Fredericksen begins ‘the story of his life’ in Beaverdale
Veteran journalist Rick Fredericksen’s 35-year career in radio and television has taken him to foreign lands, back to his stomping ground of Des Moines and several other places along the way, including a 10-year stay in Bangkok, Thailand, as a foreign correspondent for CBS and an operator of his own news agency. Fredericksen, who got his start as a Marine Corps broadcaster during the Vietnam era, is known locally for anchoring the evening news on KRNT-TV (now KCCI) between 1970 and 1982, serving as news director for WOI Radio Group in Ames from 1995 to 2003, and most recently as the communications director for Stan Thompson’s campaign for U.S. Congress. Now, local news takes on a new meaning for Fredericksen, who begins a new assignment Feb. 1 as executive director of a new urban pilot project in the Beaverdale neighborhood.
How did you become a military reporter?
At the time, the Vietnam War was going on, and I knew that I could be drafted. Instead, I took a chance and enlisted. I knew that if I enlisted for two years, I would just be in long enough to be trained as a soldier and possibly be killed. So, I enlisted for three years thinking that it gave me a better chance to be trained in a special field, and it really served me well. I learned a career there at a prestigious defense information school run by the Pentagon. Between my education and my on-the-job experience, I was able to come back and immediately get a job at KRNT radio and television.
What was a highlight of your time as a Bangkok bureau chief for CBS?
One of the memorable stories that I had was while working on “CBS Reports: A Soldier Returns.” It was a one-hour documentary on Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf returning to Vietnam for the first time. I worked on it with Dan Rather, who had been a war correspondent in Saigon as a young reporter. It was his first time back to the country too. I traveled with them and I helped set that up. I was the advance man and the coordinator between the Vietnamese government and CBS News back in New York.
After covering such a dynamic mix of news for so many years, what led you to take on this role with its singular focus?
This goes back to when I left WOI to become the communications director for Stan Thompson in 2003. After all those years as a reporter and a news director, I wanted to play a more active role in my life instead of always being a bystander. I loved being a journalist, but even if you’re the first to know about something, and you’re right there covering it as it happens, you’re still not the one doing it.
What will your role be with Beaverdale’s Main Street Initiative?
My job is to help the board and these neighborhood groups coordinate the process. We already have a big head start on some of these things, through the Beaverdale Neighborhood Association and Beaverdale Business Coalition. They have some studies and research together, and they’ve been working on a Beaverdale Village revitalization plan for a number of years.
What are you looking forward to?
Whereas my focus had been more statewide as a director of a statewide newsroom, I’m now looking very much in my own backyard. There’s so much to do here. We have a special opportunity to work with neighbors and the business community to really take charge of our future.
Why do you care about Beaverdale’s future?
I have a stake in Beaverdale succeeding because I’ve lived here, on and off, for 30 years. I want strong, vibrant businesses and restaurants and I want our neighborhood to be crime-free, and I think it is generally. If the businesses in Beaverdale succeed, it’s good for all of the 10,000 residents because it keeps the property values up and keeps our great, independent stores open for convenient shopping.
Is there any special pressure applied to this project because it differs from other Main Street programs the state has been involved with?
There are 34 Main Street programs in Iowa, and ours is unique because it is the first urban commercial neighborhood district in Iowa that has been given this opportunity to try this program. If this works for us, this could have far-reaching implications for other neighborhoods like ours.
What special skills from your journalism career will be beneficial in your new role?
I can strike up a conversation with anybody. I’m great at small talk. Life as a journalist has helped that, because I can talk a little bit about everything. Plus, I have written a lot of historic preservation stories and I’ve covered about a million business stories. I know a lot of people in the media, and a lot of people know me.
How do you compare this to what you’ve done before?
It’s like covering the biggest story of my life in a way. Right now, I’m in the fact-finding and investigative process, and pretty soon, I’ll start to write the script. Then I’ll let the neighborhood and business people edit my script. After that, we’ll be ready for circulation. I don’t know that there’s really a deadline, because if we do it right, it should be a continuing process. The evolution is not going to stop once we get things up and running and keep it healthy and keep it interesting so that people want to continue to move into Beaverdale, we attract new business and strengthen our existing ones, and create new attractions.