July 08, 2004

State of Twin Cities Radio, 2004

Last year, I did a long post in which I reviewed every talk show on the air in the Twin Cities.

The local talk market has changed a lot in the last year; I figure it's time to give it another shot.

I'm going to try to review programs i every daypart, at all the major local talk stations:

  • KSTP, the big talk blowtorch here i the Twin Cities. The station that Limbaugh built. As pointless full disclosure, I worked there from 1985-1987.
  • WWTC, the Salem network affiliate. Mosty network programming, with the exception of three shows on the weekend. Dislosure: I host one of them.
  • FM107, KSTP's sister station. Literally. Even Hubbard staff call it "chick talk"; it's talk radio aimed at women.
  • WCCO, once the highest-rated major-market station in the US, now just another middle-of-the-road player.
  • KSMM/WMIN - the two frequencies currently carrying "Air America" and other liberal programming. Managed by Janet Robert, former mud-slinging congressional candidate.
  • KNOW, the local MPR news-talk affiliate.
I'll go through the whole schedule, show by show.


  • KSTP - Bob Davis - A huge improvement over the dreadful "Woedele and O'Connell". Davis is the first decent morning show KSTP's had since the first incarnation of Babs Carlson - which was the first decent morning show it had ever had. Fun, funny, worth tuning in. Handicapped, at least to me, by the fact that I have a hard time listening to talk radio in the morning.
  • WWTC - Bill Bennett - Salem rolled out Bennett in, I think, three months ago. It's...there. Good guests, very sober, very rational - none of which make it the kind of thing I want to hear in the morning. Bennett would be a great mid-day show, but I think he's terribly miscast in the mornings.
  • FM107 - Ian Punnett - I like Punnett. Rigorously, scrupulously intellectual, with frequently-fascinating takes on events and life. The kind of person I'd love to talk with (and in fact I may try to do just that - I may try to crash one of his "Dead Theologians Society" meetings). The problem is, I only listen when I'm in my car - in 15-20 minutes snips. Punnets dissections of events and ideas can go on, and on, and on. And on. I never hear the beginning or the end of any idea with Punnett. It drive me crazy.
  • WCCO - "Garrison Keillor's Material On Parade - No, not really, it's actually Dave Lee. But close. That's what I wrote about the Dave Lee show last year. I see no reason to change.
  • MPR - Morning Edition - Generic public news/talk product. Happy to say, though, that Cathy Wurzer is finally broacast-quality talent.
  • KSMM/WMIN - Morning Sedition - Even if these guys were conservative - as in, traded in three hours of conservative cant and conspiracymongering, and told three hours of oh-so-naughty-and-"edgy" conservative pseudo-blue jokes and Sue Ellicott put me in an olympic-caliber liplock, the show would be an embarassment. To conservatives. And humans.

Late Mornings

  • KSTP - Ron Rosenbaum and Mark O'Connor - I'll disagree with some of my NARN colleagues; Rosenbaum has improved as a host. He's had to - he's been saddled with Mark O'Connell, perhaps the the deadest radio weight in the Twin Cities, as his "sidekick"-voice of radio experience.
  • WWTC - Laura Ingraham - Her forte is skewering current events. Few hosts are better at this. She's not a great interviewer, though.
  • FM107 - Laura Schlesinger - Every show has one bon mot of genuine wisdom. Every show also has four or five moments where Schlesinger tears into someone based on having mis-heard what they said, launching into a canned rant on a subject that isn't even tangential to the call. It's her right, it's her show - and it's become rote.
  • WCCO - Pat Miles - So light, it would fly away at the sneeze of a baby.
  • MPR - Midmorning with Kerri Miller - A huge improvement from Cacklin' Katherine Lanpher. Miller brings the ability to conduct a non-fawning interview, and some actual broadcast chops to the table.
  • KSMM/WMIN - Wendie Wylde - Or Wendye Wilde. No, it's actually Wendy Wilde. Former really bad WCCO host, Wilde and her four - that's four support staff (executive producer, two producers, and a researcher) spend two hours a day gurgitating talking points from One wonders - why four support staffers when simply reading MoveOn, Daily Kos and would save them so much money? Oh, yeah - Wilde is a wretched interviewer. Wretched. Ghastly.


