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Iowa History Daily: December 15 - "Mr. State Fair" Bill Riley

Iowa History Daily: On December 15, 2006, Bill Riley Sr. passed away. Known as “Mr. State Fair,” Riley left a legacy of entertainment embodied in the annual Bill Riley Iowa State Fair Talent Search competition.

Born and raised in Iowa Falls, Riley went on to attend Ellsworth College before finishing his studies at Loras College in Dubuque. After a stint in the army, Riley started working for KRNT radio in Des Moines. Branching out into television early in his career, Riley first held a television broadcast of the Iowa State Fair during 1946.

In 1959, Riley started hosting talent competitions for Iowans ages 2 to 21 after approaching Fair Secretary Lloyd Cunningham with the idea. Traveling town-to-town, the Bill Riley Iowa State Fair Talent Search drew entries from thousands of Iowans eager to display all sorts of talents and unique abilities. The shows proved a popular hit at the fair immediately.

For decades the shows offered a chance to shine for Iowans throughout the state. Riley handed the official hosting reins over to his son, Bill Riley Jr. in 1997, but continued to represent a significant presence at the fair for the rest of his life. Annually, nearly 100 local shows take place across the state with preliminary competitions for Sprouts (ages 2-12) and Seniors (ages 13-21), followed by the semi-finals and, ultimately, the selection of six Sprout champions and one Senior champion at the Iowa State Fair. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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