Inside Iowa State
Dec. 15, 1995
by Steve Sullivan
After 10 years in Southeast Asia, Rick Fredericksen is back on U.S. soil and air.
Fredericksen, who spent the last decade as a radio and broadcast journalist in Bangkok, Thailand, is WOI AM-FM Radio's new news director. He will direct WOI's news staff and do some reporting himself, said station manager Rick Lewis.
"It is really exciting covering war, devastating typhoons, drug war lords, military coups and democracy protests, but it is tough fighting the elements in Southeast Asia -- the difficult infrastructure, the cumbersome nature of government," Fredericksen said. "There is no lack of excitement in being back home and doing the best job possible for WOI and Iowa State. I feel a dedication to contributing to the product here."Fredericksen, a native of Des Moines, should be familiar to many central Iowans. From 1970 to 1982, he was a reporter at KRNT-TV, now KCCI-TV. After a three-year stint at a CBS affiliate in Hawaii, he became the CBS bureau chief in Thailand in 1985. CBS shut down its Thailand bureau in 1988, but Fredericksen stayed on, beginning an independent news agency and doing stories for CBS and broadcast media outlets in Japan, Thailand and Australia. Fredericksen has contributed to The CBS Evening News, CBS Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes.
Fredericksen's broadcast career began during the war in Vietnam. Fredericksen enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967. He learned the broadcast journalism trade at the U.S. Department of Defense Information School and joined the American Forces Vietnam Network, which was made famous by the film Good Morning Vietnam. Fredericksen, who spent a year in Saigon covering the war, never met the man Robin Williams portrayed in the film, but did have a brush with minor greatness.
"I never met the original guy, but after him all the disc jockeys began their morning broadcasts with 'Good Morning Vietnam.' When I was there, the guy doing it was (future Wheel of Fortune host) Pat Sajak. I used to read the news for Pat Sajak," Fredericksen said.
In 1985, Fredericksen was one of the first journalists allowed to return to Vietnam. The country was still hardline communist and Fredericksen was shocked at the economic and social conditions that were draining hope from the Vietnamese people.
"The country is opening up now and showing signs of recovery. They have a free market economy, the people seem happier and they are making money," he said. "Vietnam is going to be one of our main allies one day economically and security- wise."Vietnam was the big story in Fredericksen's career, but not the only one. He was a major player on the CBS Radio team that won a Peabody Award for its coverage of the student uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. He originally was in Beijing to cover a summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and Chinese leaders, but soon found himself covering the beginnings of the protest staged by students seizing the opportunity presented by the presence of international media.
"I had left by the time the shooting broke out, but I marched with the first student group from Beijing University to Tiananmen Square and I was there when martial law was declared," Fredericksen said. The instability of Southeast Asia made for exciting times for Fredericksen, who returned to Iowa in April with his wife, Wanna, a Thai journalist. Ironically, the growing stability of the region brought him back home. "Thailand and Southeast Asia have become more secure and mature, and there has been a real decline in international quality news. The economic stability of the region is good news, but good news, unfortunately, does not sell newspapers and radio and TV stories," Fredericksen said.
"But in international journalism the pendulum swings. For me to maintain a career in international journalism would probably mean relocating to Bosnia. At this point in my life, I would rather enjoy the comforts of home and use my international skills and growth in this business at WOI."The rapid growth of Bangkok without the aid of urban planning also has created intolerable air pollution and traffic problems, said Fredericksen. These conditions provided further persuasion to return to Iowa.
"In some areas in Bangkok, you can walk faster than you can drive," he said.
When Fredericksen considered returning to broadcast news in Iowa, he was surprised at what he found.
"I didn't rule anything out when I returned, but I was disappointed in the deterioration in broadcast news, not only in central Iowa, but everywhere I've been since I returned," he said. "That disappointment drew me to WOI and the kind of programming they have maintained. This level of credibility and reasonable approach to news without the hype and sensationalism is the reason I am so delighted to be here. "WOI is a station of the people and doesn't have to be held prisoner by ratings and commercial accounts. We can concentrate on the kind of news the other stations aren't doing, which is a distinguishing factor the audience notices," he said.
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