  • KSTP - Limbaugh - Gotta hand it to Rush - not only is he the father of conservative talk radio, he's the father of liberal talk as well. FrankenNet exists as a response to Rush, down to the promos for Franken's show ("Drug-free radio" - not only is it petty, but given that Catherine Lanpher is a famous lush, supremely ironic). Every time he opens his mouth, someone in Highland Park loses 20 seconds of life expectancy.

  • WWTC - Dennis Prager - Intensely intellectual. Almost too much so. When he's talking about a topic that interests me, there may be no better host out there; he's thorough, and intensely intellectual. When he's talking about something I could care less about, it's pure tuneout. He's excellent - but his vocal tics drive me crazy to the point of tuning out at times.
  • WCCO - Kim Jeffries - Remember what I said about Pat Miles being lightweight? Jeffries is worse. Still better than Kym Wylde, though.
  • MPR - Midday with Gary Eichten - Still the best show that's ever been pieced together from random interviews and taped segments.

Early Afternoons

  • WWTC - Michael Medved - As intellectual as Prager, but more listenable. Stresses taking callers that disagree - and then shreds them within an inch of their lives. Liberals barber endlessly about the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity - but Medved is the one they should worry about. Still, sometimes hard to listen to; you know you should be listening to Wagner, but somtimes you get tired of all the intellectual stimulation and need to listen to some Toby Keith. Still, just about the best thing on the air.
  • FM107 - Kevyn Burger - Kevyn could easily be the best host on 107. She's hamstrung, I think, by the station's "all soccer-mom topics all the time" format. Still, the one host on 107 I think I could consistently enjoy. I say "could", because like 99-odd-percent of the Twin Cities' listening audence, I don't tune in.
  • MPR - All Edition Things Almanac Talk Of The Nation - Still impeccably produced talk, guaranteed to offend nobody. Every time I remember Juan Williams, I thank the good lord for Neil Conan KSMM/WMIN - The O'Franken Factor - I've criticized this show so often, what's left to say? It's overproduced-yet-amateurish, overstaffed yet it sounds slapdash, Al Franken is a huge star and makes a million a year (maybe) and yet he doesn't have the skills that'd get him hired on his merits in Des Moines. If it were a conservative show it would still be a embarassment.

Afternoon Drive

  • KSTP - Garage Logic - I used to enjoy Soucheray, before his endless recycling of the curmudgeon schtick got old. Then tiresome. Then beyond self-parody. Dull, dull, dull. The Rookie, I've come to realize, is the most underrated presence in Twin Cities radio - listening to him, I realize how much of the burden of this self-adulatory, self-indulgent institution rides on his shoulders.
  • WWTC - Hugh Hewitt - Last year, I said "I should totally dig Hewitt. I'm still waiting for the blinding flash of Hewitt epiphany. UPDATE: I'm told that the flash of epiphany is inevitable." I was told right. Hewitt's show is just about the best current-events show on the air. He's as good an interviewer as there is on talk radio. He gets new media. Disclosure: I'm a bit in Hewitt's debt - he put a lot of oomph behind the original proposal for the Northern Alliance Radio Network. That has not change my opinion of his show.
  • FM107 - Lori and Julia - I can listen to fingers scraping on chalkboards all day. But even if I couldn't, it would be better than this terminally-and-yet-interminably awful mess. The only show in town not better than Wyndye Wylde.
  • WCCO - Don Shelby - I can't think of a single reason for this show.
  • MPR - All Things Considered - They replaced Lorna Benson with the audibly-crusty David Molpus in the past year or so. It was the perfect move to sand off the last projecting bit of audible variety on this very, very staid-to-the-point-of-catatonia show.
  • KSMM/WMIN - Ed Schultz - Imagine the Chinese wanted to build a knockoff of the stereotype of an American talk show host 0 loud, intellectually vapid, but adept at pushing buttons in a way that Wieyndieye Wieyelde and Al Franken just aren't, who automatically fills in with hours of endless prate and gabble of MoveOn-surplus talking points. That's it - the Chinese built a knockoff of Sean Hannity. There is no there there.


  • KSTP - Sean Hannity - He's like a right-wing Ed Schultz. He's more substantial - he's a smarter guy than Schultz - but at the end of the day, he's a talking point machine. They're talking points I largely agree with - but that doesn't make the show interesting.

