WQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois, has hired a Rockford, Illinois, meteorologist to replace Terry Swails

swailsWQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois, has hired a Rockford, Illinois, meteorologist to replace the Quad-Cities’ most experienced meteorologist, Terry Swails.

Channel 8 did not renew Swails’ contract. In these days of big corporations owning most media outlets — and concerned more about the bottom line than their viewers, listeners or readers — it probably means Swails was earning too much money, and the new guy will work for a fraction of the Swails’ salary.

(Note: there are some corporations and independent owners, locally and nationally, who are doing media right because they care about their customers. But sadly I think they’re in the minority these days.)

Whether you are a fan of Terry Swails or not is not the point. I think it’s a shame to see anyone who is doing his or her job fired because of past poor corporate financial decisions or downright greed. I’ve been there.

I was “downsized” five times in 45 years of working, most recently in 2009 by Clear Channel, which many fellow, former employees call the “Evil Empire.” It’s not fair, and it’s not fun.

David Burke’s article:

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Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


Restaurant offers throwback pricing

buffet-300x200The Iowa 80 Truckstop is one busy place. The world’s largest truck stop, located at the Walcott interchange of Interstate 80, serves 5,000 customers per day.

And many of those people visit its busy eatery, Iowa 80 Kitchen, which serves two million cups of coffee and 18 million eggs every year. The restaurant was especially full of customers on June 4 when it celebrated its 50th anniversary with throwback menu pricing from the year it opened.

“All of the managers got together, and we wanted to do something fun,” said Chris Hahn, a restaurant shift manager whose grandparents, Ruth and Bill Peel Sr., founded the business.

“We figured we’d do an appreciation event for the customers who have been with us for so long,” she said.

So on June 4 coffee at Iowa 80 Kitchen sold for a dime just like it had five decades earlier. Two eggs, hash browns, toast and bacon or pork sausage went for 95 cents. A cheeseburger and French fries were 55 cents. And half of a fried chicken, choice of potato, coleslaw and roll were $1.65.

Those prices surprised Hahn, who wasn’t yet around in 1964.

Customers showed up in big numbers, she said. “We had a line at the door from about 8:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night.”

Now one of the area’s largest restaurants, Iowa 80 Kitchen began, you might say, as a 23-seat snack bar at a bowling alley on Black Hawk Road in Rock Island.

The Peels and two of their four sons, Bill Jr. and Greg, operated it. (The other two sons, Tim and Terry, worked at Iowa 80 Kitchen in later years. Of the four brothers, all but Tim are now deceased.)

The late Bill Moon, who was working for Standard Oil, heard about the Peel family from a restaurant supply company and stopped by the snack bar during the summer of 1963.

He told them he was looking for someone to run a restaurant in a truck stop that Standard would be building north of Walcott along what then was a fledgling Interstate 80.

Moon then drove the family to the site of the future truck stop, Bill Peel Jr. related in The Perfect Spot, a book Iowa 80 Truckstop published 10 years ago to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

“But at that point in time, it was just a cornfield,” Peel recalled. Y40 was a gravel road and, as yet, there was no overpass.

“There was nothing here. He (Moon) told us, ‘I know it’s going to be hard to envision, but this is it.’”

Moon, a visionary, “did a pretty good sales job,” Peel noted, and convinced the family to operate the restaurant when the truck stop was built.

The first Iowa 80 restaurant was quite cozy. It had just 50 seats and a six-seat counter. There were no hand-carried menus back then. Meals were listed on a menu board with push-in letters and numbers. It could be read from anywhere in the room.

But since its 1964 debut, the place has expanded regularly. The first expansion came just a year after it opened and took it from 50 seats, not counting the counter, to 150 seats.

Today there are 300 seats and a horseshoe-shaped, 50-foot salad bar in a 5,693-square-foot facility that recently received a facelift.

While Iowa 80 Kitchen’s prices in 2014 are higher than they were in 1964, one thing hasn’t changed. The place is still a family operation with the third generation of Peels now in charge.

Bill Peel Jr.’s son, Chris Hahn’s cousin Jeff, operates the restaurant and shares ownership of it with his mother, Beverly.

As for that day with the throwback menu prices, Jeff Peel said, “It was a good day; I’d do it again.”

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to The North Scott Press.

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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


New Era production is always a pleasure

1781945_10202463301401652_516786276_nMy wife and I love live theater and attend performances around the area regularly. The amount of local talent never ceases to amaze us.

Something we always look forward to is the annual New Era Dinner Theater production at Ziegler Memorial Lutheran Church in the unincorporated village of New Era on New Era Road just west of the southern entrance to Wildcat Den State Park in Muscatine County.

