Sunday, October 26, 2008

A mentor to many -- Grant Price

One day in 1969, I hopped aboard a Cessna Queen-Air plane in Shenandoah, Iowa for a day-trip to Cedar Rapids.

Also aboard the craft was my boss, Norm Williams, the General Manager of KMA, which was owned by the May Broadcasting Company. In those days, May Broadcasting was comprised of KGUN-TV in Tucson, KMTV in Omaha, plus substantial ownership of KFAB in Omaha. I believe they also had a station in Wisconsin.

I’m not sure what Norm’s agenda was for that trip, but I know I was looking forward to visiting with Grant Price and the folks in the newsroom at WMT radio and television. We would also drive to Oelwein to visit the news operation overseen by Dick Petrik. I had recently joined KMA as News Director and was anxious to learn what I could from those veteran broadcasters.

Both KOEL in Oelwein, under Dick Petrik, and WMT in Cedar Rapids, led by Grant Price, had first-class news operations.
So I was saddened to learn about the passing of Grant Price last week (10/17) in Waterloo, Iowa. He was 85 years old and had been one of the best-known broadcasters in the state before stepping away from the microphone in 1989 to go to work for Wartburg College.

Occasionally in recent years, I’ve chatted with veteran sports broadcaster Bryan Lessly, who once worked in the WMT shop, about our Iowa experiences – and Grant Price almost always comes up in the conversation. I can think of few Iowa news broadcasters, save Jack Shelley, who’ve left any larger legacy than Grant Price. Okay, “Dutch” Reagan would be an exception. In any event, WMT became a news powerhouse under the auspices of Grant Price.


I remember the warm hospitality and generosity extended to me by Grant and his staff nearly 40 years ago – and it’s easy to understand why this talented and exceptional person was so highly regarded by so many as a good boss, a learned mentor, and a good friend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Legendary musician Neal Hefti dies

Native Nebraskan Neal Hefti has died. Born in Hastings in 1922, Hefti won fame as an arranger for a wide variety of big bands during the 1940s and 50s, including Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet and Harry James. He died Saturday (Oct. 11) at his home in Toluca Park, California.

An accomplished trumpet player, it was really Hefti’s composing and arranging that won him the adoration and respect of top-flight musicians ranging from Frank Sinatra to Count Basie. He was also a conductor and worked with the likes of Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, and Sinatra.

Without a clue to his roots, I remember playing a lot of Neal Hefti recordings on KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska in the 1950s. I often wondered if Neal was related to Paul Hefti, a Chadron banker – not an altogether wild assumption, since Hefti is a rather unusual name, and they both had Nebraska roots. I never found out. (NOTE: Paul Hefti's son, Marvin, responds that he does not believe Neil Hefti and Paul Hefti were closely related, if at all - 11/1/08)

Neal Hefti’s name graced a bevy of big band, standards, and jazz albums in those years. But probably his most popular works were the theme songs for the hit television series "The Odd Couple" and "Batman."

My favorite Hefti composition was a lumbering jazz ditty entitled Li'l Darlin’.

Neal Hefti was 85 years old.