Kansas City Newsman Dan Verbeck Looks Back At His Radio Career
Longtime Kansas City journalist Dan Verbeck retires from KCUR Friday.
Verbeck started his broadcast news career more than 40 years ago. He spent most of those years in Kansas City.
His departure signals the end of an era for radio listeners in the city, who have heard him on KMBZ, KMBR, KCMO and most recently on KCUR.
Dan sat on the other side of the microphone this week to talk about his career, his favorite stories and what he will miss about reporting.
How did you get into radio?
"I had worked at some newspapers when the Army got ahold of me and they sent me to a school where I learned broadcasting and when I got out I went to this town up in northeast Kansas — Atchinson — to go back to college. And I went to the local radio station thinking I needed a job, so I walked in and I figured that they probably didn’t have much turnover, and they didn’t.
"I said I knew a little about radio, not very much, and that I was looking for work and I would certainly love to work at KARE radio, and they said, ‘Well we just happen to have an opening, when can you start?’ And I started the next day, I believe it was. And the reason I got the job is because the man I replaced died on the air. Dropped dead.
"And so I thought for a long time when I sat by myself in this booth in this old building in the early morning doing a newscast, that the ghost of my predecessor over my shoulder saying, ‘Hey kid, you’re not pronouncing that right.’”
What was the most impactful story you covered?
"The largest loss of life from a human made accident would be the Hyatt skybridge collapse of 1981. One hundred fourteen died in that building. That was ... that was huge and I have never encountered anything like that before. I don’t think anybody else down there had either. It was, it was a shock. It was hard work. It was hard to figure out what to say and what not to say. You were seeing things you certainly couldn’t say on the air because they would offend. You couldn’t describe the horror of it.
"There was a TV reporter, Micheal Mahoney, who was at channel 9 then and he was inside, he was with a camera videographer and they were doing a feature on the tea dances that were being held, which is why there were so many people in the lobby. And when the skybridge — the first one — cracked and fell, the shooter was changing video tapes and didn’t get it. But, Mike and his colleague were the first ones in there. I got there I would say about ten minutes later, maybe even a little less. And I got inside it and I got in, inside it. By the time the other reporters showed up, the police had blocked things off and they were outside and I was in the building, in a little alcove in the lobby, and for better or for worse got a first hand of the sights and sounds."
What were your favorite stories to cover?
"The favorite, and the one that has gotten the most response at the time,and through the years was a series of vignettes I did on local history. They called it ‘Verbeck’s Kansas City,’ I don’t know who picked it, but it was a little hokey, and this was my outcue: 'I’m Dan Verbeck, and this is my city.' There were a couple of those.
What will you miss about radio reporting?
"It’s all people. The scoundrels are often more interesting than the good people, but the good people out-number, I believe, the wrong-doers. But it is people.
"I don’t care what story you write, if it is policy, its economics, its government, its what the legislature is doing, it all comes down to people. And if you cannot hook that story to people, you might as well be writing for some academic outfit and somebody will take note of it, and it will become an essay question on a test. People. I will miss people."
Lastly, I heard you had a signature sign-off when you were at KMBZ.
"A program director thought it up at the time, and I hated the idea and some of my friends said, ‘that is so hokey.’ There are people who maybe have heard of Walter Winchell out there, but Walter Winchell had this punchy driving style and it was real, real … it was hype. But the program director said, ‘yeah, but people will remember it.’ And apparently, they did. It is beyond me, people did. So I had this signature sign off."
What was it?
"Well, it was from wherever I happened to be at the time. If was at the federal courthouse it was, ‘From the federal courthouse, I’m Dan Verbeck. Cruiser 980 clear.’ And it caught on. I don’t know. It was different and it stuck. I have been trying to live it down since I have been at KCUR.