Nebraska’s radio ambassador
by Jim Schaffer
He didn’t hire Bob Devaney. But he helped. The year was 1962 and Chancellor Clifford Hardin wanted a committee of student leaders to visit with a person he was thinking to hire as the university’s next football coach.
The four student leaders chosen for this task included the president of the Interfraternity Council, the president of the Panhellenic Conference, the editor of the Daily Nebraskan, and someone from the dormitories—that person was Roger Dodson, future Nebraska Broadcast Hall of Fame member, and president at the time of of Selleck Quad, where many of the school’s athletes lived.
The next day these four students met the coach-candidate for lunch in the student union. Dodson remembers what a charismatic and considerate person he was: Devaney greeted the students by saying, “So you’re the people I need to impress.” Devaney got the job, of course, but what Dodson recalls most was that “I began to realize how much the University was changing my life.”
Dodson would become one of the state’s most notable broadcasters. A traveling ambassador for radio, Dodson has visited 50 states and 142 countries, helping people build radio stations and improve their programming. He and his wife JeNeane have also been remarkable citizens—leading a drive, for example, to restore Lincoln’s iconic Sunken Gardens.
All that was in the future when Roger came to Lincoln during his senior year at Nehawka High School. It was Band Day and all the bands were marching down O Street. Roger got caught up in the excitement of the moment, but was unprepared for the arrival, at the end of the parade, of the University’s Marching Band. “What a great place that must be,” Dodson recalls, “to have such a magnificent band.”
Dodson was also being recruited by a man who became his mentor—Dr. Donald Olson, a well-known professor and long-time coach of the speech and debate team. Olson wanted Dodson to join the debate team and he did, leaving a trail of success in his wake. “We were pretty good,” Dodson says. His best moment was the day that NU’s speech and debate teams beat Oklahoma’s teams. Dodson graduated in 1963 with majors in English and speech, and minors in political science and journalism.
Debate taught him that “the other side of the argument is just as important,” a lesson that he would apply in broadcast from his early days on KNCY in Nebraska City to ownership of stations across the Midwest, from Wichita to Beaumont, Texas.
One of Dodson’s partners in that radio business was none other than Charley Pride. Pride, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper, was perhaps the first great black country performer. He recorded 39 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
At one point Dodson learned that Pride would be performing in Omaha and asked whether he could get tickets for his family. The tickets arrived and the Dodsons headed to the show. At the conclusion, Charley came to the front of the stage and said that he wanted to dedicate the last song to Dorothy Dodson, Roger’s mother, and then sang “Amazing Grace.” It was touching moment, to say the least.
Dodson met many African Americans on the Nebraska campus. He remembered that “Big Bob” Brown, one of Devaney’s star recruits and lived on his floor in Selleck. “Bob was as intimidating as you can imagine, but he was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
After college, Dodson pursued a career in broadcasting. By 1980 he was working as general manager at a Grand Island radio station. On a warm afternoon that June he noticed some ominous-looking clouds. He invited people on the street to gather in the station’s basement where they would be safe from a storm. “I felt touched by a presence,” Dodson says, “and felt a remarkable calm come over me.”
For the next five hours Dodson was on the air, warning people to seek shelter and relaying messages from city and state officials. Seven tornadoes would hit the area that day, killing five and injuring 200. Dodson’s voice was the only one on air that evening.
For the next several weeks, Dodson would interview Mayor Bob Kriz each morning to discuss how the cleanup was going, when the water would be safe to drink, and whether the electricity would be on. He won a number of service awards and was recognized by the governor for “saving so many lives.”
Dodson’s community service has extended far beyond his professional life. “It’s our responsibility to be good citizens,” he says. Part of that service involved leading a drive to restore the Sunken Gardens, a beauty spot that had fallen on hard times.
Roger and JeNeane, with the help of another Lincoln steward Mike Seacrest, stepped up, raising $1.7 million in just four months. “Lincoln is a generous city,” he says. A quick look from Capitol Parkway at 27th Street will reveal just what they accomplished. Surveys show that 90% of Lincolnites stop by the Gardens at least once a year.
Dodson thought that he might continue his pubic service after retirement by joining the City Council. He announced his candidacy in December 2012 and planned his first official campaign event for Feb. 16, 2013. But fate had other plans.
That morning Dodson experienced a stroke, a difficult one that has compromised his ability to walk. It did not, however, quench his spirit.
“Watch your ego,” Dodson said recently, “mine’s too big.” But his ego is just big enough to have wide-ranging, thoughtful opinions. “The answer to everything is education,” he said, perhaps thinking of his daughter Alesia, who is a kindergarten teacher. She told him, he said, “that every child must have a good experience as they start school.” Their son Whitney continues the family love of broadcast as an account executive at Lady Bird Johnson’s KLBJ in Austin, Texas.
H. Roger Dodson passed away on Oct. 26, 2016. Read his obituary here. »
Jim Schaffer (’71 BA, English) is a journalism professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University. He and his wife, Mary Lynn, a three-time UNL graduate, have three children. Suzanne is a radio producer in Minneapolis, Sarah works for the United Nations and Steve is director of development & ticket strategy & analytics for the UNL Athletic Department.