My Minnesota: A voice from the past lives on in the present

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2012 - 10:08 PM
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Bruce Gordon, director of communications for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety,

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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If you were listening to talk radio in the 1990s, chances are you heard Bruce Gordon read the news on KSTP. He was a familiar voice on the local airwaves right up until . . . well, the time when he wasn't anymore. But that's radio.

It's an industry staffed by itinerants -- town to town, up and down the dial, as the WKRP theme song put it. But he didn't go. He's still here, but now he's helping to keep You, the Public, safe and sound. He's the director of communications for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Which means what, exactly?

"We respond to media inquiries about topics involving our many divisions -- State Patrol, Homeland Security, Driver [and] Vehicle Services."

From Al-Qaida to getting your tabs: That's a wide range. Are you ever tempted to put out a press release that just says "EVERYBODY RUN, NOW"?

"We like to be a bit more specific," Gordon says. "They may run in the wrong direction. See, that's where the professionals come in."

What happened to the radio career? "There came a time -- I think this happens in the lives of many in broadcasting -- there comes a time when you think: 'Shall I continue on this path, which is insecure and volatile? What does it do to my family?' My time was coming to an end at a radio station in St. Cloud, and the options were Cincinnati or Kansas City."

Neither, you'll note, is based in Minnesota -- which is where he always wanted to be. So he returned home, went into public service, and bid farewell to radio. "When I was growing up, I would listen to radio under my pillow at night, so my parents wouldn't know I was staying up. I'd sneak a listen to 'CCO or WLS. It was always my dream to be in radio, so after some time at broadcast school I left Minnesota and went to a small station in Montana." He laughs and quotes Ted Baxter: "It all started at a small 5,000-watt station. It always does."

He came back to KSTP AM 1500 in the Twin Cities, where he worked with legendary newsman John MacDougall. "He did everything he could do to intimidate me from day one. But it was one of the most wonderful times in my career, sitting next to a legend and a gentleman."

Johnny Mac died in 1993, and it's hard to imagine a place for people like him in today's radio. "I don't think kids have their radio under their pillow, listening to legends. It's different -- you download your favorite song and put it on your phone. There's not the same intrigue. There's some tremendous talent on local radio, but it's not the same when there was a personality-driven enterprise, back in the '60s and '70s.

"We had to wait and hope that the favorite song would pop up -- but just as important was what was between the songs."

Yes, the patter, the ads, the PSAs reminding you to buckle up. Say, who does those now? Right: the Department of Public Safety.

Before we go, is there any secret phrase we should listen for, something that tells us we should really start to worry?

"Two words," Gordon says, and drops into his news-announcer voice. "Trust me."

JAMES LILEKS

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