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Royals Radio Affiliate Profile: Mount Pleasant, Iowa [1130 KILJ-AM]

The Royals Radio Network is comprised of 86 affiliates and stretches across eight states. In this recurring series (previous features listed below at the bottom of the page) Royals Review attempts to give each affiliate its proper airing, celebrating the regional heritage of Royals baseball. In a sporting era corrupted by the endless quest for the big money, baseball on the radio is a decidedly low-stakes, low-tech venture. Let it always lay hidden like a strength in the backyards of the mind.

Mount Pleasant, Iowa
Population: 8,900
Miles from KC: 265

A Royal Outpost in the Heart of National League Territory

Since the fortunes of the franchise began to turn sour in the 1990s, the Royals have increasingly maintained only a shadowy presence in the state of Iowa. Although the Royals have something of a foothold in the western portion of the state (with affiliates in Shenandoah, Sioux Center and Storm Lake) this is the decidedly less populous side of the Hawkeye State. To wit, five of the ten largest cities in Iowa are east of Des Moines (Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Waterloo, Iowa City and Dubuque) while only two are to the west (Sioux City and Council Bluffs). And while the Royals have stayed on the air in Des Moines (KPSZ-AM 940 AM), thanks to the longtime presence of the Iowa Cubs, the capital city is a Cubbie stronghold. In fact, the Cubs seem to be clearly Iowa's team - they have more radio affiliates than anyone else in Iowa and WGN and Comcast-Chicago are on most local cable packages - and certainly this is the case in the parts of the state where people, actually, like, live.

As many of you will recall, stints in Cleveland and Washington D.C. notwithstanding, during the Royals Review Era I've lived in Iowa City. I can pretty clearly state that the Royals are at best the fourth most popular baseball team on campus, at least in terms of dudes wearing their gear. Thanks to the influx of Chicago kids, there's actually quite a bit of Sox fans, along with a good number of Cardinals fans, who maintain a strong presence around the Quad Cities and in southern Iowa. In four years here - goodness me, I'll be in the ground soon - I can only recall a few times actually seeing Royals fans. Once, I was wearing a Royals cap and while waiting to cross the street, a group of college guys were walking by me going the other direction, one saw me and loudly yelled something like "ALRIGHT!!! GO ROYALS!!!" The fact that I can recall this event two years later should speak to the uniqueness of the experience.

The amazing thing is however, Kansas City is not far from most of Iowa at all. Even here in Iowa City, in the eastern side of the state, KC is basically a four hour drive, and a very easy one at that (I-80 to I-35). Of course, Chicago, St. Louis and even the Twin Cities are also about four hours away, so that negates matters a bit, to be sure. Still, one of the problems the Royals face is that their actual, true geographic footprint has shrunk remarkably from what it was during the team's heyday. The Royals are only THE TEAM basically inside the KC Metro, in Kansas and in Nebraska, that's it. And the Nebraska people don't actually care much. There are still fans in the interior of Missouri, but for the moment they are still decidedly outnumbered. If the Royals ever became a great team again, there are large chunks of Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Missouri that could be reclaimed. If you look at what the Rangers have done in claiming Oklahoma thanks to use of their minor league affiliates as well as how some of the Fox Sports regional breakdowns have gone (lumping OKC in with Dallas) I think it makes sense for the Royals to go "all in" in Arkansas, especially if there is a way for the soon-departing O Royals to find a place to call home in the Natural State.

But, let us return to the matter at hand, to Battlefield: Iowa, specifically the lone Royals Radio affiliate in Eastern Iowa, the Mount Pleasant stronghold. While the Royals are the third team, if that, in this part of the state, that hasn't stopped the good people KILJ-AM from carrying Royals games. As is often the case, KILJ- 1130 AM is paired with Smooth Sounds 105.5 with the AM-side handling the news and offering country music in between syndicated conservative talk.

Unfortunately, KILJ-AM isn't quite strong enough to reach Iowa City or more ambitiously, Cedar Rapids or the Quad Cities, even at night, although it does seem likely that it can reach Burlington, a river town of some size (27,000) just to the east. Of course, Burlington is also home of the Royals Class A affiliate Burlington Bees, so maybe there are some Royals fans there regardless. Nevertheless, there's no radio affiliate for the big club, and given Burlington's promiscuous history as an affiliate (six franchisees have been associated with the Bees since 1990) it's hard to imagine Burlington's a hotbed of partisan support.

Well, Burlington bee (pun intended) damned because Mount Pleasant is home to roughly 8,900 people who may have some regular opportunity to listen to the Royals on the radio over a relatively clear signal, making it the around the 40th largest city in Iowa. Mount Pleasant is the largest city in Henry County, which is itself home to about 20,000 people, 34th largest in the state. The master plan is starting to become clear. See, first we claim Mount Pleasant, see. And once it falls, then we move east to Burlington and north to Riverside and west to Fairfield. From Burlington, we can take Muscatine and Keokuk thanks to the river, before sliding all the way down to St. Louis!

It was in Mount Pleasant that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack announced he was running for President way back in November of 2006. Vilsack made his big announcement in Mt. P because he had served as the town's Mayor in the late 1980s. Despite being one of the first candidates to formally announce he was running, Vilsack then somewhat oddly quit the race in February 2007, over ten months before the Iowa caucuses. Well, first in, first out. Curiously, his somewhat 1984 looking campaign website is still up and running. Donate today! Add Tom to your MySpace!