  • KSTP, next - Chris Krok - Someone who audibly wants to be Sean Hannity. Unfortunately, he has no apparent talent.
  • WWTC - Savage Nation - OK, so the Chinese blew it makig their medicre, liberal copy, Ed Schultz. This time, they went over the top, and created a host that is calculated to push every button, all the time. That's Michael "Weiner" Savage. For those of you who thought Morton Downey was kind of restrained.
  • FM107 - Dr. Joy Browne - There are still glaciers younger than Browne. Before Doctor Laura, before Sally Jesse, there was Joy.

  • WCCO - Some sports show that I've never listened to, and likely never will.
  • KSMM/WMIN - Janeane Garofalo. A college radio talk show. Only without the audience. Sam Seder is, unaccountably, even worse than Garofalo. A horrible show.
  • KSTP - Mischke - Benefits, I think, fro its move to 10PM. Still my favorite night-time radio around.
  • WCCO - Al Malmberg - In a category of its own. Beyond awful. It sounds like a parody of late-night talk shows; Malmberg, a seeminly-purely-middle of the road guy, brings less sizzle to a call-in segment than Gary Eichten. Stumbling, bumbing...words fail me. Could become a camp classic
  • FM107 - Clark Howard - Consumer talk. Never heard it. Never will.

Posted by Mitch at July 8, 2004 12:12 PM | TrackBack

You failed to note the signal act of kindness that Bill Bennett did for Patriot listeners. He replaced a REPEAT of Michael Savage in the morning slot. That was just what I needed -- Michael Savage to go to sleep by and Michael Savage to get up to. Bennett may have prevented me slashing my wrists. That's a Virtue in my book.

Posted by: Lars Walker at July 8, 2004 01:13 PM

Excellent round-up Mitch!

It's been years since I spent serious amounts of time listening to talk radio. But from the times I do check in, your analysis is spot on.

Taking it from an overall quality level, KSTP has really gone in the tank. They always struggled in the morning. But not long ago from 11am through midnight they were the best thing on the dial. The station definitely re-geared itself to be the "Soucheray station," and I'm sure that's helping the ratings of that particular show. But the rest of their lineup has become a mess. Bob Davis is the only good new show. Mischke is still brilliant, but isn't on in a competitive timeslot. The loss of Jason Lewis, the Limbaugh time delay, the decision to give Rosenbaum and O'Connel a show, the inexplicable hiring of no-talent Cris Krok... yuck. Hannity is certainly popular, but he's no reason for me to tune in.

WWTC currently owns the airwaves for me. Except for Savage, they don't have a bad show.

Posted by: Doug at July 8, 2004 01:31 PM

Spot on. For fun, flip between Medved and Sooch; the difference in energy levels is the difference between a nuclear power plant on Monday morning and a windmill on a still day. Most of the time I have no idea what Sooch is talking about, either, because he doesn't restate the topic often enough. If at all. And you're right about the Rook - very talented guy, but I wonder whether he'll ever shed the Ed McMahon role. His own comic skills are being infected by Sooch's mannerisms - which themselves are second-hand echos of Reussie routines.

Rosenbaum has improved, but the constant cynicism gets tired as well. "Nuthin's on the level." It's like Holden Caufield after a lot of money. And now O'Conner tries to out-cynic him as well, so they can be two cool guys who are too smart to believe in anything. For local events, they're useful, but for national issues - meh.

The only word that describes the elevation of Chris Kroc is "inexplicable."

Posted by: Former KSTP listener at July 8, 2004 02:44 PM

Great round up of weekday talk radio here. I didn't know some of these shows existed.

I've been a KSTP listener for a long time and have recently been taking in more of The Patriot. I can't listen to the Rosenbaum/O'Connor show, no matter how much Rosenbaum has improved. It seems to me they try way too hard to be "balanced" to the point that Rosenbaum begins to sound like a defense attorney for a guilty-as-sin defendant.

Anyway, I enjoy listening to the Northern Alliance on Saturdays. Keep it up.

Posted by: Gary at July 8, 2004 02:54 PM

Nice recap!

The loss of Jason Lewis really messed up KSTP's whole schedule, or at least manangement used that as an excuse to mess it up. Soucheray's semi-retirement (as in zero show prep), and annoying non-talents like Rosenbaum and Krok make me wonder just how serious the house that Rush built is.

Bill Bennett is a work in progress, but has one huge advantage over Bob Davis: you never hear that jangling Menard's banjo at +12 db every 15 minutes. I still would like to see the Patriot go local mornings. Give Bennett the first 40 minutes, NARN the last 20 each hour!

