on the air when tornado warnings are issued.  If you’re headed to your basement with a transitor radio, listening to their station as a tornado snakes toward your area, their voices can be lifesavers. 

It reminds me of a story Clyde Lear, the president of Learfield Communications, recounted for a gathering of news directors at radio stations which subscribe to Radio Iowa.  Lear was a journalism student who went on to be a statehouse reporter in Missouri before launcing the company for which I now work.  He said one of his journalism professors started the term by asking for a show of hands among his classmates.  "Who wants to write for the New York Times?" the professor asked.

About half the students in the room raised their hands.  "Who wants to write for Time magainze?" the professor asked next.  More hands were raised.  The professor went through the constellation of big name publications and by the end all the students had raised their hands.  Then, the asked a final question, wondering which of the students in that classroom wanted to work for a small town radio station in a place like Poplar Bluff, Missouri.  Clyde recalled that no one in te class raised their hand.

The professor, according to Clyde, went on to tell his class that was too bad, because the person who went on to work at a small town radio station probably would be a more valuable asset to their chosen community than those who moved to New York or Washington, D.C. to work at those well-known publications.  The person who works at the small town radio station tells listeners who was born and who died (before hospital announcements were influenced by federal privacy rules); that radio reporter tells kids what they’ll be served at school that day and, when danger looms, it will be the small town radio station reporter who warns his neighbors a tornado is coming.  I remember Clyde concluding his remarks by thanking those radio reporters for "being there" for their neighbors when emergency requires it.

So, in today’s case, here’s a simple note of thanks to those local radio reporters like Elwin and Bob who are on the air, for hours on end, telling folks where the danger is or where they can volunteer to fill sandbags.  As of right now, the sandbag barrier erected to protect downtown Cedar Falls has stood the test of a surging Cedar River.  Elwin may not have had time to fill those sandbags himself as he was filling the airwaves with information, but he had a role in that success nonetheless.

And don’t worry.  Bob wlll tell you tolks in Mason City wnen it’s safe to start drinking the water again.

If you have other nominees in response to Larry’s email, post a comment. 


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.