Iowa Public Radio has lost one of its own. Over a six-decade career, Dean Borg was one of the state’s most highly-regarded journalists. Since 2000, he contributed to Iowa Public Radio’s news production. Borg died Sunday at the age of 81.
Borg is best-known as the moderator for Iowa Public Television’s (now Iowa PBS) “Iowa Press.” It all started in 1971, when he joined a panel of fellow journalists in a weekly roundtable discussion of national and state politics. It became a must-stop for anyone running for president or statewide office.
The first program appeared on a service then known as the Iowa Educational Broadcasting Network. As Borg recalled in a 2017 interview on IPR at the time of his retirement from the show after 46 years, it began on the second floor of a Des Moines high school with cables dangling from the window.
“One transmitter in Des Moines and it was Channel 11, KDIN,” he said during an interview on River to River. “No studios, no equipment other than a mobile truck.”
In the early days of “Iowa Press,” the show leaned heavily on the expertise of newspaper reporters. They knew the ins-and-outs of politics, but very little about broadcasting. Borg knew the business. He had been the long-time news director at WMT in Cedar Rapids. When the show’s creator, Bob Bradsell, decided he needed a host to keep things moving, he turned to Borg. Bradsell died in 2018. In 2017, he spoke with IPR’s Ben Kieffer about that decision.
“We felt we needed someone who understood the medium and so forth to actually host it and Dean just seemed to be the right person,” Bradsell said. “He understood the format, he liked to work with us, and he was very good at what he did and presented it very well.”
Borg was a native of Forest City and earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from Iowa State. While in Ames, he landed his first radio job at WOI, which is now part of IPR. He also held a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Iowa. It was reporting, however, that sparked his imagination. He received the Iowa Broadcast News Association’s Jack Shelley Award, its highest honor, in 2008. In 1975, he interviewed a little-known, peanut-farming governor from Georgia named Jimmy Carter on “Iowa Press.”
“To this day, I believe that half hour appearance with him, and some tough direct questioning on ‘Iowa Press,’ introduced him to the Iowa people, and led to a jump start, launched him if you will, in his candidacy,” Borg recounted during his appearance on “River to River” in 2017.
For more than 30 years, Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson, shared the “Iowa Press” roundtable with Borg. She said she admired his studio work and his off-camera demeanor.
“I would describe Dean in two parts,” she said. “There is the personal part; a true gentleman, a great friend, and a devoted family man. Then there is the professional part; a tenacious, determined journalist. I think that explains his popularity with the ‘Iowa Press’ audience.”
Henderson offered an example of Borg’s doggedness as a journalist. It came on a day when he broke a leg.
“He arrived on the Iowa Press set still wearing the hospital’s wrist band.” She remembered. “A camera operator actually cut the band off, and the show went on.”
Into his 80s, Borg continued to contribute to Iowa Public Radio’s newscasts. He was a walking research library and memory bank. He inspired younger staff. It was this interaction with the next generation of reporters he valued most.
“I’ll miss the comradery and the interchange with various journalists as we prepare and discuss the Iowa and national political landscape,” he said as he neared retirement. “We trade insights and I’ll miss that.”
Borg said one question guided him through the many years of interviewing politicians and covering breaking stories: How can we make news today?
To learn more about Dean's celebrated life, view our recent news release with Iowa PBS here.