2004 - Disc Jockey
Bill Riley is an Iowa institution known as “Mr. State Fair.” The popular broadcast personality has encouraged talented youngsters for more than half a century.
William J. Riley was born in Iowa Falls in the year 1920. His father died when he was 18 months old and his mother, Genevieve, struggled to make ends meet during the depression. At 14, Riley visited the Iowa State Fair and decided he wanted to be like Ronald “Dutch” Reagan, who was broadcasting sports events from the fairgrounds. Riley’s career began at 16 when he started reporting sports stories for the “Iowa Falls Citizen” at $1 per week.
He attended Ellsworth College and Loras College. After serving in the United States Army, Riley joined KRNT Radio in Des Moines (1943) as a news rewrite man, gradually acquiring more duties. At one point he was doing more than 20 live shows per week, either on radio or television. His dynamic personality radiated through the airwaves to an audience of fans that continually grew.
Riley started reporting at the state fair in 1946 for KRNT Radio, the same year the station introduced television to Iowa, with live acts shown over closed circuit TV on the fairgrounds. He initiated the Iowa State Fair Talent Search in 1960. It is estimated he introduced more than 100,000 performers over the years; many of them rock and roll bands.
This 2004 Hall of Fame inductee played an early role in raising funds for bicycle and recreational trails, and helped establish Des Moines’ first modern zoo.
In 1973 Riley resigned from KRNT to become an executive of Hawkeye Cablevision. He turned over the reins as host of the State Fair Talent Search to his son, Bill Jr., and Terry Rich in 1996.
The state fairgrounds’ Plaza Stage was renamed in Riley’s honor in 1993.
Bill and Anne Riley now reside in Clear Lake during the warm months while “wintering” in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Riley’s vision to create the hundreds of talent shows throughout the state leading each year to the finals at the State Fair are indicative of his dedication to music.
The talent he exposed to the public via the “Talent Search”, “Talent Sprouts” and “Teen Town” programs have included such Iowa RockNRoll Music Association Hall of Fame members as: Echo’s V (1967 Battle of the Bands winner), Dominic & the Dominoes, Tommy Tucker and Last Shades of Dawn.
Bill Riley’s support for musicians is monumental and without a doubt Hall of Fame caliber.
UPDATE 12/16/2006: Our Prayers and sympathy are extended to Bills Family, We learned today that Bill Passed away on December 15, 2006 in Arizona. He will be greatly missed by the many people that were touched by his life.