Freddie Bell, if that is his real name, loves broadcasting as much as speakers enjoy oozing out his voice.
Bell is back in the Twin Cities after a 13-year absence, anchoring the morning show at KMOJ. From 1994 to 2001, Bell was host of “Solid Gold Soul,” a morning show on AM 950. “The last year, I was living in Tampa and hosting with my morning crew back here in Minneapolis,” he said. “I lasted almost a year and they flipped the format. That morning show that you had, well, you’re going to be replaced with a stock market report. From that point, 2001, I have been trying to hold the vision, the focus to get back into morning radio. That is why I am here with you today. I speak on the power of focus. The life that I’ve focused on is unfolding here today. It’s taken a lot of years to get back in this chair behind the microphone, to reconnect in this market. Without focus, none of this would happen.”
In addition to this show, “I host a nationally syndicated general market show where we play everything from Abba to the Whispers, and then I have a talk show for baby boomers, a one-hour weekly show here in town. These three shows take up a lot of time and production. I love broadcasting, I love radio, communicating. It’s a vocation, it’s an avocation, but I have to be very judicious with that time, too.”
As you will see in my startribune.com/video, Bell is considerably lighter than he was the last time he was on the Twin Cities airwaves. He got healthy by dropping 69 pounds.
In this version of the interview, Bell gave me an interesting estimate of the number of radio personalities who use pseudonyms.
Q: What is so seductive about Minnesota that you keep coming back here?
A: I like the four seasons! But sometimes it gets a little extreme; 93 inches of snow is a little extreme. My oldest daughter is here, so those two things. If it was anything else, I wouldn’t be here, believe me.
Q: Did you ever believe you’d return to morning radio?
A: I am so grateful to be back, to connect to the people in the Twin Cities. I didn’t think it would be here, I didn’t think it would be at KMOJ. I started in the Twin Cities but it’s really a pleasure to be back and the reception is heartwarming. I can’t thank the management of KMOJ enough.
Q: But some changes are coming?
A: Yeah, I’m paired with an incredible comedian, Shed G, and this week we are adding a female voice, Chantel SinGs. I understand she actually sings. Maybe if I convince her and talk nicely enough, she’ll sing to our audience. That will be an interesting dynamic and I can’t wait for that. Larry Fitzgerald Sr. covers sports and DJ Chuck Chizzle provides a 10-minute music mix each morning at 8 a.m.
Q: What are your aspirations?
A: To do the best job we can to be a voice for our community. To do the best job we can in delivering that information. And help the folks here, the other broadcasters, to better themselves and be the best they can possibly be. I don’t have an official capacity in that area, but if there is a way I can be a help, to make more money if that’s the case, be a better announcer, I am happy to do that. As Erykah Badu told me: to be the handmaiden to help folks along.
Q: You talk about being a voice in the black community. When are black people going to get to the point where we can handle criticism that comes from black people?
A: [Laughter] When is the skin going to get thick? I don’t know if it will ever happen because of the perceived and sometimes real disparity between the ideal and where we see ourselves now. Until that chasm has been covered, I think you will always see that. I thought it would have been taken care of years and years ago, and now unfortunately in my lifetime I don’t think we will ever see that chasm bridged.
Q: Will ever-agreeable President Obama ever admit that some of the problems he encountered were because of resentment that someone of his skin tone was in the White House?
A: Indirectly, he admits that now. When he talks with the comedy team Key & Peele. They say things in their comedy sketches that the president has admitted to them that he can’t say. And if you talk to people who visit with him privately, there are some things the president has already shared along those lines, that he won’t say before a joint session of Congress. Things he’ll never say and I don’t think that he should. But in terms of being a leader where the nation should go, to fulfill his vision, I think he’s doing a credible job. There are vicissitudes everywhere, in the White House, even here at KMOJ, but we move on in spite of those.
Q: What number wife are you on, as of today?
A: Ahh, come on now. [Laugh] The same lovely wife I had the last time I talked to you. Miss Hellfinger, I lovingly call her. She does a great job, two adorable children, and I wouldn’t trade her in this season of folks getting rid of their wives for economic reasons. We stay together because we love each other.
Q: You’ve got a granddaughter?
A: An 8-year-old granddaughter. She keeps me young.
Q: When you’re playing this sexy music on the radio …
A: Oh, gosh. What about the sexy music? I try to temper it. If we can, I try to push that music down a little lower in the play list and hopefully it won’t get played. But every now and then, when they talk about licking your body, I kind of cringe because I know if I’ve got an 8-year-old out there, that somebody else does, but it’s what we play today.
Q: Is there any part of Tom Joyner’s radio franchise you would like to replicate?
A: I would like the access to the stars. We have a certain level of that, but that’s something I would really enjoy at the level where I could just have them on my iPhone or Rolodex from the old days. Just call up somebody, have them show up and give me a comment. And the money. I would love to have just some, not all of it.
Q: You’ve got a little access going on, you had Aretha Franklin when she was here for the State Fair.
