Tag Archives: KFAB

Dave Webber

February 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dave Webber covered all five Big Red national championships during a broadcast career that spanned 46 years; but he will never shake free from the “Legend of the Lucky Corncob.”

The story started in 1995 toward the end of the Orange Bowl championship game against the Miami Hurricanes. A fan in the stands pleaded with Webber, “You have to will the team to victory.”

Obligingly, the then-WOWT sports director picked up a corncob that happened to be in the end zone and held it up for fans to see.

Dave-Webber-2“A few minutes later, they scored the touchdown that won the game late in the fourth quarter,” he remembers. “I got chills. I couldn’t watch.” 

The Huskers came from behind to win.It was the Big Red’s first national title since 1971 and the first for Coach Tom Osborne.

“I put that sucker in my pocket and took it next year to the 1996 Fiesta Bowl,” he says.

Nebraska was again trailing, this time against the Florida Gators, so Webber pulled out the lucky corncob. Whaddaya know—the Cornhuskers won the national championship.

Some WOWT viewers credit the lucky corn cob with Nebraska’s back-to-back championships. Tom Osborne says otherwise.

“One of Osborne’s favorite sayings is, ‘This guy actually thinks his corncob won the game,’” laughs Webber.

Superstitious fans have asked to buy the corny icon, now framed and displayed at Webber’s home. “Every single day during football season, somebody mentions the lucky corncob,” says its proud owner.

The story of the well-known sportscaster began when a two-year assignment at Offutt Air Force Base brought him to the Omaha area in 1964. His duty was to guard the SAC Underground as a member of the elite guard. After retiring from the military, Webber attended the University of Omaha (now University of Nebraska at Omaha).

For two years starting in 1967, he performed as a full-time folk singer at the Swinging Door Saloon, following a year working on-air at KBON radio. But then he married Terri and began seeking a “real job.” 

Webber joined KFAB as an announcer and also covered Big Red championship games in 1970, 1971, and 1972.

A move to Sioux City, Iowa, in 1973 to cover sports news for KMEG-TV brought with it a second quirky job. He was asked to portray “Pops,” a popular children’s show character.

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“Pops was a retired custodian for the Bijou Theater. The camera would show me sweeping, then the stage door would open, and we would show cartoons and movies like Little Rascals and Laurel and Hardy,” he says.

He was only 29 years old at the time. Forty years later, viewers haven’t forgotten the character.

“People come up to me still today and say ‘I was a kid in Sioux City. Were you Pops?’” says Webber.

He returned to Omaha in 1977 to cover sports news for KMTV. A year later, he moved down the street to WOWT as assistant to then-sports director John Knicely. When Knicely left for a St. Louis television station in 1981 (returning to Omaha three years later), Webber became sports director.

That’s only one story from the life of the multitalented Webber, whose mellifluous voice has won over crowds for more than 40 years as he hosted and emceed more than 1,000 banquets and fundraisers.

“You name a disease and I’ve done a fundraiser for it,” jokes the affable personality who is more likely to greet you with a hug than a handshake.

Webber has been a longtime presence at major Omaha events. For 22 years, he has braved wind, rain, and sun as master of ceremonies for the Fourth of July Memorial Park concert in front of as many as 80,000 people. His favorite group to perform there was the Beach Boys.

During the Christmas holiday, he takes his emceeing indoors. Webber has been singing, dancing, and making jokes for 20 years as host for the Omaha Symphony’s Christmas Spectacular.

“The year I took over, my biggest job was to keep the kids on stage from goofing around,” he remembers.

Meeting sports figures that he idolized as a youngster was payback for his volunteer work with a fundraising golf tournament hosted by baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson.

One volunteer stint he looks forward to is at the end of a pleasant hour-long drive to Harlan, Iowa, where Webber has judged an estimated 1,000 pies over 20 years at the Shelby County Fair pie-baking contest.