I think the internet will be a significant delivery vehicle for talk radio. I subscribe to Rush 24/7 and Prager, sparing me several hours of commercials each week. So when is NARN 24/7 coming out?

Posted by: Rex Newman at July 8, 2004 07:56 PM

Hands-down, the most listenable intellectual show on the air is "Extension 720" out of WGN-AM, Chicago. The host, Milt Rosenberg, is a retired prof (social psychology, I think) from the U of Chicago. Where else can you listen to, say, a discussion of the Peloponnesian war one night and snobbery the next? A-list guests, too.

The show is available on streaming audio, and some "best of" archives are also on line. See

Posted by: John at July 8, 2004 08:45 PM

How can you do a talk roundup that eschews KFAN? I know it's ostensibly a sports talk show, but Dan Cole (12-2), Chad Hartman (2-4:30), and Dan Barriero (4:30-7) are about 70% current affairs. (Well, Cole is 30% his golf game, 40% current affairs.) Yes, they'll talk Purple when it's football season, but they'll also talk politics. Indeed, I would argue that Barriero is the best talk show host, sports or no, in the Twin Cities.

Posted by: Jeff Fecke at July 9, 2004 12:17 AM

Wow - much to cover here:

Lars - I was going to write about that, but forgot. Yes - on less Savage show is a Good Thing.

Doug - good roundup of KSTP. My theory - their current program director (Joe O'Brien), who came from Rochester, inherited a winning franchise from his predecessors. That franchise was VERY stable in radio terms for most of a decade. He never really need to act like a PD until this past year; it's his first big test in a major market. We'll see how it goes.

Former - bingo. Exactly, on all counts, including the cynicism of the Rosenbaum/o'Connell show. I hadn't thought about that, at least not overtly. Great point - it's an oppressive feature of that program.

Gary - Yep. Rosenbaum does try very hard for balance - which used to be the norm on talk radio, but no longer. I don't think this is a lawyer thng - some of the best, partisan talk show hosts (Hewitt, Medved, Ingraham, and for that matter Rocketman and Big Trunk) are lawyers. I think it's both a Ron thing and a Hubbard Broadcasting thing. They've never been comfortable with the "conservative" label, which makes sense in a way - they're local businesspeople. Most businesspeople who depend on a local market are cautious about politics.

Rex - NARN in the morning? Hmmm. That's one thing about the NARN; it's a fairly self-limiting concept. We're a bunch of guys who are pretty successful and happy in our regular careers; I doubt KSTP could afford to pay the 12 of us enough to ditch our day jobs, much less the Patriot (although I'd love to see an attempt). Streaming - just about ready for prime time.

John - I've heard of Milt. I'll give it a listen.

Jeff - Others have told me about KFAN. I never (ever!) listen. The few times I've listened, I've founding appallingly...unlistenable. I should give it another try. I'll rank it next year.

Posted by: mitch at July 9, 2004 06:50 AM

You forgot the Patriot II's morning contribution of Mike Gallagher (sp?). Sometimes when Ingraham is bad, its a good alternative.

I used to be all AM1500, but can't really take Rosenbaum and O'Connell (the nattering nabobs of negativity) any more. Then they lost Jason Lewis. Then they pushed Limbaugh back an hour on tape delay. (I never called, but not having the opportunity anymore, makes it seems less connected.) And Soucheray has seemed to have become a boat without an anchor, just windblown and adrift. I really think that Hubbard has messed up what was a good franchise.

So now I find myself listening to the Patriot offerings more, but due to their weak signal, I often use KRLA's stream on the web.

Posted by: Loren at July 9, 2004 10:30 AM

When KSTP started its downward slide, I found Catholic Family Radio at 1280 to be a good substitute. Chat shows with intelligent guests and hosts discussing topics of the day, some church related, but most societal. They were at 1280 at the time, and we know what became of 1280.

Now, WMNN 1330 is Catholic radio. It is hard to distinguish from the old Catholic Family Radio in style, but it is a different organization. Whoever's on in the 8 to 9 hour is my new alternative when Laura Ingraham is too far affield. Today's topic: stem cell research. It's a little worn as a topic, but it's not the catechism.