We missed the first show in 1994 but have attended every one since, accompanied in recent years by our friends the Harpers.

Multiple performances of each show take place in late May and early June. The home-cooked meal prior to each performance is delicious, and proceeds from ticket sales have always benefitted church needs and other charities.

On June 8, 2014, the fourth and final performance of this year’s show, “Dear World: A Musical Fable,” took place, and it was terrific.

An added treat was seeing director Bill Turner of Muscatine also act in the play.

I’m sure the cast and crew are looking forward to a little rest now. But I can’t until next year!

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Posted by on June 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Memorable commencement speakers

I don’t remember the names of the commencement speakers or the speeches they delivered when I graduated from high school in 1967 or college in 1971.
They may have been important people who had important messages. But I just don’t recall. It’s been too long.

Seniors in three recent graduating classes, however, have heard speeches from people they may well remember in the future.

One group of graduates is from Haverford College in Haverford, Penn. They got an earful from former Princeton president William Bowen.

You may have read that Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, withdrew from speaking at Haverford’s commencement. That came after some Haverford students had said his presence would have constituted an endorsement of his handling of a 2011 “Occupy” protest, where riot police were called in.

Bowen, who was already scheduled to speak at Haverford, told the grads he defends students’ right to protest, but “a liberal arts college like Haverford should be focused on encouraging debate, not shutting it down. He added that it was wrong for a leader of the Haverford protest to call Birgeneau’s decision not to appear a small victory.

“It represents nothing of the kind,” Bowen said. “In keeping with the views of many others in higher education, I regard this outcome as a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford — no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.”

He said more, but you get the idea.

Another memorable commencement speaker was Jill Abramson, who was recently fired as the New York Times’ executive editor after three years at the job.

“What’s next for me? I don’t know,” Abramson, who had worked at the Times for 17 years, told graduates at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “So I’m in exactly the same boat as you are. I’m a little scared but also excited.”

Abramson advised “anyone who has been dumped” to “show what you are made of.”

Another memorable commencement speaker was actress Sandra Bullock, who made an unadvertised appearance at the graduation ceremonies of Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans.

She told the grads to stop worrying so much and find their joy.

“It’s what you’re going to remember in the end. It’s not the worry, it’s not the what-ifs. It’s the joy that stays with you.”

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

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Posted by on June 8, 2014 in Uncategorized


Businesses that really need comment cards often don’t have them

Most businesses realize the value of good customer service. And many of them give customers a chance to rate the service they have received.

Some provide comment cards that customers can complete and leave or mail back. Others provide websites at which customers can provide feedback.

My wife and I saw a different take on this recently when we ate lunch at a fast food restaurant. On our tray with our meal was a professionally printed note from the restaurant’s general manager.

“I care about your experience at Burger King,” it read. “If you experience any issues please let me know so I can make it right.”

The note gave the manager’s first name, phone number and email address. It also provided the first name of the restaurant chain’s area manager and email address.

I thought the note was a nice touch. We didn’t need to contact anyone there because the food and service were excellent.

And that’s exactly what I’ve found with most businesses that make it easy for customers to provide feedback — they’re generally doing a good job.

Oftentimes, the businesses that really need to hear from customers don’t provide comment cards or any other way to easily provide feedback.


I wasn’t exactly a star football player in junior high and high school, although my dad proudly pointed out that I scored a touchdown one of the first times I got my hands on the ball in a game.

“I thought a star had been born,” he used to say.

I played the fullback position. And, as it turned out, I was a much better blocker than I was a ball carrier.

Though I wasn’t a star, I tried hard. That was pointed out to my wife when we sat near Darrell and Ann Lietz of Davenport on a bus trip to a dinner theater in February.

Darrell, 85, was my ninth-grade football coach at Williams Junior High in Davenport. That would have been in the 1963-64 school year.

“He was Mr. Hustle; he had a great attitude,” Darrell said of me to my wife. Always quick with a zinger, she replied, “I would’ve liked to have known him then.”


One of the downsides of aging is finding an ever-increasing number of obituaries of people you know in the newspaper. A person my age and older can spend a lot of time mourning the dearly departed at visitations or funerals.

But I recently found a comforting thought. It was a simple, two-sentence poem attached to some flowers at a funeral I attended. It went something like this: Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves memories no one can steal.

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

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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


My boss had a sense of humor

Erv PetersErvin Peters died recently at a hospice in Arizona following a stroke. Erv, 89, was one of my early bosses, and I’ll always remember him.

I’d been out of town for a few days and learned of Erv’s death when I arrived home Sunday night from NSP publisher Bill Tubbs, who knew I’d once worked for Erv.

