Longtime Kansas City radio newsman Dan Verbeck, Mr. “Cruiser 980, clear,” is retiring from KCUR, 89.3 FM.
But not just yet.
“He’s out on assignment right now,” said the woman who answered the phone at KCUR when we called Monday morning looking for Verbeck.
Turns out Verbeck, 70, isn’t actually leaving the air until March.
Last time he retired was in 2008, that time from KMBZ radio, where he worked 23 years and became well known for ending his live-from-the-field reports with “Cruiser 980, clear.” The Chicago native also worked at KCMO-AM.
All told, he has worked in radio 46 years.
He’d planned to stay retired when he left KMBZ, but KCUR’s news director, Frank Morris, called within a couple of weeks and offered him a job with less pay and longer hours. But he’d be able to do more in-depth pieces.
“Working at an NPR station, it’s good stuff,” Verbeck says. “So I came over and I’ve been entrenched ever since.”
He has covered not only some of the biggest news events in Kansas City, such as the Hyatt Regency skywalks collapse in 1981, but also perhaps the biggest natural disaster in American history, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. KMBZ’s owner had loaned Verbeck to a sister station in New Orleans, where he found himself working 22-hour days.
More recently, for KCUR, Verbeck was on the scene for the Joplin tornado in 2011 — he arrived with a bag of energy drinks but without his toothbrush or blood-pressure medicine — and last year’s natural gas explosion at JJ’s Restaurant just off the Country Club Plaza.
“Dan is first and foremost a (butt-)kicking ‘streeter.’ He’s like a heat-seeking missile for hard news,” Morris says. “He wants to get there first and be right in the thick of it.
“But Dan is also the most empathetic reporter I’ve ever known. He always gets at stories from a human point of view. He cares much more about the people involved than the policy or the money or the leadership.”
Morris says Verbeck is a well-read guy, a quality that comes through in his reporting: “His on-air descriptions of tragic scenes are poetry.”
Verbeck’s plans include spending time with his five children (from two marriages, ranging in age from about 20 to about 40), reading about American history and traveling. He and wife Sylvia Stucky live in rural Platte County.
This time, the newsman vows to stay retired. “I’ve covered everything I always wanted to cover,” he says. “Nothing’s left undone.”