New website commemorates Q-C monster station KSTT

Ties and typewriters: (L to R) Bob Henry, Clark Anthony, Lou Gutenberger and Bill Vancil of KSTT.

Ties and typewriters: (L to R) Bob Henry, Clark Anthony, Lou Gutenberger and Bill Vancil of KSTT.

From a Jan. 2015 news release:

The idea to turn a little reunion site into a full blown extgravaganza of visual delights ( came at a mini-reunion of a few KSTT alums who got together in the small western town of Apache Junction, AZ in January, 2015.

The attendees, Bobby Rich, Dan Olson, Jim Orr, Jacque Cook, Clark Anthony and Bill Vancil exchanged stories and photos and all agreed that the legend of KSTT, Quad-Cities monster station, must be kept alive.

Bobby Rich was inducted into the Arizona Broadcasters “Hall of Fame” in 2013. The same year Bill Vancil was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Bill was PD at KSTT in the ’60s, and Bobby was PD in the ’70s. Bobby is still on the air and recently celebrated 20 years at 94.9 Mix-FM.

Dan, Jim and Jacque are retired. Clark enjoys a lucrative voice over business from his home studio in San Diego.

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Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Rest in peace, Janice Couper

Janice CouperJim Couper 1.jpgSincere condolences go out to former Walcott Mayor Jim Couper (pictured) of Green Valley, Ariz., on the recent loss of his wife of 45 years. Janice Couper (pictured), 64, died on Dec. 29.

Born April 3, 1950, in Hempstead, N.Y., Janice was a retired registered nurse but worked part-time as a barista at Starbucks, a job she really enjoyed. Inurnment will be at Parkland Memorial Park in Hampton, Va.

Jim notified his Facebook friends of Janice’s death with a short note the day she died.

Then, early the next morning, he wrote thoughtfully that his “heart was broken by the loss of my lifelong friend and soul mate. It seems that we go through life to be tested repeatedly on faith and our character. I can tell you that both are tested today.

“The Lord chose to take my Jan into his heart and for that I am grateful (because of the) pain, suffering and lack of quality of her vibrant life were already gone. For all who knew her, you know she was a true friend, devoted mother, wonderful wife and just a good-hearted person.”

Jim noted that Jan was loved by most who met her, and she always saw the best in people.

“It’s a testament to these qualities from the many warm thoughts and condolences from her/our friends on Facebook. She would be honored and a little embarrassed as to the wonderful things written by you.

“When the Lord calls our loved ones, he leaves a gift of memories. Hold on to those memories and let them guide you on how you might think of her from time to time; hopefully you will have a smile come on as big as hers.”

To retire and move to Arizona, Jim resigned from the Walcott mayor’s post effective May 31, 2013, months prior to the Dec. 31 end of his term.

He told me at the time that “everything had been geared up to leaving at the end of the year. The term was up, and I was also going to use that as my retirement date.”

But the Coupers put their house on the market, and it sold in 10 days. Jim said the buyers paid close to his asking price and needed to take possession, so he left office earlier than had been planned.

I’m glad the couple enjoyed the better part of two years together in Arizona before her death.

Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece ran as a column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Santa Mike Peppers: Still giving back

Peppers as Santa from Ukraine orn3389Mike Peppers is generous and compassionate, traits that make him well-suited for his role as the Quad-Cities’ best-known Santa Claus.

Peppers, 72, of Davenport, received those traits – generosity and compassion — from his father, Tom Peppers, who died in 1964.

“My father and his brothers were raised in Boys Town because his mother couldn’t afford to feed her children,” said Peppers. Her husband had died at an early age, and “she had to split the kids up; she couldn’t afford to feed them in the Depression.”

As a result, Tom Peppers “learned to be a gentleman and a nice kid from Father Flanagan, and he passed that on to his kids.”

Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan, an Irish-born Catholic priest, founded the orphanage known as Boys Town located in Douglas County, Neb.

Boys Town sent Mike Peppers’ father and other boys to Nebraska farmers, who put them to work and fed them. Peppers said the conditions weren’t great. “They had to sleep in the barn.”

When Tom Peppers grew up, he became a machinist in Des Moines and was adept at grinding crankshafts, a job that took a lot of skill.