Erv spent many years in sales management at what then was called Lujack-Schierbrock Chevrolet in Davenport. Then he struck out on his own and bought a Dodge dealership at 4020 N. Brady St. in Davenport.

I worked for him as a sales representative from the summer of 1971 to the summer of 1972. But I had known of Erv and his family long before that.

His son Steve and I were the same age. We attended school and were in Cub Scouts together. Erv’s wife, Charlotte, sometimes assisted at den meetings.

I never intended to sell cars for Erv or anyone else.

When I graduated from St. Ambrose in May 1971 as a 22-year-old married guy with a speech and drama degree and a teaching certificate, I intended to teach. But there were no speech and drama jobs to be found in the area at that time.

I went to work for Erv after a short, very frustrating stint as a radio advertising sales rep. That job didn’t go so well because I was selling for an FM station, and FM radio had not yet become popular.

Most people didn’t have FM in their cars, and if they did have an FM radio, they often didn’t listen to it because most FM stations either played “elevator music” or they simulcast the signals of their sister AM stations.

So I was one of several young men Erv hired to sell cars and trucks at his new dealership. He sent us to a sales school in Moline, and a few days later we were on the job.

What I remember most about Erv was his soft-spoken, easy-going manner. He had the ability to engage car shoppers in conversation and put them very much at ease.

And perhaps from growing up in the area, spending some 14 years at Lujack and through his club affiliations, Erv seemed to know everyone and, in some cases, members of their family, too.

He remembered faces, names, where people worked and the cars they had purchased in the past. He had a story for every occasion.

If one of his sales reps was having difficulty closing a sale, Erv would “happen” by and, more times than not, help make the sale.

If you did your job, Erv was easy to work for. There was one time, though, I made him angry. But only for an instant.

All of the sales people had new Dodge demonstrators to drive, and we were expected to keep them clean so they looked good for test drives.

One day during my lunch hour I went to a self-service car wash and washed my demonstrator, a new 1972 Dodge Coronet. Before leaving, I decided to vacuum the interior.

The car wash’s vacuum was mounted on a concrete slab that was about 2 feet high. As I pulled up to it, I misjudged my distance and tapped the slab with the right front bumper of the new car.

I didn’t think I could have done much damage because I didn’t hit the slab very hard. But the sudden stop had bent the bumper back, causing the fender to bow out over the right front wheel.

I was shocked.

Erv was self-insured for the most part, so I knew either he was going to be paying for the repairs or I was.

When I got back to the dealership, I mustered my courage, went into Erv’s office and told him I’d dented my demonstrator.

He looked unhappy and asked me where it had happened.

“At the car wash,” I said solemnly.

His frown changed to a smile, and he started laughing.

“At the car wash?” he asked with a chuckle.

“Yes,” I said. Then I explained how the freak mishap had taken place.

Erv, still smiling, told me to take the car to the dealership’s body shop, and he’d cover the cost of repairs.

Lucky for me that day, another of Erv Peters’ traits was his sense of humor.

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

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Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


Circa ’21 is planning a retirement party for lobby host Ed “Jonesy” Jones

Jonesy on the job.  thanks for 23 enjoyable years Ed,  not to mention the scores of bad jokes! Circa '21 photo.

Jonesy on the job. Thanks for 23 enjoyable years Ed, not to mention the scores of bad jokes! Circa ’21 photo.

My friend Ed Jones is retiring. I guess he’s earned it — he is in his mid-80s. I will still see him with a group of retired fellow broadcasters, the WOC Club, we’re part of when we get together for breakfast on a monthly basis. But I will miss seeing Ed as the lobby host at Circa ’21, where my wife and I are long time subscribers. Following is a news release that Circa put out about a retirement party planned for Ed.


For nearly two dozen years, patrons arriving at Rock Island’s Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse have known that, in addition to dinner and live stage entertainment, they would be treated to one of the venue’s less-heralded treats: a warm greeting, and probably a joke or two, from the theatre’s resident lobby host Ed “Jonesy” Jones.

This past December, however, Jones decided to retire from his Circa ’21 position after 23 years of employment – even though, as the theatre’s producer/director Dennis Hitchcock says, he had actually considered doing so several times before.

“When Ed was initially hired,” says Hitchcock, “he was 62, and he said he thought he’d work until he was 65. And when he turned 65, he then thought he’d work until he was 70. And then it was 75. And then it was 80. And in the end, luckily for us, he chose 86 instead of 65.”

“It’s crazy,” says Jones himself, “because sometimes I wonder, ‘Why am I retiring?’ Because I want to keep going. But then I think, ‘Wait a minute! What are you thinking? You’re going to be 87 years old!”

