Rod Peterson passed away this week. He was a vivid presence in the media corps of Phoenix, Arizona. He was also a gracious man with a generous and principled heart.
It sent shock waves through the radio listening community when he left KTAR in March of 1998. At the time, I was a columnist for the Arizona Republic. As soon as I heard the news, I rushed to do the story on Rod, a legend to those who knew him as well as those who listened to him on their radios, and his abrupt departure from what was also a legendary news radio station.
This week I was very sorry to hear of his passing and am posting here my column originally published in the Arizona Republic on March 21, 1998.
Rod Peterson was beloved and honored by his peers and by his fans. He leaves a hole in our hearts the size of a great big microphone. R.I.P. Radio Rod.
(originally published in The Arizona Republic March 21, 1998)
LEGENDARY 'RADIO ROD' PARTS COMPANY WITH KTAR
CAMILLE KIMBALL, Special to The Republic
Radio Rod is what we, the press corps, call him. You can tune in to him Monday morning - but for the first time in 26 years, it won't be on KTAR's morning show where you find him. It will be the younger skewing show of Beth and Bill on KESZ-FM (99.99).
Rod Petersen, the highly distinctive police reporter, will be joining Beth and Bill at 7 a.m. for a guest appearance.
''I've known Beth for 16 or 17 years,'' the 70-year-old veteran (in both the professional and military sense) said. ''She wants to talk about some of the funny stories I've collected over the years.''
Petersen left KTAR on March 13 after a run-in with news director Andy Friedman. My phone couldn't stop ringing this week with calls about a man Valley broadcasters consider a treasure.
Petersen's own personality seemed to merge with the very essence of radio.
Wherever reporters gathered - courtrooms, press conferences, crime scenes - you'd get a poke in the ribs, ''Hey, there's Radio Rod.'' You'd swivel your head and there he'd be: thick white hair bobbing in the distance, attention coiled up into a peculiar intensity, shoulders hunched to cradle his microphone.
Petersen confirms that he quit KTAR during a furious confrontation with Friedman.
''It was probably my Korean War flashback - I heard the Chinese bugles. I dumped the news and threw the carts (tape cartridges) in the trash. Enough is enough,'' he recounted.
It won't be long before Petersen is able to deliver his specialty cop stories again. Local TV stations are taking a look at him. There's not a Valley TV newsroom that hasn't started a morning editorial meeting with the sentence ''Hey, Rod Petersen is reporting . . .'' and then scrambled to try to catch up.
The most obvious new home for Radio Rod would be KFYI-AM.
''Rod Petersen's reputation is of legendary status,'' Ed Walsh said. ''His credentials and his contacts are peerless.''
Walsh, morning personality at KFYI, also does the hiring. Insiders say Petersen rates very high in market research - ''right up there with Paul Harvey'' is how they put it. He also ranks high with police - who've been known to feed him stories before they even report to their supervisors after a shift.
Petersen and wife Shirley have two grown children, Bill and Ann. After Petersen's stint in Korea ended in 1952, he went to radio school on the GI Bill. Health troubles prompted him to trade his native Nebraska for the dry air of Phoenix, where he found work at KRUX-AM, which no longer exists.
''It was 1963, and Al McCoy hired me full time. He said, 'Here's the keys to the station wagon. Go down and get me some police stories.' ''
Reporter Stephanie Snowden has also given KTAR her notice.
''But I'm not leaving because I'm disgruntled,'' she says. ''I have an opportunity to move back East, where my family is, and work in television, which is also a good move.''
Snowden says she'll be joining WBTV in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Has working at KTAR been a 100 percent sunny day?
''No. But work is not supposed to be an adult day-care center. I have nothing but praise for KTAR and Andy Friedman,'' Snowden said.
On the flip side, Bill Heywood, another Valley legend, is returning to KTAR beginning Monday.
''With the Diamondbacks season starting, it was the right time to move in a new direction,'' says station program director Laurie Parsons. ''The word I always hear associated with Bill is 'warmth.' '' Even the competition can't find anything bad to say about this gracious gentleman.
''It's impossible not to like Bill,'' says Walsh, who until about 14 months ago was partnered with Heywood at KFYI. ''I wish him well, but not too well!''
Heywood replaces Bruce Kirk, who was let go Tuesday.
''I kept dreaming about the day when I'd get to sleep in the morning - but this was so sudden. I need to figure things out,'' says Kirk, who has logged 23 years in broadcast news, six in radio, the rest on TV. He had been KTAR's morning host for four years.
''Had I seen this coming, I'd be better prepared,'' he said.
Kirk had been working without a contract for several months. He said severance issues with KTAR have not been worked out.
This column originally published in The Arizona Republic March 21, 1998
From KTAR upon his passing. http://ktar.com/?sid=1400242&nid=6
ADD: There's a very sad addendum to this post. The newspaper column about Rod Peterson wraps up with a mention of Bill Heywood. Tragically, Bill made his own news as 2012 dawned. Please click here.