My Story didn't start and end in the Twin Cities. There was much before Minneapolis – St. Paul and much after. I can't dismiss the ten years, four radio stations, eleven apartments, friends and enemies, rumors and facts, or the successes and failures. And that is why, unlike most stories, I'll start in the middle. But first, a quick visit to the beginning.
It started in high school. I had a friend named Nick Jollymore who listened to Dick Biondi on WLS in Chicago; there was a new intercom system in the high school which was used to play music for the cafeteria during lunch; I liked to perform; I hated school. Put all these things together with radio school, radio jobs in Blythe, Austin, Cedar Rapids and Green Bay, and in 1968 I got my first Minneapolis/St. Paul radio job at WDGY.
There was a kid named Earl Trout. You can never forget a kid named Earl Trout. Wait a minute. His name was actually Earl L. Trout III. That should always be pronounced as Url El Trowt the Third. A name you can never forget. Earl L. Trout the Third was from Blythe, California. I think his father was the high school principal. I was in Blythe because my first job was in Blythe, California (a story for another time) and it was here I met Earl L. Trout the Third. Earl Trout was a high school kid who worked part-time and week-ends at KYOR in Blythe. God, it was hot in Blythe. This wasn’t your normal hot. This was your Africa hot. About three weeks before I left Blythe, the temp was 115. When I left Blythe (never to return), I also left the heat and Earl L. Trout the Third.
At this point we need one of those movie scenes where the calendar pages blow off into the wind to show the passage of time. Or you can imagine you are watching a play about Rob Sherwood and here the curtain closes for three years to denote the passage of. . . three years.
In the summer of 1967, I was working in Green Bay, Wisconsin and I was King of the Hill, Cock of the Walk, Deacon of the Discs, Rajah of the Records, Poobah of the Platters. See how easy it is to get carried away. It‘s hard to believe that at one time DJ‘s talked like that. Let’s just say that things were good in Green Bay in the summer of 1967. Until I went on vacation. In July of 1967 for the first time in my broadcasting career, I was getting a week of paid vacation and was on the way home swinging through the Twin Cities.
In Minneapolis/St. Paul, as far as I was concerned, there were three radio stations: (there were actually about 30) My three were WCCO, KDWB, WDGY. The only reason I include WCCO is because in the 50’s and 60’s you could no more ignore WCCO when talking about radio than you could ignore the tomato sauce on spaghetti. WCCO was in a class by itself. It was a weird combination of chit-chat, farm news, weather, community news and reputation. It worked but no body will every be able to tell me why. KDWB and WDGY were Top-40 and most aspiring DJ’s at radio school dreamed, along with me, of someday working at one of them.
So, I am on vacation for the first time in my career. An actual paid vacation. I was driving home via Minneapolis/St. Paul. As I drove across Central Wisconsin on my way from Green Bay, I began to get that tingly anxious feeling of anticipation that comes when you get close to home; or close to the places of your past. As I crossed the border from Wisconsin into Minnesota, I was getting just close enough to start listening to KDWB. The station of my dreams. My goal. My Nirvana. KDWB was a highly directional station with studios and tower field in the far reaches of suburbia east of St. Paul. The Minnesota/Wisconsin border was closer to the station than downtown St. Paul. The six towers on rolling pasture south of Highway 12 on, of all things, Radio Drive, created four directional signal lobes with KDWB's 5,000 watts. Two very small signals went east and south. The northern lobe was a bit more powerful and got the signal to Forest Lake up on Highway 61. The western lobe was the pisser. It swept across the entire metropolitan area of St. Paul, Minneapolis, the southern suburbs of Richfield, Bloomington, the western suburbs of St. Lewis Park, Golden Valley, Minnetonka, Hopkins, and the northern and northwestern burbs like Crystal and Fridley. This triumph of directional radio continued across southern Minnesota, into South Dakota and on a good night caught a few listeners as far away as Montana and Idaho.
I wasn't coming in from the west, so I was almost within sight of the tower field before I could listen to Channel 63. When the signal cleared at about 9:30 that night, I was already passing the field of red lights and the cement block building where the DJ on the air was sounding “big-time”.The DJ sounded familiar but I couldn’t place him. One thing I knew while listening. That should be me. I should be on KDWB. After all, wasn’t I the King of the Hill, Cock of the Walk, etc. back in Green Bay where I was doing nights at a 1,000 watter, WDUZ. Soon, the DJ would identify himself and I would have a name. I waited and waited and then. . . the DJ said his name.
Confusion! Denial! Shock! Jealousy! Suddenly my stomach felt like I had bottomed out in an elevator. I knew then how a criminal feels when the cops knock on the door. My first-ever paid vacation was ruined that night when the DJ on KDWB identified himself as Earl L. Trout the Third!
How the high school principal’s son from Blythe, California had gotten to KDWB was a story I learned later, but the fact it had happened to him and not to me was devastating. If an acquaintance of yours won a super lottery would you really be happy? If you answer honestly, I don’t think so. Especially if it was an acquaintance far enough distant to mean you wouldn’t be getting a “gift”. That’s how I felt. I was being passed by. I was being left behind in a cloud of dust I was history. Earl L Trout the Third had won the lottery!.
I went back to Green Bay a week later with that hollow feeling still in my stomach. I wasn’t happy to be back on the air. I hadn’t enjoyed my vacation and was sleeping poorly, obsessed with the image of ELT the Third on KDWB in Minneapolis/St. Paul. And that obsession, and a rather shabby will to succeed at all costs, made me do something I should have done more often in my life. I analyzed the whole situation and did some serious self criticism. I compared tapes of my show and tapes of DJ’s in Chicago. I got a tape of Earl L. Trout the Third and compared his show to mine. I asked myself the question: “Why are they there and I am here?”
The answer is: I sucked.
What success I was having in Green Bay was, I guess, because my competition sucked even more than I sucked. It wasn‘t hard to hear the difference between what I did at WDUZ and what they were doing in Chicago, in Little Rock, in Oklahoma, in Minneapolis/St. Paul. They didn’t suck. I did. In July of 1967, I began trying to sound like a major market DJ. The change was dynamic and listening to my air-checks, my confidence restored . I was back on track and two months later felt comfortable enough to send an air- check to KDWB and WDGY. It was this tape that caused the WDGY Program Director, Scott Burton, to call me in for an interview.
I got the job. It wasn’t KDWB but it was Minneapolis/St. Paul.
And now My Story can begin.