In Memoriam: Jack Shelley

Legendary Iowa broadcaster Jack Shelley died last night.  He was 98.

Shelley had a distinctive voice.  If a voice could twinkle, Jack’s did.  On May 1, 2004, Shelley gave the keynote address at the Iowa Broadcast News Association convention in Ames [AUDIO].

Shelley was introduced by Cliff Brockman, a journalist who was a student of Jack’s when Shelley taught at Iowa State University.  Shelley opened his 2004 address with a joke, told anecdotes about his long career — playing two snippets of his World War II reporting — then Shelley ended with his views about the future of journalism.

As you may know Shelley was a native of Boone, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Missouri Journalism School in 1935, then worked for three months for The Clinton (Iowa) Herald, a newspaper.  The newsman Shelley was substituting for returned to the paper, and Shelley soon was hired by H.R. Gross, the one-man news department at WHO Radio, and Shelley went on the air after three days of training to anchor the morning news.

In 1940 Shelley became the station’s news director.  When WHO launched a sister television station, Shelley served as the news director for both operations. Shelley joined the Iowa State University faculty in 1965 and worked there until his (enforced) retirement in 1982 — at the age of 70.  Iowa State University has posted a tribute page, with links to audio files of Shelley’s reportage from WWII.

Newsman Shelley covered World War II — from Europe to the Pacific.  He covered the Battle of the Bulge and Shelley was present on the battleship Missouri when the armistice was signed to end the war with Japan.

Shelley was a founder of the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) and an ardent booster of the Iowa Broadcast News Association (IBNA).  Each year IBNA names a winner of “The Jack Shelley Award” and in 2002 I was honored to receive it.  Jack, as was his custom, delivered an introduction, dropping hints about the winner’s biography before finally revealing the winner’s name.  When I got to the stage, a smiling Jack Shelley shook my hand and said in that remarkable voice, “Good girl!”

It was quintessential Jack.  As the British journalist and poet George Linnaeus Banks once wrote:  “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”  Those of us who remember Jack today celebrate the sunshine he brought into our lives with his voice and his dedication to the craft of journalism.

UPDATE: Missourinet news director Bob Priddy has twice served as chairman of the organization which is now known as the Radio Television Digital News Association.  He issued an audio statement on Shelley’s passing: PriddyTribute.

The Iowa Broadcast News Association issued a statement 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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About O.Kay Henderson

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


  1. Larry V. Schmitz says

    As a recipient of the “Shelley Award” I mourn Jack’s passing. I had the opportunity to meet him several times while attending broadcaster meetings and interviewed him about his remarkable career.

    The Jack Shelley Award plaque on my desk is the most important of some of the honors I received during my many years in broadcast journalism.

  2. Thanks for the tribute to Jack,Kay. He’s probably covering a big story right now and maybe planning an interview in Heaven,you suppose? He sure lived a great life for his 98 years. Thanks again Kay!


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