Funny what you think about at a time like this. I flew from Dallas to Minneapolis on a cold Saturday night to take a new job: Sports columnist, Star Tribune.
I wasn’t supposed to get this job. My best friend from college, Rick Bozich, was supposed to and he did. When the job had first come open, the sports editor, Arnie Robbins, had contacted both Rick and me to apply. I told Arnie that I wouldn’t compete against Rick. I told him he should hire Rick, and he did. On the job two days, Rick quit. I don’t know if meeting Sid had anything to do with it.
The next day, Arnie called me.
I took it not 100 percent sure it was the right move for me either. I had great suppport and newspaper colleagues in Dallas and a really good job as part of one of the best sports sections in America. I knew nobody in Minnesota. That Saturday night when I arrived it was cold and uninviting. No greeting party. I was still fighting the pain of having lost my mother to cancer at age 50 the winter before.
If I’m honest, I was thinking as I got off that plane: What have I done with my life?
Eventually, I steeled myself to the looming task by saying to myself, “Hang in. This is a way station. You’ll be out of here inside 5 years.
That was close to 36 years ago.
So what happened? Well, as the cliche goes, life happened.
Here, I met my lovely wife, International Falls girl, who has always given me the room to be me, and I love her for it. Here, she bravely gave me a daughter, Giovanna, our little Spanish girl/Irish dancer, so beautiful, so warm, so tenacious. A gift.
Here, I grew to love the town, Uptown, in particular, and grew into the job, and then started doing morning radio hits on a fledgling AM station, and was invited one day by Chad Hartman, to be a co-host on his drive-time radio shot in the afternoons. That led eventually to an amicable split, much to the chagrin of Chad’s father, who was convinced it was career suicide for me. Eventually the thing I had not come here to do or even been trained to do became so nourishing to me that I stopped writing.
Well, that and it pays a helluva lot better.
That all this would lead that uncertain 31-year-old kid, a newspaper guy who got off the plane at MSP scared out of his mind, having taken a job he wasn’t even supposed to have, to be standing before you accepting a broadcasting honor? Well, as Ron Rosenbaum, my brilliant late friend, radio conscience and confidante would say: You just can’t make this stuff up.
Here’s what might be surprising, about a guy who grew up proud to own a typewriter and trained in college to be a reporter. There was always a little voice in my head that wanted the microphone.
See, I’m the nerdy kid who grew up on AM radio on Chicago, talk radio before it was really much of a thing. I put myself asleep listening to talk on my little AM console radio, and it was better than TV for me because it was all in the voice, and your imagination. I found the whole thing mystical, magical, these voices of authority coming over a tinny speaker telling me about the world of sports, or the world. I just felt a connection. Thought to myself, what cool job.
My sisters will tell you that I used to go around our home carrying a wrought iron gizmo that was shaped a little like a microphone and I would act like I was on the air or broadcasting a game. I did this endlessly. Obnoxiously.
So even though I went to college to work in newspapers, I always had in the corner of my mind this hope to host my own radio talk show one day.
And for 30 years now, I have. But what I keep going back to, is this: What if Rick had not changed his mind? What if he had stayed in Minnesota?
Imagine what I would have missed out on here. My wife, and this kid for starters, which is really mind-blowing. Think of the people, the richness of characters, I might never have gotten to know in person or on radio. Rosenbaum. Reusse. Kessler. Chad. His dad Sid. David Hackworth. Vince Flynn. Brian Oake. Flip. Common Man… Gerbschmidt. William Morice (aka Mayo Clinic Big Knocker).
Jon Krawczynski. Lou Nanne. Glen Mason. Majerus. Kevin Seifert. Burnsie. Bud Grant. Craig Kilborn. Bill Walton. Drummer Guy. Drummer Guy?
Let me explain: The most extraordinary interview I ever had in studio might have been with a remarkable music producer and music historian named Jack Douglas, who was with John Lennon the night before he was murdered in New York. You know who got me the interview? A listener nicknamed Drummer Guy, who had a connection.