Later, in Davenport, he converted a model T crankshaft grinder to a late model crankshaft grinder run by an electric motor. Then he bought one piece of equipment at a time and built a machine shop, Pep Auto Shop, where he built race cars for others.

“Dad had a heart of gold,” said Mike Peppers. “He’d give guys motors and wait for them to pay. Some of them never paid. Some of them did pay. He trusted everybody.”

Tom Peppers and his wife Leona had six children, two girls and four boys. Things were tight financially. As he told the story, Mike Peppers paused to wipe away tears rolling down his cheeks and apologized.

“We grew up down below the railroad tracks by the (former) city dump, and we didn’t have anything. But Dad did his best. He was a little skinny guy because he didn’t eat like we eat today.”

Though Tom Peppers’ family was needy, he was always generous and compassionate.

Said Mike Peppers: “He had six kids’ mouths to feed at home, but when somebody’s car would break down coming through town … Dad would take them into his house and give them his bed – total strangers – and he’d put the kids on the floor. He and my mom then would sleep in the kids’ beds.”

There wasn’t much money for gifts at Christmastime, but thanks to publicity in the local paper, people “would actually bring gifts to our house.”

That act of kindness nudged Mike Peppers toward his role as Santa, and he is now in his 45th year.

When his brother Bob was president of the Davenport Jaycees, Bob asked him in 1965 to help the Jaycees to deliver toys.

“So we started going house to house, delivering toys to needy families and it just stuck, and I never quit.”

Mike Peppers’ journey toward becoming the Quad-Cities best-known Santa Claus took a turn as he served in Vietnam in the Army.

“We had parties for the kids over there. People would send us stuff we didn’t need (like Christmas ornaments and decorations) in the mail. So we’d give it to the kids.”
When his two-year hitch in the Army ended, Peppers, then a sergeant, came back to the states and took up where he’d left off — delivering packages to needy children with the Jaycees.

“Back then you couldn’t buy a Santa hat,” said Peppers. So his wife Kathie bought some material and made him one. He went to a T-shirt shop and ordered a red T-shirt that said “Santa’s helper” on it. And he bought himself a red coat.

Kathie eventually found a pattern and in 1969 made Peppers an entire Santa suit. “So that’s how it all began,” he said.

Peppers encountered some sad environments. Some children were clothed only in their underwear and lived in filthy, roach-infested apartments that smelled of urine.
The Jaycees used to tell him how lucky he was that, as Santa, he got to go inside while they waited outside in the cold. So Peppers invited them to join him.

“After about one or two minutes inside the house, they were back outside,” he said.

Often there were no Christmas trees in the poor children’s residences. So the Jaycees went to Christmas tree lots and looked for trees that no one wanted, then delivered them to the houses of the needy children.

Today, a dozen custom-made Santa suits hang in the closet of Mike Peppers’ office at Sergeant Peppers Auto Shop in downtown Davenport. They are of various weights for various weather conditions.

Though stained with perspiration, Peppers still uses a 6-foot black belt made in 1978 for him by a friend who did leather work.

Peppers takes his role as Santa seriously. He looks the part every day of the year. With white hair and a roly-poly build, he wears red shirts seven days a week. With the help of his elves, he creates a colorful Santa trading card each year that he happily hands out to those he encounters. He doesn’t use the computer himself, but he has a website,

The office that Peppers and his assistant share is a shrine to Christmas and Santa Claus. Hundreds of ornaments of Santa Clauses of all shapes and sizes line numerous shelves. They are made of glass, ceramics, wood, cardboard and steel.

Peppers didn’t set out to start a collection of Santa memorabilia. But he bought some Santa Clauses for himself, then other people started giving them to him.
Some of the Santas and ornaments are from foreign countries like Italy, Norway and France. He has a snow globe from Germany.

There is a wooden Santa Claus from Ukraine. It really is a series of hollow Santas, one inside of another.

“They get snowed in all winter, and they make these to sell to the public,” explained Peppers. “The whole family works on them.”

Some Santas have special meaning now because of who gave them to him. Peppers, the official Santa of Quad City Arts’ Festival of Trees, has several items given to him by the late Festival of Trees chairman, Karen Getz.

“Karen was a mentor and pushed me to keep me going,” he said.

