It was Wednesday, March 4, 1987. I was driving to work at KSTP. I stopped at a store to pick up a few things, and picked up a City Pages on may way back to the jeep.
Backstory: A few weeks earlier, a writer for the CP had come out to the station to interview, mainly, Geoff Charles – most of us called him “Chaz” – the booming-voiced, leather-skinned, comically-narcissistic former mid-morning host who’d fleeted up to afternoon drive with Don Vogel’s departure in January. Geoff was an interesting guy – claimed to be a former state swimming champion, a former Marine who taught SEALS to swim, and a former, successfully recovering heroin addict. Many of our longtime callers reveled in trying to disprove any or all of those claims; one, “Steve from Roseville”, constantly demanded that Chaz produce a copy of his “DD214” discharge papers to prove he’d been a Marine at all.
Chaz got an endless laugh out of that.
I do know Chaz was a bodybuilder, a guy who effected a boundlessly self-adoring, arrogant-with-tongue-firmly-in-cheek on-air personality that irritated people so badly they tuned in in droves – including me. He was also, once you got to know him, a warm, personable guy who stopped by Lunds to pick up a baked chicken and veggies to share with Dave and I, his grossly underpaid producers, nearly every day. He was a change in pace from working with the zany Vogel, but it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about talk radio from Geoff; perception, in radio, is reality; relentless earnestness is boring; above all, have a lot of fun with it.
The reporter had hung around the station for the better part of a day. He talked with just about everyone in the place – myself, the lowliest peon of the bunch, included – but spent a lot of time, including an on-air interview (if memory serves, and it very well may not) with Chaz.
Skip ahead a few weeks.
I walked out of the store, leaned up against the grill of the jeep, and started reading.
I flipped back a few pages, and found the article – complete with interior shot of the old KSTP talk studio. And I read the article.
Skimmed, really. It focused heavily on Charles, who was indeed the station’s most interesting host.
It touched briefly on the morning show, with the interminable Mike Edwards and his newly-acquired co-host Lee Valsvik, in her first full-time radio gig.
Didn’t care. Skim ahead.
He ripped, hard, on the station’s array of tedious network hosts – Michael Jackson, Owen Span, Bruce Williams, Harvey Ruben, Sally Jesse Raphael…
Zzzzzz. Skim ahead…
He wrote; “Mitch Berg, a painfully polite man and unreconstructed rock and roller who thinks anyone to the left of Genghis Khan is a Trotskyite, does a conservative show from 2 to 4 Monday mornings…”
Booyah! My first press coverage!
I pasted the clip to the wall of my “office” – my coffee-table-book-sized surface jammed against a stack of satellite demodulators – as soon as I got to work.
Next stop, the big time!
The writer, of course, was James Lileks. It was his first encounter, if I recall correctly, with Chaz – which led to a series of regular guest shots (including one that will be subject for a future installment of this series), which led to a series of substitute hosting gigs, which led to a full-time show, which led back to “The Diner” in its various incarnations, which led to his weekly appearances on the Hugh Hewitt show.
And a bunch of writing, too.
I think I still have that copy of the March 4, 1987 City Pages stashed away.
Somewhere. I’m sure I do.
(But if I have it, I don’t know where – so the contents of the article are drawn completely from memory. But I’m fairly certain the quote about me is accurate, word for word. Memory is funny that way, isn’t it?)
(Oh, yeah – and James and I both got a huge laugh out of the fact that “Steve from Roseville” has popped up as a caller on The Patriot, as “Steve from Plymouth”. His voice, twenty years later, was that distinctive.)