It was Friday, August 2, 1991.
After my second interview a few days earlier, I got a call very quickly asking me to come in for a third interview. That was good.
I’d also found out from Joe Hanson – the keeper of all broadcast lore in Twin Cities radio – that I was on a short list; me and my co-worker at KDWB, Steve Konrad (who was going by the air name “Wally Pike”, and was producing the “Steve Cochran” morning show. It was down to the two of us.
The previous weekend, Steve had walked in to the control room at K63, and we’d chatted about the incongruity of it all. I laughed, and pointed out that I had some pressure; I had a baby whose due date was four days away. “Gotta figure out how to pay for it”, I chuckled, not feeling all that funny at the moment.
But it was time. I drove out to the KSTP studio, out on Highway 61 in Maplewood, and was ushered into Morris’ office. I sat at a table with Morris and a consultant. The consultant will remain nameless – partly because I don’t entirely remember his name, and partly because really, all broadcast consultants are the same. This guy was one of about 500 consultants around the country who were claiming credit for Rush Limbaugh’s emergence as the savior of AM radio.
We chatted for a bit, we talked about my vision for the station. I had thought out a pretty coherent one; get people to work on the ABCs of broadcasting – the station IDs, the cross-promotion, better call screening (not “tighter” so much as more strategic – bumping better callers, and women, farther up in the queue, that sort of thing), which would move some of the responsibility for the shows’ pacing to the producers, who had been operating as a bunch of glorified board operators for the past couple of years.
There was some give and take; the consultant was poking away pretty hard – but I don’t think he stumped me.
After about 45 minutes, Morris said “I have no doubt that you have the intellectual background and experience to do the job. My biggest concern is that you’re going to try to get on the air”. She knew, naturally, that that had been my big goal. And it still was, to be honest.
But I fielded the hopper; “that’s not what this job is about. I’ll have other focuses”.
Then the consultant fired back. “So you did a conservative show?” I affirmed. “Why do you think Rush Limbaugh is as successful as he is?”
“Because there is a huge base of conservatives out there who have been grossly underserved by the traditional media, and who are finding a voice on talk radio that they’ve never really had before”.
“No!”, he pounced. “Rush is successful because he’s irreverent. Because he takes politics and has fun with it. He could be talking about sports, or cars, or real estate; as long as you’re having irreverent fun with the topic, it’s all the same”. He extolled Bob Yates (of whom I was a big fan), and Turi Ryder (of whom I was not, but who was someone the station had hired at the consultant’s direction) as examples of where talk radio was going.
I put the pieces together in my head. They see me as a political talk partisan. Steve Konrad is the producer of a “comedy” talk show. He sees “comedy” with a thin topical veil as the future of talk radio. He’s got his mind made up already.
I could feel the water leaking into the boat. I started bailing.
“Have you ever heard of a guy named Don Vogel?”
“I’ve got his tape, but I haven’t heard it yet”.
“I used to produce him. Give him a listen. It’ll show that I’ve got good chops at both kinds of talk radio”.
Things slowly fizzled after that. They thanked me for coming out. And the body language said that that was as far as I was going to get.
I found out on August 6 – my baby’s due date – that I didn’t get the job. And that Steve Konrad had given his two weeks’ notice at KDWB.
I also heard some other things – things I’d suggested in my second and third interviews. The station’s hosts got a lot more punctual about “formatics” – giving the station’s IDs in and out of breaks, giving several of the four Arbitron diary identifiers every they did an ID. Barbara Carlson softpedaled her “political insider” persona, in favor of her “big crazy personality” one.
And a few months later, Don Vogel started on the afternoon shift, in place of the afternoon guy they had in place that I’d mentally noted I was going to get rid of anyway. His producer – in his first fulltime radio job – was Tom Mischke, who’d been the “Phantom Caller” during my time producing Don.
Oh yeah – and when Joe Hanson, whom Steve Konrad eventually hired to produce first Mischke and then Jason Lewis, next worked with me on the Northern Alliance back in 2004-2005, he told me the consultant had finally averred that his whole “people don’t care about conservative talk because they care about conservatism” line was the biggest mistake he’d made in his career.
So I made an impact – not that I got anything out of it. And it did grate on me. Bad.
But the time was coming fast to move on from that part of my life.