King of the Kilohertz. That was one title my favorite radio announcer gave himself. Steve Cannon, a radio genius, would carry on four-way conversations with himself via goofy characters like Ma Linger and Morgan Mundane — all voiced by Cannon in flawless, uninterrupted dialogue. I marveled at how his mind could keep each character in his or her lane with never a flub, all done live. It’s been nearly a quarter century since Cannon’s last broadcast, although you can Google to hear air checks. I’d been reminiscing, as we geezers do, reminiscing about my radio favorites — peerless newscasters Dallas Townsend and Charlie Douglas, who for decades hosted an all-night truckers’ show on New Orleans’ WWL.
It’s been nearly nine months now since I signed off for the last time, and I don’t miss being on the air as much as I worried I would. Sure I miss the immediacy of being in on all the latest local developments and the repartee that kept you on your toes. And I got sentimental recently when KTOE’s Logan Krengel played excerpts from my last live show. I even began to fret about how voice-tracking and podcasts and syndication might pre-empt the local immediacy that for me always made radio magical: that one-to-one bond you get listening to a live human sharing thoughts. Soon I was recounting some of the legends of Mankato radio that I got to work with over 40 years.
I returned to Mankato for good in late 1977. I had been part of the notorious announcers’ strike in 1976 — and maybe someday I’ll write about that, but it is still too painful for many after all these decades. I was rehired at KYSM-FM to do the six-midnight shift on the country station. For a couple of months, I’d come in just as Brad Nessler was wrappng up his afternoon stint on the AM side. And yes, that was the Brad Nessler who with his wife would move dozens of times over the next two decades chasing what he gradually found: big-time announcing gigs, eventually replacing legendary Keith Jackson. Today Brad is a principal announcer for CBS Sports. But it all began with Steve Wolf’s great radio regime at KMSU in Old Main. I barely ever said more than hello to Brad in the couple of months we overlapped at KYSM, but he was a genuinely nice guy who kept his eye on the prize.
There were other great products of Wolf’s KMSU program: Jan Loft became the first female announcer in Minnesota to host a morning show. She eventually moved to Marshall to chair the Department of Speech and Drama at Southwest State. Casey Lloyd is closing in on five decades as the Voice of MSU Maverick sports. When they moved me to mornings, Casey and I would have great fun with his Scandahuvian alter ego, Sven Svendelson, trying to understand country music and society in general. Sven thought it hilarious that Jimmy Carter had his hemorrhoids operated on by a Navy doctor who was literally a rear admiral.
Someday in Radio Heaven, I would like to cover an encounter between Howard Stern and J. Michael Shaw. At KYSM-AM in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, before FM forced music off the AM stations, the late J. Michael would traipse the KYSM halls lugging multiple huge ring-binder notebooks filled with music charts. He knew every No. 1 hit that had ever been played. If you told him “Boogie Oogie Oogie, Get Down!” was a stupid song that shouldn’t get played, he’d declare, “a No. 1 hit!” and proceed to quote how many weeks it had topped the charts and how many copies had been sold.
When I moved to KTOE in 1988, I was too late to meet the notorious Dr. Bob. Brought in to goose ratings on our new KDOG-FM sister station, he was Mankato’s version of a shock jock. I reached out to him in another southern Minnesota city a couple of years back, wanting to profile him, but 35 years on, he was not interested. I seem to recall he was let go after asking a young female listener on the air if she’d like to take a shower with him. The listener’s father, a major sponsor, was not amused. Happy trails, Dr. Bob!
At Rod Trongard’s funeral, Pastor Steve Kosberg said we had lost “the voice of God.” Probably the most magnificent voice ever to grace local airwaves, Rod could thunder about sports as if he were Moses presenting the Ten Commandments. Off the air, he would regale us with tales of his glory days in Twin Cities radio broadcasting the Vikings and Gophers, or announcing AWA pro wrestling and hanging out with Vern Gagne, Hulk Hogan and Baron von Raschke. Rod spent the second half of his Hall of Fame career in Mankato radio.
I need to praise more of these greats who prove that just because you live in a modest-size town doesn’t mean you have to suffer mediocre talent. But I’m up against word count, so for now, this is Pete signing off.