- Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Thank the radio industry for helping to create the name that became nearly synonymous with hunting and fishing in South Dakota.

Anthony Eastman DeChandt II needed — it was clear — an easier handle for his work in radio and as an auto racing announcer, and he found one: Tony Dean.

South Dakota’s outdoors would never be the same.

But Tony Dean’s South Dakota story really begins in Iowa, oddly enough, the Pierre Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/1Gz6JZQ ) reported.


Dean was living in eastern Iowa, working as a radio station assistant manager and part-time auto racing announcer. The job was good and he’d been promised a gig as a station manager once the corporation he worked for bought a new station. Still, there wasn’t anywhere to go hunting. Public land was scarce there weren’t too many pheasants in Iowa during the 1960s — and not so many ducks, for that matter, either.

“Oh, it was horrible,” said Tony’s wife, Darlene, recalling the couple’s time in the Hawkeye State. “When Tony was growing up, there were pheasants everywhere.”

Then again, Tony grew up in Mandan, North Dakota, where he was used to a different class of hunting.

In Iowa, Tony tried everything he could to occupy his time, from fly fishing for carp in the Cedar River to hunting for rabbits with a pair of beagles. The beagles didn’t work out so well.

The dogs tended to range quite a bit and would never give up a trail, even when it was time to head home.

“He’d take his jacket off and leave it in the field,” Darlene said. “He’d go back later in the night and the dogs would be so exhausted, they’d just curl up in the jacket.”

When one of the beagles went into heat, Tony left a window open in the garage where the dogs were living. It wasn’t long before the beagle had a run in with the neighbor’s poodle.

“We had the first batch of beagle-poos in the neighborhood,” Darlene said. “Tony was beside himself.”

The lack of hunting and fishing in his life led Tony to become fairly well-known as a sprint car racing announcer. He travelled around Iowa and the eastern U.S. for racing events. Tony even called a few races at Talladega, Darlene said.

“I think it kept him sane,” Darlene said. “He loved the races, but I think it was just a filler.”


Tony had grown up on the western banks of the Missouri River as it flows through North Dakota. He grew up in a time when a kid who loved to hunt and fish could pretty much walk out his back door, shoot a few grouse or catch a few bluegills and bring them home for dinner that evening.

Darlene met Tony when she was a high school senior in Bismarck. At the time he was working for a local radio station and making extra money as a disc jockey for sock hops, according to his long-time friend Carl Madsen.

“I think he made a lot of money doing that,” Madsen said. “He said he spent it all on cars and girls.”

When they started dating, Darlene said, she became intimately familiar with all the stock dams, sloughs and puddles that might have held fish in the Bismarck area. She also learned a little about one of Tony’s favorite pastimes - duck hunting.

“He just was in hog heaven duck hunting,” Darlene said smiling. “I learned to never buy a pair of waders and wear them and I learned never to go out and retrieve a duck, that’s not my job.”

Tony loved radio, Darlene said, but eventually he went to work for the TV station KXMB in Bismarck. Not long after they got married Tony took the assistant station manager gig in Cedar Rapids. That was in 1962.

In 1968, the Deans got the news they’d been waiting for. Tony was offered the job as station manager for a small radio outfit in a little town on the Missouri River. Its call letters were KCCR.


Tony spent two years on the Pierre radio scene, according the Mandan Historical Society, before he resigned after being asked to move back to Iowa.

As luck would have it, the same day he left the radio station, South Dakota Gov. Frank Farrar offered Tony a job as his administration’s press secretary. He spent a little over a year working for the governor.

It was then that Tony came up with the idea of a radio show about hunting and fishing in South Dakota with a focus on conservation. He pitched the idea to the Game, Fish and Parks Department and started producing South Dakota Outdoors Radio.

Soon after he started work on a similar show for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called Great Lakes Outdoors. Those shows were the start of a long career in outdoor media.

On a trip to Garrison, North Dakota, in 1975 Tony ran into USFWS Special Agent John Cooper for the first time. They had a few friends in common and Cooper at least had heard of Tony already because of the radio shows.

