CHICAGO – If anything could cheer up cranky KQRS host Tom Barnard, it should have been his induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
For the most part, the Twin Cities morning-radio kingpin wore a brave face — as well as a bargain-priced tuxedo from Amazon — during Thursday’s ceremony at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, posing for endless pictures with industry executives, cutting his beef dinner with a butter knife and enduring long-winded speeches from other honorees.
But the broadcaster who has ruled the Twin Cities morning airwaves for three decades by treating his coffee mug as half empty showed his gray colors when it came time to take the podium himself.
“What a crowd, huh?” he said, channeling Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian who hinged his career on harping that he got no respect.
Barnard thanked his family and supporters in attendance, including MyPillow founder Mike Lindell and cosmetic surgeon Ralph Bashioum, for keeping him on the straight and narrow by constantly threatening him. He ridiculed an introductory video that showed him at his heaviest weight and most confrontational mood.
“I sound pretty positive right now compared to that video,” he said. “That’s the best you can do?”
Afterward, he poked fun at some of the other speechmakers while holding court in a private room off the Peninsula Chicago Hotel’s bar, popping nuts in his mouth and craving a cigar.
But for much of the day, Barnard was all smiles. He couldn’t help himself.
The honor makes the Minneapolis native a member of an exclusive club that includes Jack Benny, Casey Kasem, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Orson Welles. The only other Minnesotans in the 29-year-old institution are Garrison Keillor and broadcast pioneer Stanley E. Hubbard, founder of KSTP radio and TV.
Barnard also was clearly tickled that the event took place in Chicago, where he launched his lucrative voice-over career in his mid-20s by recording a McDonald’s commercial.
He celebrated that 1977 breakthrough by dining alone at Gene & Georgetti. On Wednesday, days away from his 66th birthday, he returned to that famed Italian restaurant near the Chicago loop, this time with a group of friends who included his current boss, KQRS operations manager and program director Scott Jameson.
In an introductory speech at Thursday’s ceremony, Jameson praised his most valuable employee for his support of local law enforcement and a “no B.S. swagger and tell-it-like-it-is” approach to broadcasting. “His longevity and success in the Twin Cities is unparalleled,” Jameson said.
Jameson made his remarks on a “Saturday Night Live” set that was part of a museum exhibit about the show. During the pre-ceremony cocktail hour, Barnard reluctantly posed next the sweater worn by Stuart Smalley, the “SNL” self-help character created by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who isn’t exactly on the KQ personality’s Christmas-card list.
Among the seven other 2017 honorees: Country-music gatekeeper Bobby Bones, who was cheered on by tennis star Andy Roddick and recording artist Rodney Atkins, and Top 40 personality John Records Landecker, whose guests included daughter Amy Landecker, lead actress in the Amazon Prime series “Transparent,” and her boyfriend, “West Wing” star Bradley Whitford.
Radio host and Fox News personality Sean Hannity canceled at the last minute, citing breaking news. Robin Quivers, Howard Stern’s sidekick and the only woman to be inducted in 2017, was a no-show.
Barnard had one of the largest, but least star-studded, entourages. He had hoped that Steve Dahl would be on hand, but the longtime Chicago-radio favorite, whom Barnard started following in the 1970s, had no interest in sitting through such a stuffy affair. He did invite his fellow broadcaster to pop by for a 10-minute, on-air interview during rush hour, an appearance Barnard seemed to treasure at least as much as the induction.
“You taught me to tell the truth. Whatever comes out, comes out,” Barnard told Dahl in the WLS studio. “I’ve followed that dull rule ever since. You’re the best there ever was; no one will top you.”
Barnard was less emotional at the ceremonies, choosing to keep his remarks brief and straightforward. But he managed to muster enough good spirits to close his speech on a sweet note.
“I’m not even religious, but let me say this,” he said. “God bless all of you.”
He shuffled back to his table, perhaps grateful he hadn’t been seated next to Stuart Smalley.