Obituary: Newscasting pioneer Bob Ryan covered history in the making

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2014 - 11:23 PM

By age 9, Bob Ryan had decided to become a broadcaster, often using a wooden stick as a microphone to make believe he was a radio announcer.

At 15, he rode the subway to the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, where he saw an invention called television. After that, Ryan focused on his goal and became an award-winning broadcast journalist who roamed the world in a career spanning 50 years, bringing history in the making to viewers.

Ryan, of Minneapolis, died Monday of congestive heart failure. He was 89.

“He was a great communicator, a great broadcaster, a real pioneer in television news,” said Stanley S. Hubbard of Hubbard Broadcasting, which includes KSTP-TV and radio stations. “Bob was doing television news at Channel 5 when almost no stations in the country were doing television news.”

Ryan was one of the Midwest’s most widely recognized and respected broadcasters, said Steve Raymer of Pavek Museum of Broadcasting, which inducted Ryan into its Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2001.

“I’m so grateful. I had a wonderful, interesting life,” Ryan said in a recent Star Tribune interview. “It was my good fortune. I made it a point to try to get the station to send me on trips to report about activities about Minnesotans in the strangest places: In the Soviet Union, behind the Iron Curtain, and in dangerous places in the world.”

Ryan was the son of Anna and W.D. “Rosy” Ryan, a pitcher in three consecutive World Series for the New York Giants in the 1920s. Bob Ryan graduated from high school in Eau Claire, Wis.

After serving in the Marines in World War II, he began his career at the University of Minnesota’s KUOM Radio and in St. Cloud. In 1948, he began 23 years with KSTP radio and TV.

He moved from KSTP to Rochester TV and radio stations in 1971, then to Minnesota News Network in 1985. He also had a commentary program, “Bob Ryan’s Passport,” on KNXR in Rochester. In 1974, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Winona State University. He served in many civic roles throughout his life.

Ryan covered the loss of freedoms in Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania. He covered revolutions in Central and South America.

Ryan traveled three times to Southeast Asia to report on the Vietnam War, and he reported from Korea, too. In the Philippines, he interviewed Ferdinand Marcos before his ouster in 1986.

He went five times to the Middle East, including to cover the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel battled Arab nations.

“We hoped to cover the war, but when we got there, the war had ended,” he said with a laugh. “It was a six-day war; we could only do a follow-up about the Israeli Army in the occupied territory.”

He went to Egypt, “but the Egyptians weren’t very cooperative because the Israelis had defeated them soundly.”

In Greece, Ryan covered a brewing revolution. “It was a bloodless revolution. The king left Greece, and he and his family went to Rome. We tried to interview him, but he was not of a mind to be interviewed,” Ryan said, chuckling.

“I was very fortunate to have been in on a lot of exciting times for news. We would always try to find a Minnesotan who could give us personal insight, and we almost always did.”

His signoff was always: “The best of everything to you.”

Survivors include his wife of 66 years, Betty; son Gregory of Studio City, Calif.; and daughter Patty of Burbank, Calif.

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