“Think I met him on a boat ramp,” Cooper said.

As it turned out, they had a lot of similar ideas about wildlife, hunting and fishing. So when Cooper found himself assigned to the USFWS office in Pierre in 1978, the two became friends.

“We got to talking about smelt,” Cooper said of one the pair’s earliest conversations. “There was a lot of debate about smelt back then.”

The smelt Cooper was talking about were rainbow smelt. Cooper said he and Tony both felt smelt would probably be a good thing for Missouri River reservoirs. Eventually rainbow smelt would become one of the biggest reasons Lake Oahe became known as a trophy walleye fishery.

Before smelt, the northern pike was the fish of choice on Lake Oahe.

Walleye demand a much different method of angling than pike. And Tony was on the leading edge of the walleye revolution thanks in part to his friendship with Bob Propst, who pioneered a lot of modern walleye tactics, Cooper said.

Tony, Cooper, Propst and others authored articles and even a book about walleye fishing on Lake Oahe. Those years helped build Tony’s reputation in the outdoor community. He kept up with his radio show too.


Tony decided to dive into television in 1985. He had seen the hour-long hook and bullet shows of the day and thought maybe he could do things differently, Darlene said.

“He was always interested in TV,” she said. “When he finally jumped in and decided to do TV it was very different because he was a one-man-band.”

Tony also was forced to take on a bit of risk.

Time on a broadcast network was expensive and it had to be bought ahead of time. There were a few times that TV buys for the show hit the $500,000 mark, Darlene said. Plus there was the equipment. A TV camera could cost as much as $10,000 and then you still needed to buy the hardware to edit your tape.

“When you were a W-2 wage earner in Pierre making $20,000 a year, that was a good wage,” Darlene said. “When you go from that to looking at an $80,000 to $90,000 piece of equipment you have to be very confident that you’ll get those contracts . so yes, it was a struggle.”

It also helped keep Tony focused, she said. There were no guarantees that he could sell enough advertising to pay for the TV time.

For the first several years, Tony worked out of his basement. He would shoot the show with a cameraman from Iowa who would then edit the episodes at a TV station back in that state. That worked, Darlene said, but it was far from ideal.

What worked really well for Tony, however, was his show’s format. An episode of Tony Dean Outdoors was only about 15 minutes long. That meant Tony could air 13 episodes in a season. The hour-long hunting and fishing shows of the time were airing four episodes per season, Darlene said, so he could actually sell more advertising.

The other thing that went Tony’s way was how he edited the show.

“The thing that made Tony’s show stand out was that you saw him warts and all,” Cooper said. “The main reason I think Tony did the show was to give people the confidence to get out.”

“He never took himself too seriously,” said Paul Lepisto, Tony’s cameraman of 18 years. “If he lost a fish at the side of the boat or missed a duck coming into the decoys he’d look at the camera and chuckle and if someone else was there they’d rib each other because everyone knows that’s part of hunting and fishing too . There was never an effort to scrub the show.”

By 1989, Tony was ready to move out of his basement and buy his own camera and editing equipment. He just needed someone to run it. That’s when seven-year veteran of the KSFY-TV bureau in Aberdeen Paul Lepisto gave him call. Lepisto was a recent transplant to Pierre and thanks to his broadcast news career, he had the exact skill sets Tony needed.

The first show Lepisto filmed with Tony was about shore fishing for northern pike. John Gilkerson was the guest. Lepisto learned a lot about filming outdoor television that day.

“The thing about being a camera man on an outdoor TV show is you can’t relax and enjoy the trip,” He said.

Tony was not one to micromanage the editing process, Lepisto said, and there were very few arguments about how the show would be put together. That, he said, was because he and Tony had the same attitude about the show. One of the biggest things they agreed on was incorporating a conservation message into as many shows as possible.

“He knew that for us to have sustainable fish and wildlife populations, we need habitat,” Lepisto said. “Tony always tried to make that connection, that link.”

As the years went on, Tony’s conservation message became more urgent.


Tony Dean dedicated a huge portion of his life to conserving the lands and waters of North America for future generations. That dedication to the cause earned him many friends and a few enemies along the way.