“Every year, it’s like seeing old friends. I play guitar and sing. I walk around and say ‘hi’ to every single person.”

He and Terri have three adult children and three grandchildren. Today he is spokesperson for Baxter Auto Group. Although “retired” (sort of), he still gets calls from WOWT to fill in on newscasts.

As a sideline, Webber delights in being asked to conduct holiday tours (15 so far) to destinations such as Hawaii, Ireland, and the Canadian Rockies.

Three years ago, heart surgery left him 50 pounds lighter and with a renewed zeal for life.

“I enjoy every minute of every day,” says the TV sports guy, singer, guitarist, emcee, symphony host, pie-contest judge—and lucky corncob owner.

Visit wowt.com to learn more.

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Pioneers in Media

October 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Eileen Wirth entered the Omaha World-Herald newsroom in 1969 and wondered, “Where are the women?” Unknowingly, she had become one of the newspaper’s first female city reporters.

Dr. Wirth broke through gender barriers again as the first female chair of the journalism department at Creighton University, where she has been a professor since 1991. Her story as a pioneer is mirrored in media throughout Omaha.

Rose Ann Shannon walked into the KMTV newsroom 40 years ago as an intern, looked around for other female reporters, and found none. Today more than half of the journalists at KETV—where she is the station’s first female TV news director—are women. Shannon was a KMTV reporter, photographer, anchor, and assignment editor before joining KETV in 1986.

In 1974, Ann Pedersen became the first full-time female reporter at WOW-TV (now WOWT). One year later, she was named the station’s first female anchor for a daily newscast. She became WOWT assignment editor and later assistant news director before leaving in 1988 for a 13-year career at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis as director of news operations.

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Ann Pedersen

Carol Schrader proved herself as an intern at KMTV before moving on to a full-time job as a reporter at KLNG Radio and, in 1979, at KETV. She became one of the first women to anchor a KETV evening newscast, the first female news director at KFAB Radio, and the first host of the NET program Consider This.

The time was ripe 40 years ago for women to enter what had been a mostly male environment, says Wirth. She wrote about pioneer women journalists across Nebraska in her book From Society Page to Front Page.

“Young men were being drafted into the Vietnam War, so there was a shortage of journalism graduates,” says Wirth, who had three job offers upon graduation. “It was a combination of a good economy and a massive group of young women coming of age in the civil rights environment.”

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Eileen Wirth

The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated that employers hire without regard to gender or race. “Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan added the clause banning sex discrimination,” says Wirth. “It was seen as a joke.” Opponents in Congress allowed the clause to go through because they mistakenly thought it would kill the entire civil rights bill. Instead, for the first time in American history, working women had a legal tool.

“The public wanted to see more individuals on air who represented them,” adds Pedersen. “Blacks and women brought new ideas. That’s the great advantage of having a well-integrated newsroom. You get different points of view.”

“I knew I got my job because I was a woman, but I didn’t want to do my job as a woman,” she says. “I wanted to be a journalist.”

“We didn’t mind rattling a few cages,” says Wirth.

Rose Ann Shannon

Rose Ann Shannon

Schrader rattled her first cage as a KMTV intern one night in 1973 by insisting on covering the shooting of a police officer. “I asked them to send me, but they just laughed. I told them, ‘I’m off in 20 minutes, and I’m going to drive there anyway.’” They sent her to the hospital with a camera. “I got a check for $10. I’ve never cashed it.”

She challenged the status quo again when she got into a verbal battle with Mayor Bob Cunningham in 1977 at a news conference she covered for KLNG Radio. She held her own. Two days later, KETV called to ask if she wanted to be the station’s “weather girl” and a reporter.

“I think we rattled cages just by being there,” says Pedersen, who remembers insisting on receiving the same camera the male reporters got. “You did have to stand up 
for yourself.”

When Pedersen arrived at WCCO-TV, she learned that the general manager would not pay her more than he paid his executive assistant. “But in the end, I was paid on par with other news managers,” she says.

