MANKATO — KTOE DJ Al Travis has been taken off the air after media reported his ties as a paid advertising consultant to Congressman Jim Hagedorn.
Travis, whose real name is Al Travis Thielfoldt, was taken off the air to avoid “a perception of bias,” Radio Mankato co-owner Matt Ketelsen told listeners Tuesday morning.
“We don’t want our radio stations to have that distrust,” Ketelsen said. “We’re going to make sure we take any possible bias off the table.”
At issue is whether Thielfoldt, who has been paid by the Hagedorn campaign in a consultant role since 2017, should have disclosed his relationship to southern Minnesota’s Republican representative on-air during several interview segments between the two during the past few years.
Aside from his job hosting “Al in the Afternoon,” Thielfoldt hosts the Minnesota politics show “Between The Lines” and runs his own marketing consultant business, Innovative Marketing Techniques. In that role, Thielfoldt has been paid $872,930 by the Hagedorn campaign for advertising-related work since 2017.
Thielfoldt told the Minnesota Reformer in an interview he had purchased ads for the campaign over the past few years but denied any impropriety or Federal Communications Commission violations. He also denied taking money from Hagedorn to have him on KTOE.
While media experts told the Reformer Thielfoldt could come under FCC scrutiny based on his relationship with Hagedorn, he’s unlikely to have violated federal law if he didn’t directly accept money for interview time. At the same time, KTOE wouldn’t face any legal repercussions as long as the station didn’t accept money to put Hagedorn on-air without offering the same opportunity to his Democratic opponent, Dan Feehan of North Mankato.
“There is nothing functionally illegal about him having Jim Hagedorn on his program,” Chris Terry, a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in broadcast and FCC policy, said earlier this month. “He could have Hagedorn on there literally every day and it wouldn’t trigger any sort of legal problem.”
Terry said the relationship between Thielfoldt and Hagedorn could be considered “ethically shady” but such circumstances aren’t unusual. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s relationships with local radio DJs received similar scrutiny around the time Walker was first elected governor in 2010, according to Terry.
This also isn’t the first time Thielfoldt’s work with a candidate came into question. He did similar ad work for 1st Congressional District Republican candidate Allen Quist in 2012. Thielfoldt disclosed his relationship with Quist to listeners after questions arose over a $4,000 payment to Thielfoldt’s company became public.
KTOE and Thielfoldt describe his job at the radio station as a program host and “entertainer” rather than a journalist, meaning Thielfoldt’s lighthearted interviews with area politicians and local leaders aren’t held to the same journalistic standards as news reports.
Still, Ketelsen said Tuesday morning, the radio station decided to avoid any perception of political bias this election season by taking Thielfoldt off the air for now.
“We’re going above and beyond to prevent any perception at all of how we cover news here in the Mankato area,” Ketelsen said.
He also said KTOE is following FCC guidelines and takes its role in the community seriously.