But fans of the ebullient Circa ’21 lobby host will have at least one more chance to see Jones in his longtime Rock Island stomping grounds. On Tuesday, January 21, the theatre will host a retirement party for Ed Jones from 4 to 6 p.m., with the public invited to share in an afternoon celebrating the almost 24 years of dedicated and always entertaining service provided by this Quad Cities icon.

“Ed graduated from college wanting to be an actor,” says Hitchcock, “and this gave him a perfect role to play. He has the kind of personality that attracts people to him, and because of that friendly, outgoing personality – and because he can talk to anybody about anything – he really became the face of Circa ’21.”

The job, in many ways, was a natural fit for Jones, who grew up in the Boston area and always had a particular fondness for the world of show business.

“When I was in grade school,” he says, “I was the only kid in school who tap danced, and who put on dancing shows at lodges and such. And after that, I was the only kid in school who, every Saturday, would be on the train going to Boston to see the latest musical or the latest play – all the shows would try out in Boston before they hit New York.

“So I got to see famous stars from Gloria Swanson to Edward G. Robinson … people like that who would come to appear in a play between pictures. Everybody you can think of. And I’d go to the nearest town and just sit in the radio studio and watch the guys do a radio program … . I was thought of as an oddball, I suppose, but I was the only kid in school who ever wanted to do any of that!”

After graduation and two years spent serving in the U.S. Army, Jones did find entertainment-related employment, working at a summer theatre in Vermont and a radio station in Louisiana, and, locally, serving 25 years as a director for Iowa’s first television station, WOC-TV.

It was in 1990, after retiring from WOC-TV, that Jones saw an ad in the newspaper stating that Circa ’21 was seeking a lobby host. “I didn’t know what they were talking about,” says Jones, “but I went over there to see them, and a week later I started work as a lobby host.”

“The position, as I see it, is that of a host welcoming our guests to the theatre,” says Hitchcock. “And up to the point of Ed’s hiring, we had sort of been rotating the people in that position from the dining-room staff. But I think some of the younger people were intimidated by the job, and didn’t have Ed’s gift of gab, and so they couldn’t serve as well as a more mature person. The job, after all, was about communicating, and Ed spent his whole life in the communications industry.”

“I enjoyed the job from the start,” says Jones. “And I don’t know how I got into it, but pretty soon I had the idea: ‘What if I could find a costume that would kind of fit with the show?’”

Jones’ greeting of patrons in an ever-changing series of costumes – wardrobe associated with whatever musical or comedy they were about to see – quickly became an element of the Circa ’21 experience that guests most looked forward to. Says Jones, “People would start coming in saying, ‘You know, we were talking on the way over here, and we were wondering what who’d look like tonight!’

“So I’ve been a priest, I’ve been a nun, I’ve been a grandmother, I’ve been a track coach … . For The Full Monty, I had a short bathrobe on. People didn’t know I also had a bathing suit on, and thought I was naked underneath. I had a lot of fun with that one.”

“I think my favorite,” says Hitchcock, “was the long underwear that he wore for Who’s Under Where? But there were so many clever ones over the years. He would go to Greg [Hiatt], our costume designer, and talk to him about what he should wear, and he would frequently have his own ideas. Ed was very, very serious about it, and it was very important to him, and that’s part of why he was such a wonderful choice in that position.”

Jones could also always be counted on to greet Circa ’21 guests with a joke which, depending on the patron, could be anything from G-rated to … not G-rated.

“One of my nicknames over the years was Fast Eddie,” says Jones. “And people would say, ‘Why do they call you Fast Eddie?’ And my response would always be, ‘I’d rather be Fast Eddie than Half-Fast Eddie.’ Because when you say that fast … .” Laughing, Jones adds, “Nobody seemed offended, though.”

“He really cares about the people at Circa,” says Hitchcock, “and he really is the person people miss the most when he’s not here.”

Jones, meanwhile, says he misses his Circa ’21 family as well, even though he and his wife Jeannie are greatly enjoying their newfound time together. “She retired, too, just three weeks ago,” says Jones, “and so she’s home all the time, and I’m home all the time, and we’re trying to take little trips and do more stuff together.

“But it is like family over there. Not only the people that work at Circa, but all the subscribers that I’ve known for almost 25 years. I’ve made millions of friends at that place. But I’m still gonna go to all the shows!”

Ed Jones’ retirement party, open to the public will take place at the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island, IL) on Tuesday, January 21 from 4 to 6 p.m., and more information on Circa ’21 events is available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visiting

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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized


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