Eric Eskola at the Capitol/courtesy of UMD
It was a sad day for journalism and for the community this week when it was announced that long-time WCCO radio state Capitol reporter Eric Eskola had taken a buyout from the station and was leaving later this month. A fixture at the Good Neighbor since 1980 and in his cluttered, cozy basement office at the Capitol since 1985, Eskola has brought his listeners years of straight-forward, interesting and informative reporting.
In an era of angry talk radio and mean politics, Eskola was the guy you could trust to explain for the average listener what the heck was going on at the Capitol and in politics. He made sense of things and he got politicians to explain themselves. He took his work seriously, but he never took himself too seriously. His live sports discussions with the Strib’s Sid Hartman were often hilarious.
He put more of his personality on display on his weekly “Almanac” show on Twin Cities Public television, which he will continue to host with his wife, Cathy Wurzer of Minnesota Public Radio. The devilish smile, the trademark scarf and the plain-spoken questions are all Eskola traditions that will endure.
But I for one will miss that authoritative voice on the radio. His departure symbolizes the end of an era for CCO radio, the once dominant AM station in the region, if not the country. Several other key players at CCO have left recently including Dark Star, Tim Russell and newsman Jeff McKinney. The audience has grown older and smaller. FM stations have captured ratings. Talk radio has assumed a larger role. Public radio has filled the news niche. So the role of a station like WCCO, once a brand known far and wide as “CCOland,” has changed dramatically.
Eskola has always prided himself as a kid from Duluth. He attended UMD, worked at the campus radio station, did play-by-play for UMD football and basketball. He later worked at KDAL radio and television in Duluth and was occasionally an announcer for pro wrestling at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. According to an account on the UMD web site, Eskola announced a match involving then wrestler Jesse Ventura. He incorrectly gave Ventura’s weight and the future governor corrected him, “That’s 278, not 248,” he said. Afterward, the account says, Ventura reminded Eskola, “Just remember kid, I made you.” Twenty years later in what Eskola described as a “surreal” moment, he was standing next to the guy whose weight he had gotten wrong, watching him being sworn in as governor of Minnesota.
A former WCCO official once told me that Eskola could have been a star, with his own show, voicing ads and making a lot more money than he did as a reporter. But, the official explained, Eric wasn’t interested in all that. He just wanted to be a good reporter, period.
Here’s wishing Eric the best and hoping that radio and television stations and newspapers still have a place for someone who just wants to be a good reporter and tell the story.