Tony’s drive, Darlene said, came from his experience in Iowa and watching public access dry up in both the Dakotas.

“He saw it go from public lands to private lands and don’t walk on it, don’t fish on it,” Darlene said.

One big battle that Tony found himself fighting was over a bill in the South Dakota Legislature intended to cap the length of conservation easements, said Lepisto, who now works for the Izaak Walton League. Tony felt it was a landowner’s right to sell a perpetual conservation easement on their land if they wanted to, Lepisto said, and he spent a lot of time fighting that bill.

“What he saw was there is not enough focus on conservation at the business level,” Cooper said. “He went after the tourism groups . He was a strong support of the Fish and wildlife Service and the National Resources Conservation Service . Sometimes that got him crosswise with some people.”

Tony was a life-long Republican in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt, Lepisto said. But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tony started to work with South Dakota’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, on the Farm Bill.

That, Cooper said, didn’t sit well with some of the more conservative elements in the state. It even led to a letter campaign aimed at getting the sponsors of Tony Dean Outdoors to pull their support, Cooper said.

“He was criticized by some of the conservative folks who felt he went to the dark side,” Cooper said.

For Tony, Cooper said, conservation was more important than the letter in front of somebody’s name.

“His attitude was there’s room for all this stuff in the middle,” Cooper said. “But then you’ve got these extreme liberal goofy wild-eyeds, who in many cases don’t have the science to back up what they’re saying, and then you have these wild-eyed conservative people who think if ‘I can’t make any money, it’s no good’ . (Tony’s) attitude was there’s a balance.”

Much of Tony’s advocacy focused increasing public access to hunting and fishing. Through it all, Darlene said, Tony practiced what he preached.

“As many people as Tony knew we’d still go to public land,” Darlene said. “He just didn’t think it was right if he knocked on somebody’s door and someone gave him permission. Because he knew it was Tony Dean asking permission, not just anybody.”


On Oct. 19, 2008, Tony died after suffering complications from abdominal surgery.

A few months later, some of his friends started conversation around a table at a celebration to mark the loss of their friend.

“When Tony passed away it was a wake-up call to all of us old guys,” Cooper said. “We thought if we couldn’t do something for Tony it was a flaw in our character.”

The effort, dubbed Tony Dean’s Acres, ended up buying roughly 1,800 acres of land to be used exclusively for wildlife management and public hunting. Along the way, the folks behind Tony Dean’s Acres created a new model for funding habitat programs.

The idea wasn’t new, Cooper said. In fact, he and Tony had spent hours talking about the need to combine conservation dollars from multiple groups into single targeted efforts. They’d both watched as land values climbed and conservation funding dwindled and thought a new approach was needed.

To their minds, one of the best ways to maximize the money that was still there would be to create partnerships among conservation groups and target money from each group at a single project.

“It’s a very simple concept, but you have to bring all these pots of money into one concentrated effort,” Cooper said. “That takes a lot of work.”

The folks around that table in 2008 figured they needed at least $100,000 of their own in order to spur other groups to action. Where that money would come was first of many challenges.

Tony provided a solution to that dilemma. He had stacks of hunting and fishing gear stockpiled in his office. It was gear he’d been given by sponsors and potential sponsors such as fishing rods and reels worth hundreds of dollars.

They started in 2009 and had compiled all the money they needed by 2011. After that it was all about buying land. To maximize the effect most of the acres purchased were directly adjacent to existing state Game Production Areas or federal Waterfowl Production Areas. The WPAs and GPAs were squared off and made easier to manage for wildlife.

“It’s a prime example of what conservation groups can do if they work together,” Cooper said.

Cooper said land was only purchased from willing sellers with the intent to square off existing public land to make it easier to manage. Most of the land Purchased as part of Tony Dean’s Acre was in the Prairie Pothole region of northeast South Dakota or in the “pheasant belt” in the James River valley.

I think he would love it,” Madsen said of Tony Dean’s Acres. “The education program particularly. It’s a great tribute to him.”

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