It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XXX

My Malibu was dead.

No, not dead. Just terminal. I thought.

It was Wednesday, June 25, 1986. It had been a wettish spring, which meant my trusty ’73 Malibu wouldn’t start for love or money within eight hours of any precipitation. Which played hob with my job schedule.

This week had been the worst; I’d had to get rides to work with Rob Pendelton two straight mornings.

I figured it was time for a change.

I’d started fishing through the classifieds – and found my dream deal, a ’78 Jeep CJ7 for a very nice price.

But it had a manual transmission.

I’d been driving for about seven years – but I’d never been in a straight stick before. The cars I’d learned to drive in – my dad’s ’73 Fury and, later, a ’77 Bonneville – had been automatics.

I had tried once to drive a stick; at a radio station in Carrington, ND in 1982, I didn’t have a car, and I needed to get to a remote broadcast. The secretary lent me her Chevette. I killed it 17 times getting out of the parking lot. It took me 25 minutes to drive the eight blocks of Carrington’s main street to the Foster County Fairgrounds, site of the remote. I ended up pushing the ‘vette into a parking spot and walking the last block through the fairgrounds.

Fortunately, one of my roommates had just bought a brand-new Toyota Celica; hot, gorgeous, and a five-on-the-floor. She offered to take me out and show me how to drive a straight stick.

Memories are dim; the salient ones:

  • Grinding gears. “Mitch, could you not do that?”
  • Killing the engine eight times in one block, trying to get out of first gear.
  • Roommate looking at me, face green with impending illness, revulsion ill-concealed in her face.

She drove back to the house.

Undeterred, I called the owner. I needed a car, dagnabbit.

By “desk”, by the way, I mean a surface about the size of a coffee-table book stuck next to a rack of satellite gear, which I shared with morning drive producer Allison Brown.  KSTP’s old studios on Highway 61 were, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, a bit like working in a submarine, with electrical gear in every nook and cranny, waffleplate floors and steel stairways, a big diesel engine wedged into a back room.  And my “desk” was like something out of “Das Boot”.

Anyway.

It was five minutes until the start of the Don Vogel production meeting.  I put all my material into a manila folder, took three deep breaths, and walked out the door into the front hallway, to Scott Meier’s office.

I knocked.

“Yeah, Mitch?” Meier said wearily.

“So – when do I start?”  I always figured the aggressive route wouldn’t screw me any worse than the passive one.

Meier groaned lightly.  “All right.  How about Sunday night, 2 til 4AM?”

I stopped.

I never expected it to actually work.

“2AM to 4AM?”  My heart started racing.  “Sure”.

“Do it Sunday night.  We’ll see how it goes after that”.

How to answer?.  “Cool!”.  And “Thanks”, as an afterthought, as I walked away.

I stepped into the production meeting, and after giving the customary greeting (MITCH: “I’ve been having trouble with my bank.”  DON AND DAVE: “What bank is that, Mitch?”  MITCH: “The S**t P**s F**k Bank!”), sat down and put my cards on the table.

“Meier gave me a slot!”

Don and Dave erupted in congrats.

“So when?” asked Don.

“2-4AM, Sunday night and Monday morning”

Don and Dave erupted in laughter.

But it was a start.

The word got around the station during the meeting.  By the time Dave and I went into the control room to start the show, everyone knew, although it’d be a stretch to say most of them cared.  2-4AM was out there, even by KSTP’s modest standards.

As we got ready to start the show, newscaster Karen Booth – who also hosted a weekend program on KSTP – spoke.

“So what kind of show are you going to do?”

“News with a conservative point of view, mostly”, I allowed.  Why fight it?

Karen seemed to recoil.  “Conservative?”

“Yep” I flipped as the Vogel opening theme started.

“Is this a bit you’re doing, just to get on the air?” Booth asked, “or is that actually what you believe?”   Karen seemed to find it genuinely implasible that I, guitar player and broadcaster and generally cool guy, could possibly really be a conservative.

I think I eventually convinced her.

Booth, of course, was the opposite; after several years at Minnesota Public Radio including a stint as their “chief political correspondent”, she went on to serve as the DFL’s communications director.

But that was all in the future.  I had a show to plan.

And it occurred to me; as much as I’d fantasized about this day for the previous several months, I really had no idea what to do.

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