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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Bill Riley tradition comes to BV Fair

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

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Storm Laker Ron Hott grew up playing the accordion and studied theater at Buena Vista University. For years he has been enjoying the state's talented young people by attending the Bill Riley Talent Search events at various fairs and events around the state, as well as hitting as many of the finals as possible at the State Fair.

"I've always thought that Storm Lake should have a Bill Roley Talent Search of its own. I've tried to talk people into taking on the project, but eventually, you realize that if you have an idea, you need to try to do it yourself," says Hott. "With all of the talent we have around here, we should showcase it."

The first Bill Riley Talent Search at the Buena Vista County Fair will be held Saturday, July 14, 7 p.m. at the grandstand.

Show admission is free, and everyone is invited to attend.

Acts can sign up until July 1. Applications are available on the Buena Vista County Fair website.

The Bill Riley Talent Search is open to young people age 2 to 21. Contestants do not have to reside in Buena Vista County. With Sac County no longer having a show of their own, youngsters there are particularly invited to join in the BV show.

With a limited time to get people signed up, Hott asks everyone's help in getting the word out. All kinds of performing talents are welcome - so far, those signing up seem most interested in vocals and dance, he said.

At least four acts in each of the age divisions - Spout and Seniors - are needed in order to sanction the show, which will allow the first place winner of each division to advance to compete at the Iowa State Fair.

The shows named for the late Bill Riley are an Iowa tradition.

In 1946, Iowa Falls native Bill Riley emceed variety shows held at the Iowa State Fair by KRNT radio. In 1957, Bill approached Fair secretary Lloyd Cunningham about showcasing talented kids at the Fair. Two years worth of convincing later, Bill Riley's first Iowa State Fair Talent Search was held. By August of 1959, Bill had crisscrossed the state holding numerous talent shows. During the Fair, the state's brightest young stars performed for delighted Fairgoers.

"Our daily shows started at 2 o'clock," Bill recalled. 'They were so popular that people weren't attending the afternoon shows in the Grandstand, so the Fair Board asked us to move our start time to 1 o'clock. Then, people went on the Grandstand, but they got there late. So finally, we started our shows at noon."

Affectionately known as "Mr. State Fair," Bill retired from the Talent Search in 1996. That same year, the Plaza Stage was renamed the Bill Riley Stage. In 2006, Bill celebrated his 60th Fair. He passed away in December 2006.

Today the Talent Search is still thriving. Nearly 100 local qualifying shows are held across the state for Sprouts (ages 2-12) and Seniors (ages 13-21). Bill Riley's son, Bill Riley, Jr., continues to host the show at the State Fair.

It has taken several months of work to get a Bill Riley show established for Buena Vista County, but Hott hopes it can become an annual tradition, and that in future years sponsors can be added to allow for prizes.

"It will be just one more great reason for people to visit the Buena Vista County Fair," he said.