No happy trails for WCCO's Malmberg

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2009 - 10:11 PM

Late-night radio host of 12 years was fired and didn't get a chance to bid farewell to listeners.

The smooth, friendly and rich sound of host Al Malmberg's voice on WCCO Radio has been silenced before he ever got a chance to say goodbye to his listeners of 12 years.

Malmberg, 57, was fired last week in the latest in a series of cost-cutting measures taken by the CBS-owned station and by other media outlets in the Twin Cities and elsewhere around the country. The station also let go Brad Walton, who was behind the microphone on weekends overnight for about the same length of time as Malmberg.

"I've never had a more loyal audience," said Malmberg. "You are a companion, and people felt like they knew you. Unfortunately, that's been lost."

Malmberg grew up in Richfield and remembers as a child hearing his father, Larry, play the accordion as a live in-studio musician for WCCO Radio and later WCCO-TV.

"He took it hard," Malmberg said, recalling when he told his 85-year-old father the news. "I think he took it harder than I did."

Malmberg's slot has been filled by Jon Grayson's CBS-syndicated "Overnight America," heard weekdays from midnight to 5 a.m. Its other markets include St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Boston.

Turning to syndication overnight breaks "The Good Neighbor's" practice of having only locally produced programming.

WCCO program director Wendy Paulson described Grayson's show as not syndication but a "custom simulcast" between the four stations. Local weather coverage will continue overnight.

Malmberg said he asked his bosses at the time of his firing, " 'When is my last night?' And they said, 'Last night.'

"I couldn't say goodbye to my audience. It took me 25 years to make it to WCCO."

He even had in the back of his mind how he wanted to sign off if he had been given the chance to plan his final show. "I would put on Roy Rogers and sing 'Happy Trails,'" he said, reprising how he departed for WCCO from his own nationally syndicated radio talk show that was based in Colorado Springs, Colo. "It would have been hokey, but it would have been cool."

Paulson said "Al and Brad were beloved by our listeners, and we completely understand that." She said their departures were because of "economic events that we are not immune to."

The station is "exploring ways to let Al say goodbye" to his listeners, she said.

Malmberg described his time at WCCO as "a great 12 years. I can't begin to tell you. 'CCO was heaven."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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