Tag Archives: television

The Godfather of Tractor Punk

February 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Thank Gary Dean Davis for creating a genre of music original to Nebraska: tractor punk.

The progenitor of tractor punk has been performing and recording music for 20 years on the independent label—SPEED! Nebraska Records—that he established and jointly operates with fellow Omaha punk rocker Mike Tulis.

Although they have released music in various formats (and in various genres of punk rock), SPEED! Nebraska specializes in 7-inch, 45 rpm vinyl records. “The first record I ever listened to was a 45, and it’ll be the last record I ever listen to,” Davis says of his favored medium.

Davis and Tulis are no strangers to the local indie-punk scene. Davis, who grew up in Bennington, was in (what he refers to as) the tractor punk band Frontier Trust in the early-1990s.

Davis says when he was writing his punk rock songs, he tried to write about what he knew growing up in rural Nebraska. He followed the examples of then-elder statesmen of punk: “The Replacements are singing about Minneapolis, Television is singing about living in New York.”

Tulis grew up in a military family and moved around a lot. When Davis was touring with Frontier Trust, he was often surprised to find Tulis living in a different city.

“Mike would come to all of our out-of-town shows, and I’d be like, ‘you live in Chicago now?’” Davis recalls. Thus began a friendship that would lead to their collaborative management of SPEED! Nebraska from the third record onward (after Tulis moved back to Omaha).

Gary Dean Davis

Gary Dean Davis

In 1996, Davis had independently released the first SPEED! Nebraska recording. It was a 7-inch featuring two songs from the Omaha indie rock band Solid Jackson. Acclaimed Omaha singer-songwriter Connor Oberst liked the band so much he wrote a song about them (the track, “Solid Jackson,” is featured on Bright Eyes’ A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 from Saddle Creek Records).

SPEED! Nebraska started with Solid Jackson because, as Davis says emphatically, “They had recorded this song called ‘Fell’ that was my favorite song, but they weren’t going to do anything with it.”

The label’s first 7-inch from Solid Jackson, however, was more low-fi punk release than Davis’ personal brand of tractor punk. Likewise, Tulis does not classify his own music under the tractor punk genre, but he enjoys Davis’ regional stylings. “It’s a very good fit, because it’s a major industry at this point,” he says with a sarcastic grin, alluding to SPEED! Nebraska’s 20 years in business.

As the Solid Jackson record sold, Davis was able to produce more music. SPEED! Nebraska’s second release came from Davis. His band at the time was called D is for Dragster, and it was true-to-form tractor punk.

Tulis’ band at the time was named Fullblown. Fullblown was responsible for the label’s third 7-inch release.

Once Tulis moved back to Omaha, he quickly became more involved in the record label. They recorded a variety of groups, including Davis and Tulis’ band The Monroes, the post-punk group Ideal Cleaners out of Lincoln, and Domestica (with former members of Lincoln’s Mercy Rule, who are longtime friends of Davis and Tulis).

Along with desire to promote local punk music, Davis also wanted to work with his friends. “The unifying thing all the bands on SPEED! have is I like them and they’re nice people,” he says.

Davis’ current band, the Wagon Blasters, released its most recent record in 2011. The Wagon Blasters often play shows with Tulis’ current band, the Lupines. On Oct. 22, they performed together at the label’s 20th anniversary show at Brother’s Lounge.

“In Nebraska, as a musician, you had to leave town [to be considered successful],” says Tulis of the unfortunate perspective held by many local bands. “We thought, ‘Let’s promote Nebraska!’” When a new band joins the label, Davis says, “Now you’re on the team.”

Visit facebook.com/Speed-Nebraska-Records-215079805178952 for more information.

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Chuck Roberts

October 1, 2015 by

Chuck Roberts blew into Omaha the same day as the May 6, 1975, tornado that spread death and destruction. Covering the infamous storm was the newsman’s introduction to his new job as a KMTV reporter/anchor.

“We were wall to wall on that story for a couple of weeks working 12 hours a day,” he recalls.

Viewers may remember Roberts anchoring Today Show cut-ins and noon news. Later he was promoted to weeknight news co-anchoring with Jeff Jordan.

KMTV news director Mark Gautier, who hired him, had a good eye for talent.  Gautier also hired Tom Brokaw, who went on to a national stage with NBC News.  Roberts also ended up with a much wider audience after seven years in Omaha.

It started when Ted Turner took a liking to Roberts. The media mogul was launching the country’s first 24-hour cable news station, CNN2, which was renamed CNN Headline News one year later.

Turner sent scouts across the country to find talent to anchor his news. They found Roberts in Omaha. “They told me ‘Ted fancies you,’” Roberts explains, “and that I was a finalist. They said: ‘Can’t offer you a contract. Can’t pay what you’re making now,’” says Roberts of his soon-to-be pay cut.

He packed up a U-Haul and drove 1,000 miles to Atlanta and a new life.

Roberts became the first anchor on the first 24-hour national news network and his was the first face seen on camera when the station went live. The paint was still wet on the CNN set when the cameras rolled.