Discrimination came more from the audience than from her supportive male co-workers, says Shannon. “Viewers didn’t like our voices. They said, ‘You’re taking a man’s job.’ There were times when I felt I had to work harder, longer, smarter because I had something to prove.”

Women brought story ideas into the newsroom that the male reporters had ignored, Schrader notes. “[We] were raising issues that were newsworthy but were not on the radar for men.”

Pedersen is now a public relations director in Omaha. Schrader is a real estate agent. Wirth is creating a new generation of journalists at Creighton University. Still at KETV, Shannon has seen big changes during her career. “I tell people I’m as excited about doing news today as when I walked in the door 40 years ago.”

Author Judy Horan began her career at WOWT at about the same time as the women profiled here, becoming the first woman in management in Omaha television.

Becka’s Back

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The unmistakable voice that many in Omaha have come to love (or, if we’re honest, love to hate) has returned to the airwaves. In January, radio talk show host and Benson High School grad Tom Becka found himself in a familiar seat back in Dundee. (Not a Dundee Dell barstool; although, Becka is known to wax poetic on the air about his love for the Dell’s single malt scotch selection.)

Many recently remember Becka from his weekday afternoon show on KFAB (1110 AM), located in the heart of Dundee. But in October 2011, the decision was made to end Becka’s tenure with KFAB and its parent company, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. Becka insists the decision was issued not locally, but at the corporate level: “I didn’t fit their line-item formula.”

Becka then headed north for about a year, landing a job as program director for an FM talk station in Fargo, N.D. But not long after Becka set up shop, he was lured back to Omaha, sort of, hosting an afternoon talk show on KKAR (1290 AM). KKAR is owned by NRG Media and located in Becka’s old stomping grounds near 50th and Dodge streets. He pulled double-duty for several months: waking pre-dawn to host a morning talk show, managing the radio station and all its moving parts, and then prepping for his two-hour afternoon show in Omaha (broadcasting from a makeshift studio fashioned in his West Fargo apartment).

But the sale of the Fargo radio station gave Becka an opportunity to return to Omaha and pursue radio full-time…once again, in his beloved Dundee. “The Tom Becka Show” airs from 2 to 6 p.m. on 1290 AM, now dubbed the Mighty 1290 KOIL. “I am genuinely excited about helping rebuild this legendary radio station,” Becka says. “By working at 1290 KOIL…I can focus on what is happening here in Omaha, and not have to worry about what they say at the home office in Texas.”

“I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

KFAB was Becka’s home not once, but twice. He launched his talk radio career at “the 50,000-watt blowtorch” in 1994, but left five years later for an on-air job in Kansas City. He returned to Omaha (and KFAB) in 2004, where he remained until his termination in 2011.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Becka moved to Omaha his junior year of high school. (“When you move outside of Omaha and tell people your high school mascot was a bunny, they think you’re making it up.”) He studied at UNO and was active with the university’s radio station, KVNO (90.7 FM).

Although talk radio would become his wheelhouse, Becka fell hard when he discovered rock and roll. An AM Cleveland DJ by the name of Jerry G played popular tracks overnight. “He was the king of Cleveland Top 40 radio. Even though I was supposed to be asleep, I would hide a radio under the blankets and listen until late at night,” he recalls. “I always wanted to be in radio, but didn’t think I could do it with my voice.”

Becka’s voice has become his signature statement: fast, high-pitched, loud, and always laced with his own opinion, whether listeners like it or not.

His career has been spent in an industry rife with obstacle, ratings, and setbacks. Becka says he has learned perseverance, adapting to change, and how to maintain friendships when lines are drawn in the sand. “I have fond memories of my time at KFAB and a lot of respect for my friends who are still working there,” Becka says. “But I am really excited about competing against them. I like to think of it as a football player who has been traded to another team. My job is to beat them, but we can remain friends off the field.”