He also has a Santa from the late Deb McDaniel, festival staff director from 2005 to 2013.

One of Peppers’ prized possessions is a Scott County sheriff’s badge, proclaiming Santa a special deputy.
“Mike has put a local face on Santa in the Quad-Cities,” Sheriff Dennis Conard told The NSP. “The Santamobile with a smiling Santa at numerous parades and local events has become an institution of the Christmas season.

“The Sheriff’s Office, particularly our bicycle restoration program, owe special thanks to Mike volunteering to be Santa at the yearly bicycle giveaway we have with Friendly House. Santa makes the giveaway of restored bicycles to needy children a special event.”

Peppers is also quite proud of having won the Hometown Heroes Award, one of many honors bestowed upon him over the years.

There are photographs in Peppers’ office of him as Santa plus a Ward Olson painting of him flying through the air in his Santamobile, a large, red, sleigh-like convertible that’s been commemorated as an Isabel Bloom figurine.

But not everything in Peppers’ collection is Christmas related. There is a flight suit and helmet that a former two-star general, who now is in a nursing home, wanted Peppers to have. “He wore them in Vietnam.”

On Peppers’ desk, next to a basket of complimentary candy canes, is the 2014 schedule of appearances Santa must make. Typewritten, it fills nearly two legal-size sheets of paper beginning with an Oct. 4 appearance.

It’s a rigorous schedule, and some years – like one in which he was fighting cancer — have been more difficult than others.

Does he ever get tired of being Santa?

“I never answer that question until January,” Peppers said with a laugh. “I always wait to get past December. Because like right now (early December) I’m pretty worn down after 12 days of the Festival of Trees.”

How long will he continue as the Jolly Old Elf? “We take it year by year.”

Peppers and his wife Kathie don’t have any children, although he has a grown daughter from a previous marriage and a grandson.

But depending upon how you look at it, Mike Peppers really has lots of children. “We handle about 8,000 children per year,” he said.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This ran as a feature in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in Uncategorized



Someone is watching, listening

Someone once offered some advice that went something like this: “If you don’t want your grandmother to read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper, don’t say it.”

That could be expanded these days to, “If you don’t want your grandmother to read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper or potentially everyone with a computer read it on Facebook or see it on YouTube, don’t say it, write it or do it.”

That’s because in this age of instant communications and social media, someone or some device is generally near you, ready to capture your every written or spoken word and all of your actions.

Broadcasters and public figures, like politicians, have always been warned to treat microphones as if they are live because they could be. But now all of us — not just broadcasters and public figures — are at the mercy of not just open microphones but surveillance cameras, miniature audio recorders and cell phones that record sound, take photos and make videos.

Drones equipped with video cameras can peer into your window and watch you get dressed or hover over your backyard and watch you sunbathe.

Some people have learned about the lack of privacy the hard way.

They have been caught making private remarks to individuals or small groups that ended up going public and came back to haunt them.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa made some remarks to a group of lawyers at a Texas fundraiser that no doubt cost him some votes in his unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

Braley, a lawyer, was caught in a videotape posted online disparaging Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is a farmer.

“If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice — someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way — on the Senate Judiciary (Committee),” Braley told the group. “Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary.”

Braley later apologized to Grassley, but the damage was done.

Another person whose comments have recently caused controversy is MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, described by many as an architect of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Romneycare in Massachusetts before that.

In a 2013 video Gruber said of Obamacare, “If you have a law that makes explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it wouldn’t have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage and, basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Gruber has apologized on MSNBC for what he calls his “off-the-cuff” remarks.

On the local level, a staff member of Illinois U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos resigned in October for saying that constituents in some parts of Rockford spend more time in jail than in church.

District director Heidi Schultz quit after Bobby Schilling, who later lost to Bustos in the November general election, released an audio recording of Schultz making the comments to a constituent last winter.

Schultz said she did not know she was being recorded. Bustos called the comments “unacceptable on every front.”

Yes, someone’s listening, and someone’s watching. We worry about Big Brother — the government — keeping track of us. But maybe we should worry more about being studied by others like ourselves.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.This piece ran as a column in “The North Scott Press,” Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Have some wine after dinner in Balltown

P1000609P1000606P1000607P1000608A good way to spend a few minutes after your delicious meal at Breitbach’s Country Dining in tiny Balltown, Iowa, is a visit to the Breitbach family’s Wine Shed, located adjacent to the restaurant in one of Iowa’s most picturesque towns.

