The tools for success - Television broadcaster Dick Preston values experiences found in the Army Reserve
Local television broadcaster Dick Preston has been a consistent staple in the Mid-Missouri daily news diet for over 40 years. And while the veteran news anchor continues to keep the public informed of developing local and national events, Preston asserts that part of what has helped him succeed in his career began with training he received in the armed forces.
Born in St. Louis in 1945 as Richard Preston Kettenbrink, he was raised in the Webster Groves area and developed an early interest in journalism.
“In grade school I made up my own newspaper and would deliver it to some of my friends on my bike,” noted Preston.
Working for the school paper in his high school years, Preston graduated from Webster Groves High School in 1963 and enrolled in the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia in fall of the same year. While attending college, the veteran explained, students were required to participate in two years of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program (ROTC).
“It (ROTC) was something that we all just had to complete,” stated Preston. “I was in the Air Force ROTC and remember doing drill and parade exercises while marching around the (Francis) Quadrangle on campus.”
As he continued his studies, Preston began working part-time as the news director with the KTGR radio station in Columbia. Graduating from MU in 1967 with a degree in journalism, he began working full-time with the radio station shortly thereafter. However, his work in radio was somewhat short-lived when, in January 1968, he was hired by the KRCG 13 television station as an announcer and continuity writer.
“I did things live on the air that they would tape now,” Preston explained. “I would read and write commercials and sometimes filled in on sports and weather,” he added.
For a brief period, Preston was introduced to the public through an iconic Mid-Missouri television program known as “Showtime.”
“The show was a program for local children and it was done all live,” Preston said. “I co-hosted the show for a year with Jane Campbell before it was taken over by Bill Ratliff.”
But the broadcaster’s life would soon take a slight shift from his civilian employment endeavors after he visited with a friend from journalism school.
“My friend told me about this Army Reserve unit in Columbia,” shared Preston. “He said that it was really a good deal; it was a medical unit and that they would train you in a specific field.”
After enlisting in the Reserves, Preston noted that it took almost a year for him to secure a basic training slot as it was the height of the Vietnam War and training prioritization was given to active duty soldiers being prepared for overseas deployments. The delay, however, worked well for the new enlistee as it gave him time to learn some of the basics of the military lifestyle. In August 1969, he attended special 2-week training program at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, for new enlistees waiting to complete their initial training.
“We stayed in old army barracks that had bathrooms with a line of toilets,” explained Preston. “In some ways it was actually worse than actual basic—they had us clean the entire place with a toothbrush…and we never had to do that in basic,” he quipped.
In October 1969, the veteran completed basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood. From there, he traveled to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in January 1970 to complete his advanced individual training as a military clerk typist.
“The Fifth Army Headquarters was located there at that time,” Preston said. “January on Lake Michigan was very cold and I remember the thirty below wind chills.”
As part of his training as a typist, Preston and his fellow students would spend four hours a day for eight weeks typing under the instruction of an older civilian woman. In the afternoons, they worked in a military office filing, reviewing documents and engaged in other administrative tasks.
“We trained on the old manual typewriters and I got to where I was typing 83 words per minute,” he recalled. “I was second best in the class; the best was a court reporter from Kansas,” he smiled.
Preston graduated from the clerk typist training in March 1970 and returned to work in the news department at KRCG, where he was immediately able to apply the skills learned in the military to his civilian career in preparing news reports. The reservist continued to train with his unit one weekend a month while working full-time with the station, which soon gave him an appreciation of the balance between work and military often made by members of the Reserve and the National Guard.
His unit, the 5503rd, was structured to provide support services for active duty units that were called up and was primarily comprised of doctors and medical personnel. Throughout the years, Preston continued to attend exercises during which his unit would train with their active duty counterparts at various military hospitals. Part of the unit’s weekend drills involved conducting physical exams at the University Hospital for military personnel in the process of joining various units or needing annual physicals to attend summer camp.
He continued to work in an office environment filing medical reports and providing administrative support to the medical staff. In October 1974, he completed his enlistment and was discharged from the Army Reserve.
During the ensuing years, the veteran broadcaster has continued using his military-acquired skills working in several capacities such as a reporter, producer and anchor.
In the rare moments he has had some spare time, Preston has served on the board of Riverview Cemetery in Jefferson City and has also been the board president for the Missouri School of Religion.
In discussing his brief military experience and the impact it can have on one’s career, Preston stated, “The military gives you a broader education and understanding not necessarily experienced by the general public. As I experienced in my training, it’s good for everyone to do a little sacrificing … and gain the confidence to know that they can accomplish more than they first believed possible.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
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Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.