Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Day The Earth Changed

It was exactly 15 years ago today just before 8am CDT. Dan Terhaar and the late Mark O’Connell were wrapping up the AM 1500 KSTP morning show when video popped up on the studio TV showing something crashing into the World Trade Center. I didn’t know it then but in that moment my career and life were about to change forever.

Radio the years before 9/11 was carefree. The economy was great. In Minnesota, things were cruising along so well it could afford to make Jesse Ventura governor. Money was flowing freely at work, and my station was soaring, having mastered a unique way of building comic and quirky shows using the news of the day as material. But on 9/11/2001, life got VERY serious VERY fast, and many of the station’s hosts had no idea how to go forward. One called me wanting to cancel his show as he had no idea what to talk about. Another went on air and immediately used the 50,000 watts to scream “Nuke all the Middle East bastards RIGHT NOW”. The enormity of the situation brought fear, and fear can manifest itself in very negative behaviors. A few individuals with news background, like O’Connell and the late Ron Rosenbaum, grabbed on and steered the boat straight, but it was abundantly clear the carefree days were OVER.

For me, the already high stress level went ballistic It exposed mental illnesses inside me which I didn’t know I had, and which I’d been coping with for decades in very unhealthy ways. Eventually I quit the job, but one set of stressors were quickly replaced with others. The mental illness and I spiraled downward. I eventually found an imperfect but sustainable pace, but it took chemical dependency treatment, a couple of exceptional doctors and health professionals to discover my mental health issues and get me constructive medical treatment. I also had a spouse who stuck with me when it would have been easier to bail on me and start over.

We’ve all been living with terrorism, war and tragedy (both individual and shared) for 15 years now. That’s 11 more years than the American Civil War, 11 more than WWII, and even longer than Viet Nam. With that much physical and mental stress and damage should we be surprised at all when the world or people in it goes crazy?

Whenever I meet someone or pass a stranger on the street I always try to say hello, show a smile and treat them kindly. The battle scars on the outside can be seen, but you never know the scars and wreckage they carry around on the inside.

(Note: I didn’t lose anyone in the 9/11 tragedy. I didn’t lose a family member or have one damaged physically or mentally in military action, although a family close to me lost a son. My damage is manageable. Their loss and sacrifice are permanent.)

Strange What You Remember

Memories are fickle. Sometimes they take you back gently, clouding over the bad spots and putting halos around the good. Other times the past returns and smacks you in the face. A couple of days ago Memories flashed me back to October 22, 1989 and punched me in the gut. Like countless others I stopped in my tracks upon learning that the Jacob Wetterling abduction case had been solved, the body found, and the abductor/killer in custody. After all the years of dead-end tips and broken hopes the case had the feel of a mystery which would never be solved. But there it was, in gruesome detail, all the answers to all the questions of what happened to an innocent 11 year old snatched off his bicycle at gunpoint near his home in tiny, safe St. Joseph, MN. The killer, Danny Heinrich, a serial child sexual predator currently charged with child pornography, confirmed every one of our darkest, worst-case nightmarish horrors: Sexual abuse, two bullets, two burials, other victims.

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Danny Heinrich

It’s strange what you remember. It was late in the evening of the Tuesday following the abduction. I was in Rochester, MN and the 28-year-old Program Director at KROC-AM. We were the only local station with a link to the state’s only satellite network.  A man named Douglas Wood, a neighbor of the Wetterlings, had written and recorded a song called “Jacob’s Hope” , which radio stations all over MN were asked to play at the same time the following morning, with the hope that Jacob would somehow hear the song wherever he was and somehow know people were looking for him.

Remember, this is 1989. no one was walking around with cell phones, email was extremely limited and nowhere near able to send audio files, no websites, no universally accessible satellite downlinks. There was no Amber Alert and no apps. The newsroom was just transitioning from electric typewriters to word processing. Not only was it impossible for stations to download the song, it was impossible to let them all know they were supposed to play it the next day. Impossible, except for the old-school ways. I remember getting one shot at capturing the satellite feed (got it), then made copies on reel to reel tapes. I then got in the car late at night and delivered those tapes one at a time to every radio station in town,

The sun was coming up by the time I finished my deliveries. Everyone got the song and played it the next morning at 10am. I knew in my heart the chances of that young man hearing that song were zero. It was an exercise which made no difference, other than give a state full of people a way to show they cared, wanted to help, but had no idea how.

I can’t imagine what the Wetterlings and those close to the case have gone through the past 27 years, and in the last few days. I hope I never have to know. The case was instrumental in making states create the first sex offender databases. It marked the end of small-town innocence in this part of the country. No more kids riding bikes and running unsupervised around small towns in the summer. Afterwards kid’s activities were supervised and scheduled. No more unlocked doors at night. The loss of trust.

Strange what you remember.

Pure Imagination

Actor/writer/director/singer/national treasure Gene Wilder passed away this week at age 83. Wilder’s movie comedy stripes were earned with “The Producers” in 1968 with co-star Zero Mostel and director Mel Brooks, starting a decades-long run of some of the funniest (and profitable) hit comedies of the 70’s and ’80’s. However, the first Gene Wilder movie I saw was a commercial flop. It eventually made significant money, but not until my generation watched it repeatedly on TV and purchased it on VHS (and later DVD) as adults.

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, based on the the Roald Dahl story, may have been panned by adult critics in 1971, but for the hundreds of thousands of my pre-teen peers “Wonka” was a wonder. For the 10-year-old me, “Wonka” was a psychedelic experience affecting everything which came after.

I know that probably sounds over-dramatic, but it’s the truth. You must remember being 10 in 1971 was before video games. (It was before Star Wars, ILM, green screens, Pixar and CG graphics. It was also before Milli Vanilli, the Auto-Tuner, Japanimation, Smurfs and that giant ransom note I receive from Verizon every month, but those are topics for another day.) “Wonka” took you away and made you believe incredible things were real and anything was possible. An army of dwarves with orange skin and green hair. Soda that made you burp and fly. An elevator that goes sideways, through the roof and lands on time in Frankfurt. And that BOAT RIDE! I mean really…when was the last time you watched a “kid’s movie” featuring a real live chicken getting its real live head chopped off with a real live meat cleaver! And all the while there is Wilder, channeling the wild red-headed purple-jacketed sarcastic singer of songs telling rude children and their rude parents where they can get off the bus, all while serving as the ADULT CHAPERONE IN CHARGE! Everlasting Gobstoppers. Fruit-flavored wall paper. Bodiless human hands as a kinetic coat rack. A chocolate river that swallows up overweight German youth. A “bad egg” spoiled little girl falling through a trap door and headed for the furnace. Mike TV. SLUGWORTH!!! And all in eye-popping Technicolor, on one great big curved screen in the local Monoplex.

On June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher “Doc” Ellis famously threw a no-hit, no-run game against the San Diego Padres while on LSD, walking 8 and hitting one batter in a 2-0 win. Had Doc had a little patience and waited until the following summer, he could have saved himself a lifetime of headaches and just bought a ticket to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. To my knowledge no one has ever had to answer to authorities for pitching a major league baseball game while sucking on an Everlasting Gobstopper.