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News

Bruce Aune will retire after 34 years as KCRG-TV9 anchor

Broadcaster to leave in March, successor to be announced in early 2020

CEDAR RAPIDS — Longtime KCRG-TV9 anchor Bruce Aune doesn’t accept that he’s a local celebrity, but how else would you explain the furor that resulted when he shaved off his mustache in 2003?

“I had wanted to do that for years, but I had to get permission from the station because shaving meant that the (opening shots), all on-air promotions and all photos had to be redone,” Aune recounted. “Even today I have people tell me I need to grow back the mustache. I’m always amazed when I hear that from people who had to be only 10 to 12 years old or even younger when I shaved it.”

Aune, 70, who has anchored the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts on KCRG since 1986, announced Monday he will retire in March.

With a rakish grin, crisp speech and more than 30 years reporting experience in Eastern Iowa, Aune is a charming and authoritative voice on the television airwaves. But he’s had some health issues, including a balance problem that has required him to use a cane. Aune’s wife, Darcy, also battled ocular melanoma, a type of cancer that required removal of her left eye.

The couple wants to travel, especially for religious mission work, and Aune looks forward to the day he won’t have to head back to the newsroom at 8 p.m. each weekday to prepare for the 10 p.m. newscast.

“I’m really looking forward to spending a lot more time with my wife,” he said.

Radio, then TV

Aune started his broadcasting career on the radio in his hometown of Brainerd, Minn. He was a sports radio reporter for AFN Europe in Frankfurt, Germany, during his time in the Army, KCRG-TV9 reports online.

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Aune already had done news reporting and anchoring stints at stations in Mankato, Minn., Mason City, Rockford, Ill., and Lansing, Mich., before he came to KCRG. The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 once were owned by the same company, but have been separate news outlets since 2015.

“We were a bad No. 3 in this market when I came in March 1986,” Aune said, referring to KCRG’s viewership ratings. But over the next decade, KCRG made some pivotal decisions that persuaded many viewers to turn to Channel 9 and never leave, he said. The ABC affiliate now is No. 1 in viewership in this market.

One of those decisions came Nov. 1, 1991, when Gang Lu, a University of Iowa graduate student, shot six people on campus, killing five, before fatally shooting himself.

Mike Wagner, who was then KCRG’s Iowa City bureau reporter, and Eadie Fawcett, then Aune’s co-anchor, reported live from Iowa City, bypassing commercial breaks to cover the developing story.

“That was one of the first times we did wall-to-wall coverage,” said Wagner, who after 25 years at KCRG now is a spokesman for Alliant Energy.

‘Depth of knowledge’

Wagner said Aune knows the news before he reads it aloud and asks good questions of reporters in the field.

“I spent about a year trying to write an intro to a story he didn’t rewrite,” Wagner said. “Every time he rewrote a story it was better, it was clearer. I remember an immense satisfaction when I wrote an intro he didn’t fix.”

Beth Malicki, Aune’s co-anchor for the last 14 years, said they have developed a secret language to hand off speaking duties or make last-minute changes in the newscast. Sitting inches away on set and at their desks between shows has given Malicki a keen appreciation for Aune’s talents as a journalist.

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“He fact checks everything, but he also brings a wealth and depth of knowledge to many stories, especially those of national and international historical import, so he doesn’t have to fact check those because he already knows,” she said.

Aune and Malicki stayed on the air for up to 14 hours at a stretch during the June 2008 flood, even as water from the Cedar River seeped into KCRG’s basement and the station had to broadcast from a satellite truck as the building lost power.

“We switch into a different gear when bad things are happening in our community,” Aune said.

Memorable moments

Aune has traveled around the world on KCRG-TV9 assignments, including to China, Russia and Japan. On a trip to Stavropol, Russia, in 1991, right after the coup attempt on Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, Aune was awoken early one morning by pounding on his hotel room door.

“This guy barges past me with a badge,” Aune said. “I started looking for my passport and then he was gone.” The visitor never returned, but others from Russia to whom Aune told the story said the man was likely a KGB agent.

YouTube is full of TV anchors’ on-air blunders and Aune admits he’s made a few over the years. One time instead of saying “Marion” he said “marijuana.” And on the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Aune was horrified when he flubbed the opening of the show by saying “As we remember 7/11.”

But Aune knows viewers often give him the benefit of the doubt, laughing with him instead of criticizing an occasional error.

“This is a very loyal market and when people get attached, they stay with that,” he said.

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Aune will continue to anchor the KCRG evening newscasts through early March. The station hopes to name a replacement early next year.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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