A: Yes, yes. Well, I have Miss Hellfinger to thank for that — she’s just tenacious — and the wonderful folks over at the State of Minnesota Fairgrounds. I knew she was coming and we just started working feverishly to get her. When she called I’m expecting to get her people: Hold for Miss Franklin. She called me on my phone and said, I’m ready, Freddie. It was just a wonderful interview and what I took away from her as a person: much stronger person than I ever thought she would be. On top of her business and she has full control of everything that happens, that you see on stage and also on the business side. I have a newfound respect for Aretha Franklin. Oh, Lord, is she in charge. Diva doesn’t even fit. They are going to have to create a new word for her.
Q: Speaking of divas, you really enjoyed my video of ESPN’s Josina Anderson? You played my video about her on the air!
A: Yeah. I didn’t even know she was like that either [said Bell, refusing to call her a diva on camera, as he did earlier when we talked about her emergency stop at a local salon]. It’s amazing when you get to see the real person. And I have a lot of respect for Josina. Josina’s got it going on and I can appreciate the hard work that goes into what she does; a top-notch journalist.
Q: But she is a diva?
A: Yeah, when you stop and get your hair done just because you Google somebody. [The somebody being Rachel Black-Johnson, owner of Lights Camera Action Salon.] I’ve got to give her [Anderson] respect. She uses her celebrity judiciously.
Q: That’s right. I’m from ESPN were not the first words out of her mouth.
A: It was not.
Q: Did you see her official ESPN bio photo?
A: It makes me blush. So yes.
Q: Everybody else took a business pose but she looked like …
A: “Next Top Model” or something like that. Very, very nice picture. I like her.
Q: You saw that poll about how some Minnesotans would be fine with Adrian Peterson no longer being a Viking because [they] are so upset about him being charged with child abuse. His disciplining of that child was over the line, but do you think that the poll really was a referendum on his careless lifestyle?
A: I think the poll is more not knowing all the facts. Those are fickle fans. Everybody likes to ride a bandwagon. I remember when I lived in Dallas. [When they weren’t winning] there was nobody there. Soon as they started winning the stands filled up. I know people spank their kids. I got spanked. You got spanked. Everybody got spanked. But I think when it’s in the media like it was and the description of what Adrian used to spank his child was overplayed. A switch is not a tree branch, nor it is a tree trunk. I feel bad for Adrian. I think he’s a talented young man. No one’s child should be abused and I don’t think that was his intent. I believe he got caught up in the media frenzy about what was used to spank and discipline his child.
Q: After one of your spankings did you look like photos from that day in Adrian Peterson’s child’s life?
A: I’ve had marks on my legs from the belt or the switch. I was never spanked with an open hand; I wish I had been. The switch and the belt hurt. It had no long-term impact on who I am. I am fine. Disciplining is critical in a child’s life. There are certainly a number of ways you can do that, in the privacy of your own home. You’ve heard from many who were disciplined in similar ways but all of it was done in love. And I believe that is the same thing Adrian has said: He in no way intended to harm his child. I wish Adrian, his family and his children the very best.
Q: But you’ve got to admit that a “Whupping Room” and putting leaves from the switch in the child’s mouth, if true, went too far? Those are bad facts.
A: And I wonder if they’re true.
Q: Do radio people perform under aliases to make it more difficult for the media to confirm who they are when they have brushes with the law?
A: [Sustained laughter.] Not having gotten in trouble with the law, I don’t know.
Q: I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about some of your brethren, at other stations in town. I know you know what I’m talking about here. But radio people can be, rather interesting characters.
A: I think they perform under different names because it’s something that sounds good. Names that might be ear-appealing like Bobby Be Good, which was a name I considered at one time. That has more to do with it, an entertainment value.
Q: So what percentage of radio people do you think use their actual names?
A: I would say a very small percentage. The majority probably are using a different name than their given name.
Q: And making my life more difficult.
A: [Laughter.] That brings out the journalist in you!
Q: In April, Lupita Nyong’o was named People mag’s “Most beautiful” and not six months later, the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley got into trouble for describing Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful” than lighter-skinned black actors. More recently People mag got into trouble for a tweet that suggested somebody longed for the less-than-polished character Davis played in “The Help” while watching her as a powerful, articulate new character on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” What’s going on here?
A: That is so insensitive. Do they have editors at the New York Times and People magazine? I don’t understand for the life of me — unless they are trying to create material for my morning show — why those types of statements are not only uttered but put in print. [Laughs.] If I were Viola I would be laughing all the way down to the bank. The first time out, 15 million viewers. Hello. I think People magazine and New York Times are the least of her worries. I applaud her.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: [Laughter] Right now it’s sleeping. I have a syndicated radio show. I have a talk show. I have the opportunity to do the morning show. Trying to find creative ways to relax with the family is something that really is a hobby. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of work to make sure I am spending credible time, especially since demands on the morning show are really steep. I’m really guarded with the time that I have and I try to spend most of it with my family.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox 9’s “Buzz.”