Vern Moore, 1916—2011 – Idaho’s Walter Cronkite

By Tim Woodward

Vern Moore, radio icon and journalism pioneer, was Idaho’s first television news anchor; he died Feb. 17 in Coeur d’Alene. His obituary devoted a little more than a paragraph to his broadcast career. Some readers may have missed it entirely, never realizing that we had lost a local icon.

Moore was the patriarch of broadcast news in Idaho. Thousands of Idahoans grew up hearing his voice and seeing his face. He was etched in our memories, like Howdy Doody or Walt Disney or Edward R. Murrow.

Moore’s was a voice of KIDO Radio for 42 years. He helped build Idaho’s first FM station and was the state’s first television news anchor. His were the first words spoken on live television in Idaho, at 2 p.m. on July 12, 1953. Congratulatory messages came from all over, including one from Groucho Marx:

“I played Boise once, and I hope your opening was better than mine.”

A Portlander in his youth, Moore came to Boise and spent most of his life here because of a coincidence. KIDO’s owners, Curt and Georgia Phillips, happened to be in Portland and heard Moore’s voice on a high-school radio station. They liked it and offered him a job. He accepted, rode to Boise with them in their Packard and stayed 65 years. He was then 19 years old.

KIDO was seven years old. The Phillipses had bought it in 1928, after reading in The Statesman that it was being auctioned. Until then, it was Boise High School’s station. Curt Phillips died in 1942, and Georgia, later Georgia Davidson, went on to start KIDO Television, now KTVB-Channel 7. So in a small way, KTVB began with an ad in The Statesman.

Like many Idahoans, I grew up watching and listening to Vern. He was the senior anchor, a name you trusted.

Later, I got to know him personally. He was a chief petty officer at Boise’s Naval Reserve Station when I was a recruit there. He joined the Navy at 16 and had served in two wars but, compared with other senior enlisted people, he was humble, soft-spoken. An easy man to be around, despite his seniority and local fame. I liked him instantly.

That didn’t change when, six years later, we were covering the local-government beat, him for KIDO and me for the Statesman. That was when I learned some of the history mentioned above. For most of it, I’m indebted to Art Gregory of the History of Idaho Broadcasting Foundation. Gregory visited Moore in Coeur d’Alene last summer and returned with 800 tapes to add to the foundation’s archives.

“I don’t even know everything I’ve got yet, but there are tapes of Vern interviewing (former governors) Bob Smylie, Cecil Andrus, Don Samuelson. … He probably recorded everyone in Idaho broadcast-news history.”

Gregory worked with Moore at KIDO and knew him as “a consummate professional. He was always businesslike, but he was also a kind, gentle man.”

My impression exactly. He always got his story, but he was so low-key about it that in a crowd you hardly knew he was there. He was the opposite of the obnoxious-reporter stereotype, and news sources respected him for it. In his quiet, dignified way, he got the stories the pushy, pretty boys didn’t.

One week, he failed to show up for the mayor’s weekly news conference. It was surprising, because he never missed. Later, we learned that he’d been in a motorcycle accident. That was even more surprising because none of us could imagine gentle Vern as a biker. That accident rearranged his whole face. He’d ridden all-out around a corner on a normally deserted mountain road and collided with a truck.

Maybe that shouldn’t have surprised us. You don’t survive two wars and a journalism career by being a shrinking violet.

He was buried with military honors in Coeur d’Alene, where he’d lived for a decade. He was 95, so many of those who knew him are gone. But there was a time when he was a household name. If you remember him, you already know that. If not, I thought you should.

Tim Woodward is a longtime reporter and columnist for the Idaho Statesman in Boise; he can be reached at 377-6409.

Betsy Russell is a Boise-based reporter for The Spokesman-Review, and is the president of the Idaho Press Club.