A Man of Many Hats
Former Missourinet news Director Bob Priddy stands on the floor of the Missouri Senate, where he spent decades covering legislative debate for affiliated radio stations across Missouri. Priddy retired from the Missourinet in 2014 and now serves as president of the board of trustees of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
For 40 years, Missourians from St. Joseph to Joplin, from Kirksville to Cape Girardeau, could tune into to their local radio stations and hear the authoritative voice of Bob Priddy deliver the news of the day, with a focus on the workings of our state government in Jefferson City. After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1963 and working as a reporter for radio stations in Columbia and Jefferson City, Priddy accepted the job as news director of a fledgling radio network started by his friend and colleague Clyde Lear. From 1974 until his retirement in 2014, Priddy was news director of the Missourinet.
“When I walked out of the building about eight o’clock the night of December 1, 2014, I felt like I left it all on the playing field,” Priddy says. “I don’t miss getting up in the morning; in fact, I never had the urge to get up at 4:30 in the morning—I just did because I had to. The only thing I miss is the opportunity to walk up to people who think they are important, and basically ask them, ‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’”
During his long career in journalism, the Missourinet under Priddy’s direction brought floor debate in the Missouri House and Senate to radio and then to the Internet. Priddy also led efforts to open our state courts to radio, television, and still photography. Although he twice served as the chairman of the board of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (the first person to lead the organization twice), Priddy laments the current direction of a profession he wanted to be a part of since he was in fifth grade. He notes the Capitol press corps is much smaller than it used to be and wishes state government reporters were more aggressive, but it’s the general state of journalism that concerns him most.
“There is not enough news, and there is too much comment,” he says. “I think radio in many ways has abdicated its role as a voice of the community and has turned itself over to those who appeal to the gut, not to the mind. The same is getting to be true with television, and I think it’s a shame we have corporations that buy newspapers and hollow them out. In effect, they are taking money out of the community and not giving anything to the community.”
Priddy says he grew up in a media climate that believed radio and television and newspapers should be of a community, not just in a community.
“I think the public journal is a public trust, and those words of (School of Journalism founder) Walter Williams are really dear to me,” he says. In June, Priddy will be inducted into the Missouri Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
A Change of Direction
Throughout his career, Priddy has been a student of history. Growing up in central Illinois, Priddy says he was steeped in the history of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, always looking east from the Mississippi River. A couple of influential MU professors reoriented his gaze westward.
“One semester here I had two courses that turned me around entirely,” he says. “One, called History of the American West, was taught by Lewis Atherton, who was one of the foremost history professors the school has ever had. That same semester, I took an English course by John G. Neihardt called Epic America, and his poetry was all about the opening of the American West. Those two courses turned me into a person who’s always looking west now.”
Priddy turned his love of Missouri history into a successful radio series and a three-volume set called “Across Our Wide Missouri,” which he says helped put his two children through college. He now serves as president of the board of trustees of the State Historical Society of Missouri, which is building the new Center for Missouri Studies across the street from MU’s Peace Park.
“After all of the years that I’ve been coming up here and going into the basement of Elmer Ellis Library and those dark, enclosed spaces, I’m struggling to come to grips with the size of what this building is going to be,” Priddy says. “Our new building will not be in an obscure corner of the University Library—it’s going to be a statement, and that statement is going to echo what Abraham Lincoln said in 1862, ‘We cannot escape history.’ It’s there, it’s bold, and it says history is important.”
Reaching New Heights
Priddy and his wife, Nancy, have enjoyed traveling following his retirement in 2014, visiting places such as Peru and Ecuador. Priddy even climbed the Inca Trail a mile above Machu Picchu. “I knew I was going to be in the Andes Mountains so I worked out at the YMCA on the Stairmaster® for several months, but no Stairmaster prepares you for 9,000 feet,” he jokes.
This summer the couple will travel to Africa. Priddy says he had National Geographic do his DNA analysis a couple of years ago, and the test found he was 1.8% Neanderthal, which is a bit above average. Although Neanderthals were from Europe, Priddy says the test showed the earliest DNA came from eastern Africa. “We’re going to the Olduvai Gorge where the Leakey family found all of the fossilized proto-humans, and I tell people I’m just going back to the home place to see if it’s changed much.”
Reporter, news director, mentor, historian, industry leader…Bob Priddy has worn many hats during his life and says he will bring one of his hats filled with pins from his travels when he speaks to the College of Arts and Science graduates at Mizzou Arena May 12.
“I’m going to be saying you’ll be wearing many hats in your life, and maybe you’ll have some pins to put on your hat about your experiences and the things you are doing and the things you see,” Priddy says. ”I’ll talk about the mortar board being an important hat, but the rest of your life you’ll be wearing a lot of other hats.”