It offers a variety of wine, including free tasting; some antiques and collectibles; and T-shirts to purchase. An affable retired farmer is the host.

After tasting several of their wines, we bought a bottle of Cabin Fever, a sweet white table wine, for about $13. It is bottled by Promisedland Winery in Guttenberg, Iowa.

The Wine Shed is open daily except for Mondays during the spring, summer and fall through Thanksgiving, when it closes for the winter. Call the restaurant at 563-552-2220 for the store hours or other information.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Everyone could use a little Sunshine in January

sunshine ramseyEveryone could use a little sunshine in January. And you’ll find lots of it at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island.

Walcott-area native Sunshine (Woolison) Ramsey returns with another cabaret-style show, “A Night of Sunshine,” on Saturday, Jan. 3, and Friday, Jan. 9.

In 2010, Circa ’21 producer Denny Hitchcock came up with the idea for a show headlined by Sunshine and featuring a live band and a variety of music. His idea was no surprise to anyone who has heard Sunshine’s powerful pipes. She can really belt out a song.

“A Night of Sunshine” has been a hit from the beginning. This is the second year for two performances of it. The second performance was added because prior years’ shows were sellouts.

Doors open at 6 both nights, and the music begins at 7. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. They sell quickly. Phone (309) 786-7733, extension 2, for reservations.

Sandwiches and appetizers will be available for purchase, as will drinks from Circa’s bar.

Sunshine has been a member of Circa’s singing wait staff, known as the Bootleggers, since May of 2002. In addition to waiting tables, the Bootleggers perform a musical pre-show prior to each play performance.

Sunshine is no stranger to performing. Her resume includes recording songs in Nashville, and she has appeared on stage in more than half a dozen Circa productions.

By all rights, Sunshine and her sultry singing voice should be cranking out songs somewhere on tour or recording them in Nashville.

But as I wrote in 2010 prior to the first “A Night of Sunshine,” Nashville’s loss is the Quad-Cities’ gain.


I’ll admit it – my hearing isn’t what it used to be.

That was evident recently when I was having breakfast with a group of fellow broadcast media retirees. One woman in the group was talking about her pet dog. She said that particular breed, a Basenji, doesn’t bark.

I misunderstood what she said.

“Did you say your dog doesn’t fart?” I asked in all seriousness.

The group erupted in laughter.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This ran as a column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Pie Lady moves on

Beth HowardThe state-owned American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, made famous by painter Grant Wood, has lost its tenant. Beth Howard, who has been living there and baking and selling pies from the house since moving in back in 2010, becoming famous in the process, has moved out.

Though she is a graduate of Davenport Assumption High School, Howard was born in Ottumwa and spent her early years there.

Howard returned to Iowa as a new widow to operate Pitchfork Pie Stand and become known as the Pie Lady.

According to her blog,, Howard started her business for fun, but it has grown to the point where she could no longer contain it in the historic little house. She said she has looked at many possible solutions to manage the volume. They include buying a commercial oven, baking off-site at a bigger kitchen and renting a storefront.

“But first and foremost I am a writer, and it was never my goal to run a pie business,” she writes. “My true mission is to encourage others to make and share their own homemade pie, as I believe the act of giving makes the world a better place.

“At the pie stand I was selling, not giving, and I’ve always been uncomfortable with that. Therefore the best solution — for me personally — was to stop doing the pie stand completely.”

She now plans to start on her next book. She already has written two. “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie” was published in 2012 and a cookbook, “Ms. American Pie,” was released last April.

My wife and I traveled to Eldon in August of 2012. We stepped into the American Gothic House, met Howard and bought some pies from her. They were delicious, by the way.

Howard told us at the time she was a journalist. “But I don’t have time to write anything anymore,” she lamented.

But that has now changed, and she encourages people to make their own pies.

“I believe the world needs more pie. Especially homemade pie,” she writes in her blog.

“I promise you, when you make your own pie and share it with someone, you will experience the win-win joy that comes from giving and sharing.”

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece ran as a column in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.

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Posted by on October 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


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