Matt Breen follows family tradition
Back in November, Matt Breen found himself awash in memories as he and a television camera crew from KTIV-TV in Sioux City visited the Warden Plaza in his hometown of Fort Dodge.
The now-vacant building at the corner of Ninth Street and First Avenue South once was the home of KVFD-AM radio — the city’s first radio station, founded 80 years ago by his grandfather, Fort Dodge broadcasting icon Edward J. Breen, who also launched the city’s first television station, KQTV.
The Warden was where Matt cut his teeth in broadcasting nearly 30 years ago when the Radio Club of Fort Dodge Senior High met Sundays at the KVFD studios to produce a half-hour weekly program.
“It looks very different,” said Breen, evening news anchor at KTIV since 2002, who was back home for a promotional campaign filming to “give our viewers a glimpse of who we are, and not just what we do.”
“The building hasn’t been inhabited for more than 15 years. The drop-down ceiling had fallen in. Windows have been broken out. When KVFD moved its studios, all of the broadcasting equipment was removed. Many of the walls between the studios were missing.
“But I could still find my grandfather’s old office. There, among the wood-paneled walls. I could still imagine him sitting behind his desk looking out the window on to First Avenue South. Maybe he was preparing the newscast that day. Maybe he was preparing his commentary. Though I don’t have memories of him in that setting, I could imagine what it was like. And, that made me very proud. In a sense, broadcasting is the family business, and my hope is that I can carry on that legacy. And, that my grandfather would be proud of what I am doing today.”
A year ago, Breen was honored for his work as an anchor, producer and reporter by the Iowa Broadcast News Association when it presented him its highest honor, the Jack Shelley Award, for “outstanding contribution to the cause of professional broadcast journalism in Iowa.” His grandfather is a member of the association’s Hall of Fame.
Breen was only 5 years old when his grandfather died in 1978 and has “impressions” of him, including watching logs float by his home along the Des Moines River. Matt’s mother Ann was an elementary school teacher and his father Fred was an attorney and district associate court judge. They divorced when he was 25. His mother lives in Fort Dodge with her husband David “Buzz” Powers. His father, who later in his career became a senior judge, is retired in Des Moines.
“My father was an attorney and both my grandfathers were attorneys,” Matt said. “It took my first pre-law class in college (University of Northern Iowa) to understand that the practice of law had nothing to do with the TV shows I watched, like LA Law.”
Breen returned to Fort Dodge and earned an associate of arts degree at Iowa Central Community College. He continued his education at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, recommended to him by a high school friend for its hands-on journalism program. He worked on the campus radio and television stations and was co-sports editor of the campus newspaper.
He was hired in 1996 as a general assignment reporter at KTIV — the station where NBC’s Tom Brokaw got his start — and moved to its sister station in Rochester, Minnesota, as a co-anchor before returning to KTIV as morning and noon anchor, later adding evening news anchor to his duties.
It was at KTIV that he met his wife Bridget, who was an evening newscast producer at the time and worked her way up to become general manager of the station, owned by Quincy Media Inc. of Quincy, Illinois. They have three children — RJ, 17, and Elizabeth, 15, who both attend Heelan High School, and Jason, 14, who is in eighth grade at Holy Cross School, Blessed Sacrament Center.
“I am a parent of three teens and I want to be as supportive of their interests as my parents were of my own,” said Breen, whose siblings are Liz, who works in home construction in Viera, Florida, and Jed, who teaches English in Beijing, China. “My parents never pressured me to become a lawyer, never pressured me to do what they expected. I was allowed to explore, and whether I succeeded or failed, my parents were supportive of it all.”
Another member of Ed Breen’s family did well in the journalism business. His nephew (and Matt’s cousin), also named Ed Breen, is a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame after work at newspapers in Marion and Fort Wayne. In retirement he does an early morning drivetime radio show, “Good Morning Grant County” where, like his uncle, he provides commentary and a forum for listeners.
Matt Breen said the Missouri River flooding in 2011 was the biggest story he ever covered.
“Most imagine a flood that rises for a short period, but the Missouri River stayed at historic flood stages for 2 1/2 months,” he said. “People were hanging on our every report to know if a levy breached, if the homes they abandoned were underwater, when they could return to their homes. That is when broadcast journalism becomes more than informative — it becomes absolutely essential.”
“For me, I was lucky enough to marry a Sioux City girl, lucky enough to work in a newsroom where I can do many different things on a consistent basis. My goal when I came here was to work two years, then move on. I found a niche, I found a fantastic community that accepted me. When people tell me we make a difference in their lives, I know I am at the right station, right position, doing the right thing.”
Breen is proud to be the grandson of Fort Dodge’s iconic Ed Breen. “He had a live call-in show; today it would be unheard of to take live phone calls directly on TV. Today, you would never imagine putting a TV station in a town of 25,000 to 30,000 people. I thought it was so brave of him.
“So many things have changed in the broadcasting industry since my grandfather’s time, it might be easier to list the things that haven’t changed. Technology changes so quickly. In my grandfather’s time in television, photographers shot on film. And, of course, that film had to be developed. And it was time-consuming. Today our photographers shoot on data cards that are the size of a postage stamp. And the video is available immediately in resolutions that could never be dreamed of in my grandfather’s time. In my grandfather’s time, a live broadcast was only done from a studio with an entire building’s worth of equipment. Today, I can broadcast live from anywhere in the world from my phone.
“I can’t say what my grandfather would think about television news today. But, I hope he would be proud that broadcast journalists continue to serve the public today, as they did in his day.”