Friday, May 17, 2019

Former print journalist's rural Iowa talk radio show puts local officials in the 'Danger Zone'

Sheri Melvold in the control room at KMAQ. (Daily Yonder photo by Julianne Couch)
If you want to see what great rural broadcast journalism can look like, look no farther than Maquoketa, Iowa. The town of 6,000 is home to KMAQ AM/FM, one of the state's few locally owned and operated radio stations. The rural Jackson County station plays a mix of music, a call-in auction, live reading of obituaries, bingo, and more. But one of its most distinctive offerings is "Just Talk", an interview and call-in show focused on local news, Julianne Couch reports for The Daily Yonder.

Though KMAQ already had a long-running talk show, local owner Dennis Voy decided in 1996 that he wanted a show from a female perspective. He and his wife Nancy immediately thought of Sheri Melvold to head up the show. "An Arizona native, she’d worked for newspapers such as the Phoenix Gazette and the Arizona Republic. Her then husband, Doug Melvold, was a journalist, too, and a Maquoketa native," Couch reports. "When he returned to take over the family-run Maquoketa Sentinel Press, she accompanied him and worked for the paper. Even after the couple divorced, she continued working there for several more years. She also contributed to other area newspapers on occasion and became well known in the community. Her local knowledge and journalism chops meant she was an obvious choice to take on a live interview and call-in show, even though she had never worked in radio before."
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Melvold signaled from the beginning that she was no pushover. She chose the Kenny Loggins hit "Danger Zone" as her show's theme song to remind any politicians who might drop in that they shouldn't get too comfortable. "Melvold knows her show isn’t a hard-hitting political news program. She tries not to press too much. But she does run the ship and reminds certain guests that it isn’t her job to present only the positive side of community stories," Couch reports.

Melvold covers plenty of non-political local goings-in, and reads local newspapers to make sure she has her finger on the community's pulse. Though the station's audience is aging, they're loyal. And Melvold believes KMAQ holds a unique place in the community as a rapid-response news source.

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