That’s been the beauty of this job: The odd connection that leads you to get somebody on the air you might otherwise had no chance to interview and then to get to know. Joseph Califano served as President Lyndon Johnson’s chief domestic advisor in the 60s. Joe’s son-in-law lives here. He put me in touch with Califano and over decades, the conversations we’ve had with him on American history? Amazing.
I will never forget the time he told us of accompanying Robert Kennedy to Arlington National Cemetery. In pouring rain RFK and Joe, then working in the Pentagon, sadly walked the perimeter, searching for the proper burial spot for Robert’s brother John, the president of the United States, who had had been assassinated the day before.
The job seems limitlesss when you can reveal surprises like these, things sports talk listeners never expect to hear.
The job can also be quite entertaining on days like when the Viking receiver Randy Moss called into the no-holds-barred Mike Tice Live show I co-hosted with Mike after another Moss controversy, and Randy and I got into an on-air argument with a shocked Tice force to turn into the peacemaker.
Some days can be more routine. That’s when it helps to have an on-air voice in the producer’s chair as good as Justin Gaard. Gaardsie. Think about this: He grew up listening to Chad and Barreiro. He ends up being my oustanding producer and fiercely loyal sidekick, the guy who knows my every rhythm, every strength and yes, every weakness. You really can’t make this stuff up.
I also think about this: If Rick had stayed, could I have ever found a station this quirky some place else? Had the same chance? Make no mistake: there has never been a radio station quite like KFAN. Ever.
Chad opened the door for me and I will be forever grateful to him for that. But bosses named Mick Anselmo, Gregg Swedberg, Dan Seeman, Chad Abbott also kept it open. Bosses who let us try different things, branch out beyond sports, didn’t demand that we stay in that narrow, boring lane, and who took the heat to protect our freedom to speak our minds.
If listeners accept listening to a sports talk show host talkng about other things, the host taking them other places like to Joe Califano or Jack Douglas, it’s because some of us were allowed to screw up, make mistakes, find a path to credibility on those subjects. Most programmers are too rigid, and lack the imagination, to give you the time to get there.
A lot of people say this, but I have the best job in the world. Reusse the writer testifies to the times he was excited to get home and start hackin.’
I feel the same way about crackin’ a mike.
Love the feel of it, the freshness of the slate each day…starting some place new, or connecting to where we’ve gone before, knowing that I might not have to wait 30 seconds for either validation or savagery to come my way after an opening rant.
I’m proud to have helped build the foundation of this station. The listener loyalty we’ve received over the decades has been unbelievable. The most loyal listener? Well, that’s easy.
My father, Jay. Listened as long as he was alive, almost every single day. Came in studio with me when he was in town.
You know I mentioned how lonely and scared I felt when I got here? Well, what truly sustained me in those early days was my Spanish family. My dad, my sisters Candi and Coach Barreiro, the first Hall of Famer in the family, my mom still in my heart. Later, newpher Tyler, brother in law Mike who is in a mighty battle of his own that he tackles with true heart.
Their loyalty, their support? Unwavering. Gold.
The watch I wear today is Jay’s old silver Bulova. He’s in the room, no question.
Finally despite my reputation as a bit of a cynic, I’d like to wrap up on this hopeful note:
I remain convinced there will always be magic in the radio, no matter how people listen to it. There are kids, and adults, frankly — cuz I hear from them ever day, seee them every State Fair — who welcome the connection with people who deliver it.
They don’t get it from syndication. They don’t get it from music. They don’t get it from clicks. They don’t get it from self-help podcasts. They get it from a local voice coming through their speaker — Ok, smart speaker these days — that they get to know, and if you’re lucky trust.
So I say, thank you Rick Bozich for letting me feel the magic here. As the irrepressible Bill Walton has often said to me: Thank you for my life!
I salute the other four inductees — Freddie and Lynn and Cathy and Dave, and I accept this award humbly and proudly and finish with an exchange I had with my wife, Catherine.
Last night, I reminded her that it indeed would be 36 years this December that I got to town. That means I have spent more than half my life in Minnesota, 24 years more than I have lived anyplace else, including my hometown of Gary, Ind.
My International Falls girl smiled sweetly and said, “But you’re still not one of us.”
Well, maybe not, maybe not, but tonight I truly feel closer to being one of us than I ever have before.
Thank you very much.