Monday, August 19, 2013

A National Radio Day Tribute to a Broadcasting Legend

Broadcasting legend Walt Reno

Can you name your favorite radio personality? Tomorrow, Aug. 20, is National Radio Day, a perfect time to give a little love to your favorite unfettered, unfiltered on-air disc jockeys who we all love but who, sadly, are a disappearing breed thanks to the corporatization of the airwaves. I'm celebrating tomorrow by paying tribute to a true radio legend. He also happens to be my late father. 

Walt Reno, pictured at left, was an old-school entertainer who wrote all his own copy, did multiple voices, liked corny jokes, and absolutely loved entertaining people. A loving dad and broadcasting genius who, both on the air and off, lived every day of his remarkable life to the fullest, Walt was larger than life, and salt of the earth. Here's a sample of his brilliant radio work. 

OK, so I may be a bit biased, but from his first days as a broadcaster on the college radio station at the University of Iowa in the late 1940s and into the new millennium, Walt did it all in the radio and television industries. Gaining national fame as the announcer for several years on the legendary Mike Douglas Show, Walt (dad) was a huge broadcasting force in the Midwest in the 1960s, and then one of the most popular radio personalities in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Walt's first stops along the way included radio stints in small towns in Ohio and Wisconsin before landing for several years at WOC in Davenport, Iowa, where he also became well known on television as "Cowboy Whitey," the popular kids' show host.

From Davenport, Walt returned to his hometown of Des Moines, where he become the top-rated morning radio disc jockey in Central Iowa, working for many years as the morning man for KRNT radio. During those years, Walt was the voice of Des Moines, and people always tuned in to hear his booming voice and to hear what crazy thing Walt would do or what corny joke Walt would tell next. In the tradition of old-time radio shows like Fibber Magee and Molly, Fred Allen and Jack Benny, Walt demonstrated his vocal and comedic talents by introducing Iowa radio listeners to a host of hilariously funny characters while at KRNT, including Emma Bitty, the station cleaning lady, and Hawkshaw Reno, the local cowboy.

Walt, who I saluted on the site, also hosted numerous popular television shows for Des Moines' CBS affiliate, Channel 8 (then KRNT, now KCCI), including O, Gee, Family Fun Time and the daily Telefunnies, in which Walt, in Sid Ceasar-like fashion, would tell funny stories in all kinds of different voices and dialects, wearing all kinds of different hats.

Walt was also the most recognizable commercial pitch man on radio and television in Central Iowa for many years, selling everything from milk to cars. He hosted variety shows throughout Iowa, and was a fixture at the Iowa State Fair every summer, mastering various shows and concerts for kids and other fairgoers. Walt also traveled all across the country in the 1960s interviewing movie stars, including Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and many more.

When Walt moved from KRNT to KSO in the late 1960s, it was big news in Des Moines. A full-page ad in the Des Moines Register announced that Walt had moved to KSO, which became a rock station. Walt went from playing adult contemporary music like Frank Sinatra, which he loved, at KRNT, to Top 40 rock music like The Beatles, which he also loved, on KSO.

Moving to Las Vegas in 1972, Walt's career continued to flourish. He joined the staff of KORK radio, where he worked the afternoon drive at that station which was also an adult contemporary format. While still on the air at KORK, Walt subsequently became the weatherman for the NBC news affiliate in Las Vegas. Again, he did all kinds of radio and television commercials, and quickly became the most recognizable broadcaster in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s.

When he made the move from KORK radio to KVEG radio, a country station, in the early 80s, his ratings soared and he became the number one morning radio man in Las Vegas.

Walt did it all during his years in Las Vegas, hosting Easter Seal telethons, hosting the hugely popular "I Love You Las Vegas" parties, writing a golf column for Las Vegas Magazine and various other publications, and doing thousands of commercials. It's doubtful if Walt ever paid for a meal, a movie or a round of golf while living in Vegas the past 30 years.

More recently, Walt hosted Las Vegas entertainment show for KLAV radio in which he interviewed all kinds of stars, from Jack Jones to Gordon Lightfoot. A friend to celebrities such as Jerry Lewis and Marty Allen, Walt loved show business, and enjoyed meeting the stars. Walt also was the Voice of Las Vegas for the nationally syndicated Travel Talk Radio show.

On the national front, Walt did numerous voices for the animated satirical USA Network comedy show "Duckman," which was written and executive produced by his son and my brother, Jeff Reno. In the late 80s, Walt was also the Las Vegas editor for The NFL'S Official Guide to the Super Bowl, whose editor was yours truly.

But Walt was as great a success as a person as he was a performer. Born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, he attended Roosevelt High School, and the University of Iowa. A great athlete and fitness fanatic, Walt lettered in swimming at Roosevelt and at the University of Iowa. At the University of Iowa, where he got his degree in Speech, Walt was a member of the Alpha Tao Omega fraternity.

Walt was a World War II veteran, a Navy man who was stationed on Guam during the war.

Walt was a tremendous golfer, a three handicap at one time, and won numerous golf tournaments in Iowa and Las Vegas. And he wrote about the game he loved for years. Walt met and interviewed virtually every major golfing great, from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to Jack Nicklaus. And of course, his favorite golfer, whom he met and interviewed many times, was the legendary Arnold Palmer. Walt, the number one booster of Las Vegas golf, helped transform Vegas from a city with only a handful of golf courses in the early 70s to an international golfing Mecca.

Walt was also a music buff and trumpet and piano player who loved spinning records for the last 50 years. He loved Mel Torme and Bobby Darin, and worshiped Frank Sinatra, but his musical idol was big-band leader Stan Kenton, whom he interviewed several times. Walt also stayed up with the times, and loved rock bands such as Chicago, Pink Floyd and Yes. He also loved country music.

Walt was a natural entertainer who had an amazing sense of humor, and could make anyone laugh. A man of a thousand voices and faces, he was a brilliant public speaker and remarkably adept at improvisation. He had no equal in the joke-telling department. A huge fan of movies, his favorite actor was Burt Lancaster.

And Walt especially loved comedy. Among his favorite comics and comic actors were Jonathan Winters, Danny Kaye, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, W.C. Fields, Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Phil Hartman, Dennis Miller, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, and Larry the Cable Guy.

Walt was, above all, a family man. He spent every free moment with his three children, Jeff, Michele and me, and his five grandkids, Mandy, Lindsay, Jenny, Taylor, and Stephanie. The entire family is determined to keep my dad's loving memory and his remarkable legacy alive forever.


  1. Walt also traveled all across the country in the 1960s interviewing movie stars, including Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and many more

    1. yes he did. we still have all the audio taps of those interviews.

  2. Walt is even big in England, he was great for 1960s music!

    1. Jamie, that's very cool! How did you hear my dad in England?