Posted by: Tim at July 9, 2004 01:07 PM

I thought it was the rule whenever we discussed talk radio we were supposed to lament the absence of James Lileks from the airwaves and look forward to his return. Mischke's the best thing at 10? Yeah, until the king returns.

Next year at the Diner.

Posted by: Tim at July 9, 2004 02:56 PM

Barriero the best talk show host in town? The man who revels in wallowing in the mushy middle of politics? The man loves nothing more than setting up straw men on the left and the right and then smugly knocking them down? Please. Spare me the intellectual pretense about how much smarter you are than the rest of us because you refuse to stake an identifiable ideological position Barriero. I have far more respect for the Al Frankens of the world than I do the Dan Barrieros.

Posted by: chad the elder at July 9, 2004 04:29 PM

This was a terrific summary. The only thing that would have made it better is some hint how the various programs are performing in the marketplace. Or, perhaps more relevantly, who is doing well and who is doing less well.

The best talk radio has a host with superb interviewing skills. This is why Hewitt is so good and why, despite their obvious success, Ingraham and Hannity, are not. At the risk of starting a food fight, I've heard some very good interviews by Shelby and Eichten as well.

But there is one quality that is absolutely indispensable; the host has to know something. It is always embarrassing when (true story) the host goes on at great length about Iraq, but really isn't too sure where the Kurds, the Sunni Triangle etc might be located.


Posted by: gba at July 10, 2004 04:18 PM

as my name implys, i happen to enjoy KROKTALK on KSTP...Bob Davis goes a million miles an hour in every direction and its sometimes hard to keep paying attention...Mark and Ron are nothing but "devils advocates"...they have no opinions, they dont get emotional about anything, and are just uninspiring...Limbaugh, well what can i say? he started it all...Souchery is fun to listen to, but only if youre set to listen to the whole can go for two hours without hearing anything remotely entertaining, but then POW it comes in and comes in hard...its starting to get old though...i dont like Hannity too much, just a Rush-clone with too much, KROKTALK, actually talks about things i have real opinions have to understand where he came from in order to understand what his progrum is all about...he talks about subjects that arent even important, in terms of politics, and that gives a nice rest from the right-wing onslaught of the day...Mishke, well, hes the reason i started listening to talk radio...he never gets old...CTCAM is my second fav to listen to

the loss of Jason Lewis was a HUGE blow to the KSTPs talent pool...when he was here, i listened to Lewis religiously...he had such charisma and character, sometimes rivaling Rush himself...i was extremely disappointed when he left

i dont listen to anything else but KSTP, including FM

Posted by: krokhead at August 2, 2004 09:22 PM

A month later!! A few comments to throw in:

KSTP - Davis = Good. It could be better, but it seems to be a mismash of Mischke non-sequitors and Limbaugh conservatism. Kodiak is a good sidekick. Limbaugh an hour shifted doesn't work as well...knowing he keeps his show live and current. GL is still GL, and I still think its the best local talk show. Krok needs to be fired. Mischke is the best kept secret on the dial.

Patriot - Hewitt, NARN = Good. Savage = annoying jackhammer. PatriotII = waste of airspace, save for the Hewitt replay at 8pm (which will be useless in a month or two when KYCR becomes hard to get across the street at night).

Strait Jacket Radio/WMIN - I never thought liberal talk would be so full of kooks and hacks. I mean, I've heard Alan Colmes a few times on XM, and he seemed okay. After a few "aren't we so funny" comments and claims that Bush knowingly let 9/11 happen to boost his wallet, I stopped considering them as worthy counterpoints, and let them join the fruitcakes at KFAI on their flight to the mothership.

WCCO is like the best friend from High School you don't have much in common with anymore, but still stay in touch with anyway. They've got the Twins, so that's a good thing.

Posted by: Eh Steve at August 4, 2004 01:28 AM

Your estimation of Franken's show is really off base. Politics aside,the show is as entertaining and intelligent as just about anything else on. Get over your politics and try to be objective.

Posted by: tmace at August 19, 2004 01:51 PM

TMace - I started in radio when I was 16, when I was still years away from becoming a conservative. Before I cared about politics, I cared about good radio. About the technique and art of good radio, I am as close to objective as anyone you'll meet. That's why I disclaimed my comments on FranketNet's programming with "even if it were conservative..." - because *as radio*, politics completely aside, it's just plain bad.

Posted by: mitch at September 6, 2004 05:54 PM