“We were told our job was threefold: look plausible, stay sober, and read the lines you’re given. Those were our marching orders.”

Roberts anchored four-hour weekday newscasts on CNN Headline News. He also was CNN’s election anchor. “I would drive to the Birmingham (Alabama) library and isolate myself and prep for election night. Election night 2000 was the most memorable. Went on the air at 6 p.m. and off air at 7 a.m.” the following morning.

In 2010, Roberts left CNN and an international television audience of 160 million viewers. After 28 years, he was the longest-serving anchor among all the CNN networks. He then spent three years carrying out media training sessions in eight provinces in China for his alma mater, the Missouri School of Journalism.

“We so-called experts were sent to teach media training to start up provincial-level news operations,” says Roberts. “It was a slow process. Everything had to be translated.”

The newsman’s enthusiasm for a broadcast career began near a Nebraska farm his family owned. “There was a radio station in the basement of a hotel in Falls City. I was fascinated by that as a 9-year-old.”

Roberts has high praise for the quality of broadcast news in this city. “Omaha is so much better than its market size and a great place to start a career. I learned my craft in Omaha.”

Because of his many acheivements, Roberts was inducted into the Omaha Press Club Journalists of Excellence Hall of Fame in June.

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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.

OnTrack, Inc.

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you’ve ever found yourself singing “Pepper, Pepper, Pepperjax Grill,” or “You’ll like it…Kelly’s Carpet,” or “It pays to cross the bridge…Lake Manawa Kia,” Johnny Ray Gomez IV is the man largely responsible. He created these jingles, along with dozens and dozens of others, and it’s only a facet of what he does as the owner, president, and creative director of OnTrack.

Gomez rattles off a long list of OnTrack’s offerings: “We’re an audio post-production facility. We do original music jingles for radio, television, web, and multimedia. I do demos for singers and musicians. I do audio for video. We do ADR [Additional or Automated Dialogue Recording for TV and movies]. We do sound design, sound effects, a lot of voiceover work.”

Gomez manages all of this from his 3,200-square foot facility near 118th and Harrison streets in Omaha. “We have a main studio, one smaller studio, and what I call the composing suite. We have the latest computers with music software, industry standard. And we also have the capability to link up to studios worldwide, which basically brings anybody to your doorstep with the touch of a button,” he adds proudly.

This technical capability means Gomez works with clients from all over the country.

“Just last October, [actor and Saturday Night Live alum] Will Forte was in town working on the new Nebraska movie with Alexander Payne. He was in Norfolk filming for a month and doing a sequel to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, so we actually recorded all of his voice animation parts here,” he says. “For three years, we did work for Teen Mom with Farrah Abraham. Instead of MTV flying her to New York, they just brought her here to OnTrack.” He adds that even YouTube sensation and Columbus, Neb., native Lucas Cruikshank recorded dialog as Fred Figglehorn for Nickelodeon’s Fred: The Movie.

“When I first started I did spec work, where you just pick a client and write a jingle [without] having it sold. I just kept going and started networking with ad agencies.” – Johnny Ray Gomez IV, owner

If Gomez seems rather casual about these brushes with fame, it’s because he’s met and worked with lots of well-known names in the music industry over the years, from Marvin Hamlisch and Bo Diddley to Peter Noone and Reba McEntire. A third-generation musician and master of multiple instruments, Gomez actually cut his teeth on the other side of the business. His father was a prolific regional performer who first brought his namesake onstage at age 3 as part of a family revue and later, to sometimes collaborate with nationally known singers and musicians.

“Back in the ’70s, my dad and brother and I had publicity shots with the ruffles and tuxes,” Gomez says, grinning at the memory. “We also had one where we kind of had the Elvis look…the jumpsuits.”

Gomez left home after high school at 17 and traveled the world for four years as the music director and pianist for The Platters, one of the most successful vocal groups of the ’60s.

“I got tired of being on the road. I literally lived out of a suitcase for five years. I knew I wanted to be in music, but I didn’t want to travel,” he says, explaining his impetus for starting a recording studio in his hometown and getting into the jingle business.

“When I first started I did spec work, where you just pick a client and write a jingle [without] having it sold,” he recalls. He sold his very first jingle to Camelot Cleaners and landed his second for Idelman Telemarketing. One of his early works, for Garden Café, ran for 12 years. “I just kept going and started networking with ad agencies.”

OnTrack is a one-man show, but Gomez says the connections and partnerships he’s developed over the years make it possible to offer a wide spectrum of services to his clients. “Even with the workflow I have, I’ve been able to do everything by using all of the resources I have.”

What lessons has Gomez learned in his decades in the biz? “Have a good quality product and do what you do well. And surround myself with people who also do what they do well.”

Greg Groggel

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Native Omahan Greg Groggel, 29, has always had an adventurous spirit and an ambition to see the world.

As a high school student at Millard West (Class of 2002), Groggel spent a semester as an exchange student in Finland. He went on to attend the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, where he pursued a degree in International Political Economy.

