Fans in mourning for MPR's 'Morning Show'

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2008 - 9:15 PM
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Minnesota Public Radio's Morning Show's Jim Ed Poole and Dale Connelly.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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After 26 years of what Dale Connelly proudly calls "elegant absurdity," Minnesota Public Radio's "The Morning Show" is airing its final commercials touting the Sherpa SUV by Intimida, and cueing up "Lime Jell-O, Marshmallow, Cottage Cheese Surprise," for the last time.

If you have no idea what we're talking about, go on about your business, dude.

But if you're among the longtime listeners, Thursday's final broadcast -- a free public event from 6 to 9 a.m. at the Fitzgerald Theater -- pulls the plug on one of Minnesota's quirkier cultural institutions.

"The theory is that a radio station should do the same thing well over and over," Connelly said, then added in his trademark deadpan: "And that's where we messed things up."

Jim Ed Poole should supply a rim shot right about here. Poole is retiring from MPR's pre-dawn shift, which set in motion the retirement of the show. He'll keep his gig as the sound effects guy on "A Prairie Home Companion," however, and again become the name on his birth certificate, Tom Keith. Connelly will return to work on Friday hosting Radio Heartland, a new service available on the Internet worldwide and on a digital radio channel in the Twin Cities.

The new digital show comes as some comfort to loyal listeners. Ann Christensen of Edina grew up with "The Morning Show," and has made sure that her own kids have as well. She and her sister will be at the Fitz at 5 a.m. Thursday. "To me, this is like going to the funeral of a dear friend, so I can't not go," she said. "But I don't want to sound morose. We're losing a morning show, but gaining something like it that will stream 24-7."

"The Morning Show" has been unorthodox since the beginning, when Garrison Keillor first came up with a show that poked some fun at the station's classical playlist. His first detour from tradition: "Help Me Rhonda" by the Bach Boys.

Purists of the Mozart and Beethoven ilk were aghast and began a years-long campaign to yank the show. Ironically, when the station became The Current in 2005, with its alternative rock/pop vibe of Modest Mouse and Sufjan Stevens, "The Morning Show" became a misfit for an entirely different demographic. "We've always been like wearing polka dots and plaid," Keith said.

Here are some of the reasons why, as Dale and Jim Ed reflected on their more than a quarter century of conversing while 10 feet apart:

• There was the April Fools Day when they apologized for technical problems that were keeping them off the air and asked listeners to call in if they couldn't hear them -- the better to pinpoint the trouble spots. This, of course, led to a raft of calls from helpful people who said that they were coming in loud and clear in their neighborhoods. More curious were those who called in to say they couldn't hear them.

• There were the commercials for Genway, the supermarket for genetically modified foods; traffic reports from a hot-air balloon; spots for National Talk Like a Pirate Day ("Yaarrgh."), and sports reports that lampooned a simple verb like "defeated" by describing teams variously annihilating, ravaging, exterminating and scourging other teams.

• Always, there were the song requests for birthdays and anniversaries or other moments of note. That led to some of the more delightfully obscure songs aired, such as Judy Fjell's "Middle-Aged Body with Teenage Emotions" or Marlene Dietrich singing "Blowing in the Wind." Seriously.

Connelly said that kids' requests are the show's most meaningful legacy.

"It's hard to overestimate the power of a child hearing their name on the radio and knowing that someone is talking about them," he said. "I understand that some people think that's too precious, but the whole point is to make a 7-year-old feel happy on her birthday."

After Thursday's broadcast, Keith, 61, will retire to his woodworking shop in his garage, making room divider screens and covers for radiators for a nephew with a newborn. When the snow melts, he'll work on his golf game.

Connelly, 53, will see how much of an audience will tune in to digital radio. He's said he's expecting a small but loyal following that will grow. Which doesn't sound much different from his previous 26 years.

"We were an Internet show from the day we began," he said. Then deadpanned: "Just no Internet."

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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