Sadly, Vilsack's political career began in 1987, when he replaced Mount Pleasant Mayor, Ed King, who was murdered during a city council meeting in December of 1986, certainly one of the most notorious episodes in Mount Pleasant's history. The gunman was a man named Ralph Davis, who was angry over a sewer backup at his home. Later news stories described Davis, who was 69 at the time, as a "hermit" and an "oddball". Two city council members were also shot, but survived. Davis died in prison in 1991. Understandably, this strange and tragic episode was national news, much like the recent shooting in Kirkwood, Missouri. King had been the town's mayor for eleven years, and his funeral was attended by two thousand people.

But, we would be remiss if we only focused on the sad times in Mount Pleasant. According to the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce:

In the community's early years farming was the major industry in Henry County. While the community retains strong ties to its agricultural roots, past residents understood the importance of expanding the county's employment base beyond the farm. After World War II the community began to aggressively recruit new industry to the area. This effort attracted several new businesses to Henry County and many of these continue to call Mount Pleasant home. These long-time community partners include such nationally known companies as Goodyear, CECO Buildings, Wal-Mart Distribution, Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Hearth & Home Technologies, a division of HNI Corporation.

The Harlan-Lincoln House, one of Mount Pleasant's landmarks.

While I'm having trouble finding good pictures of Mount Pleasant, I can report to you from first-hand experience that it really is a very pretty town. Essentially, it's the kind of small-town you dream about: there's a courthouse downtown, lots of pretty, picture-book looking houses with big yards in town, a train station and a small college for your viewing pleasure. For whatever reason, the Amtrak line from Chicago west takes a decidedly southerly route through Iowa - its much further south than I-80 and avoids Iowa City, Des Moines, the Quad Cities, etc. which seems dumb - and makes Mount Pleasant one of its major stops. If you went to Iowa and wanted to take Amtrak to Chicago, you'd have to drive about an hour south to Mount Pleasant to do so. Although I'm baffled by Amtrak's decision-making process, I must also admit that I've played a part in this game, having once picked up my girlfriend at the train station in Mt. P. To date, that's been my only visit to the town.

If Osceola and Ottumwa had become the biggest cities in Iowa, this route would have been very convenient for everyone!

Mount Pleasant is also home to the Old Threshers, a group I'd like to be sympathetic towards, but whose website is manifestly hard to understand. As far as I can tell, its some sort of farming group who hold a reunion each summer with concerts and such. Beyond the reunion, which features old cars and country music and good food and all that, the Threshers run the Heritage Museum in Mt. Pleasant, "To Preserve and Celebrate Our Midwest Rural Heritage". The Museum offers a replica farm house, but potentially more interesting collections like lots of old equipment - the Threshers seem to have a technological bent to their antiquarianism - such as antique harvesting devices, tractors and, more recently, a printing museum with an 1870s handpress (I'm so there!). For reasons that are less clear, there is also a Doll Collection.

Finally, Mount Pleasant claims Iowa Wesleyan College as her own. Founded in the 1840s, IWC is the "oldest, four-year, coeducational, church-related college west of the Mississippi River", but don't take my word for it. Actually, at one time, the town was also home to two other now-defunct colleges, and was known as the "Athens of Iowa". Home to 850 students, IWC offers 30 majors and a wide-variety of student activities, including some of the longest-standing organizations for women in the state. IWC offers small classes and a chance to study under the guidance of the United Methodist Church, "with which it shares a commitment to spiritual values, social justice and human welfare". One of the more interesting administrative details of IWC is their Division of Human Studies which houses, in addition to standard majors like History and Sociology, a cluster of church-related majors (Church Leadership, Christian Studies and Philosophy of Religion) along with, umm, Criminal Justice. Well, all part of the spectrum of man, I suppose.

In addition to a full slate of athletic squads, IWC offers one sorority and one frat, along with student government, a literary magazine and campus radio.

The 2007 IWC Volleyball Team listened to the Royals pretty much constantly on KILJ-AM.

Likely visitors are encouraged to visit the County's Tourism Website, which provides the low-down on where to stay - Heartland Inn's are very nice, I stayed in one for almost a week when my apartment was destroyed by a tornado in 2006 - and all the various local attractions. Just outside town lies Lake Geode/Geode State Park, where local rocks are harvested for food and used to make clothing. Lake Geode will also be hosting a triathlon this summer, so you'll want to start training for that. Then again, that may be more Burlington folk out towards the lake, and I'm not sure how we're supposed to feel about them. As for restaurants, in addition to the ubiquitous Casey's you'll find Breadeaux Pizza and Jerry's especially to your liking.

Previous Affiliate Profiles:

York, Nebraska
Conway, Arkansas
Waynesville, Missouri
Topeka, Kansas
Storm Lake, Iowa
Vinita, Oklahoma
California, Missouri
Garden City, Kansas
Belle Fourche, South Dakota
Ulysses, Kansas
Trenton, Missouri
Fairbury, Nebraska
Nebraska City, Nebraska
Winfield, Kansas