During a college break, he volunteered as a runner for ESPN during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. “Mostly, I carted around athletes to and from the ESPN studio for interviews,” he said. “I had to learn how to drive a stick-shift in 24 hours,” he remembered with a nervous laugh.

Following college, Groggel applied for and won a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which awarded him $25,000 to pursue his proposed project: travel to six former Olympic host cities—Mexico City, Mexico; Sydney, Australia; Seoul, Korea; Sarajevo, Yugoslavia; Munich, Germany; and Bejing, China—over the course of a year to study and document the social, economic, and political ramifications of hosting the Games. The experience taught him to be self-reliant and resourceful. “I spent two months in each city,” he said. “Each time, I was on my own to find my own housing, transportation, my sources…it was challenging.”

“I was Bob Costas’ right-hand man, researching and writing for his prime-time [Olympic] show.”

When NBC Sports learned of Groggel’s ambitious efforts, they offered him a job with the network covering the Beijing Olympics. “I spent about eight months on that job,” he said. In 2009, NBC hired Groggel back for a year to research and conduct pre-interviews with athletes in preparation for their coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I was Bob Costas’ right-hand man, researching and writing for his prime-time [Olympic] show,” Groggel added. He served a similar role again for NBC this summer during the Summer Olympic Games in London. He’s been recognized with two Sports Emmy Awards for his work with NBC.

Today, Groggel works for a television production company in New York, producing and developing new television shows for CBS, Bravo, CNBC, and others. “It’s a lot of fun, and very interesting—jumping around, doing field shots, some writing…”

When asked if he’s ever been star-struck either at the Olympics or on the red carpet, Groggel replied, “Just once, really…I was excited to meet Tom Brokaw.” It seems the former KMTV reporter/NBC News anchorman and Groggel had a good bit in common.

“We visited about Omaha mostly.”

One of four kids, Groggel said in his family, venturing far from home is the norm. “I have three sisters. One lives in San Francisco and is a lawyer, one is in grad school, and one just moved to NYC after doing a stint in Togo with the Peace Corp.” Where did the Groggel kids get their wordly ways? “…Our mom, Martha Goedert. She works in the medical profession and goes to Haiti every year to do mission work and act as a midwife,” he shared proudly. Her example is all they needed to fly.

Brandi Petersen

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Growing up in Papillion, Brandi Petersen didn’t dream of becoming a television news anchor; she was interested in theatre and speech, and entered college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln intending to study drama. But she quickly realized that a future in musical theatre was “not meant to be.” A class on the history of broadcasting inspired her passion for broadcast journalism, and after she switched majors, Petersen sought an internship at KETV in 2001 simply because her family had always watched that station’s newscasts.

“Our joke is that I kind of hung around long enough until I got a job; I just wouldn’t leave,” she says. “I had three internships and got very lucky that they took a chance on an intern…and it worked out very well for me.”

Petersen became a full-fledged reporter in 2003 and an anchor three years later. She says she has found many role models and even friends at KETV through the years, from the reporters who let her tag along on assignment during her earliest days as an intern to her current colleagues on both sides of the camera.

“People ask if we really get along that well,” Petersen says. “We’re very much like a family, and that sounds so cheesy, but all of our reporters and anchors and team members, we really bond very, very well.”

“We live here with you; we’re your neighbors. And we’re kind of the microphone for what you want to say.”

Her career highlights include interviewing President Obama (“It was really an experience having security sweep through twice and snipers on the roof of the building behind us,” she recalls) and Warren Buffett, and she was on-air during notable events such as the 2007 Westroads shooting and the 2008 tornado at Little Sioux Scout Ranch in western Iowa. Petersen says she credits not only experience, but also her high school drama training with helping her maintain composure on camera, and although she spends most of her time behind the news desk, she still enjoys reporting from the field.

“The great thing about this job is that you get to see and interview so many people,” she says. “Reporting is our first love. We’re storytellers.”

Petersen says she’s become accustomed to being recognized wherever she goes—“Are you the news girl?” is a common greeting often followed by, “You’re a lot taller than I thought you’d be!”—but she says people are nearly invariably nice to her when they meet her in public, and she strives to be polite and friendly in return.

“As an on-air journalist, you do need to remember that you’re in the public eye,” she says. “I don’t want to let people down.”

Petersen, whose son Easton was born in 2011, says the unusual work schedule associated with live evening broadcasts has meshed nicely with motherhood, especially since her husband, Brian Paul, a high school coach, works traditional hours. Easton smiles and claps when he sees her on TV, she reports, but adds with a laugh, “He does the same thing for Bill Randby and Jeremy Maskel.”

Petersen has watched broadcast journalism evolve to be more immediate and interactive with coverage available around the clock and through multiple means. But she says one thing hasn’t changed: she still loves her job.

“It’s great to work in the market where I grew up,” she says. “I think we’ve really built a reputation with our station…that we’re good, kind people. I hope that people pick up on that. We live here with you; we’re your neighbors. And we’re kind of the microphone for what you want to say.”