Albert Tedesco, a down-home radio executive who started his first station with his brothers in 1949 and sold his last one in 2000, died Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 77 and lived in Minnetonka.
After serving in the Navy in World War II, he used the GI Bill to attend the American Institute of the Air, now Brown College, in Minneapolis.
The Tedesco brothers -- Al, older brother Nick and Vic, who later served on the St. Paul City Council -- got their first station on the air in March 1949 in Stillwater. Its call letters, WSHB, stood for "Stillwater, Hudson (Wis.) and Bayport." After operating it on a shoestring, they sold the station within a year and in 1951 started WCOW a couple of blocks from the South St. Paul stockyards.
The record library was simple: a stack labeled "W" for Western and a stack labeled "O" for old-time, plus a couple of Guy Lombardo records as buffers between hillbilly programs and religious programs.
The owners had Western nicknames, too. "Arizona Al" had a reputation for doing everything with a certain amount of dash, Minneapolis Tribune media critic Will Jones wrote in 1952. (South St. Paul plans to salute the station Sunday as part of its Christmas pageant.)
The brothers were granted a federal license to start a WCOW television station, too, but they couldn't raise the start-up money and returned the license, Vic Tedesco said Friday.
In the early 1950s, Al struck out on his own. The two remaining brothers renamed WCOW to WISK, which became KDWB when they sold it. Nick died in July.
Al started KDUZ in Hutchinson, Minn. He was an on-air announcer for the first six years, said Larry Graf, who was station manager and co-owner with Tedesco when it was sold in 2000.
"We called him the Golden Voice of radio," Graf said.
In the early 1960s, Tedesco returned to the Twin Cities radio scene with KTCR, on the AM and FM bands. After a five-year labor wrangle with nine discharged employees was resolved in 1978, the AM station abandoned a longtime country format and started playing mild country, rock and contemporary music. Vic Tedesco said that about 1990, Al sold KTCR, which became Cities 97.
Over the decades, Al owned stations in Indiana, Florida and outstate Minnesota. But he never fit the mold of a high-pressure media executive.
"Al was the type who left it up to his managers" to decide which formats to use, Graf said. "He was a good guy to work for."
His second wife, Linda Madsen Tedesco, who lived with him for 17 years before they married four years ago, said: "He was the happiest guy. I can't recall a bad day with Al in all those years." He divorced his first wife, Patricia, in 1971.
Linda plans to bury him in blue jeans and a flannel shirt.
"I wasn't about to put him in a suit, because no one would recognize him," she said. "His style was inside, not outside."
In addition to his wife and brother, survivors include a son, Rick of St. Paul; two daughters, Lisa Gillitiuk and Carolyn Baker of Apple Valley; three stepdaughters, Sandra Porter of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Brenda Brandvold of Brooklyn Center, and Michelle Gellerman of Becker, Minn.; a sister, Mary Gentile of St. Paul, and 10 grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. John's Catholic Church, 5th and Forest Sts., St. Paul. Visitation will be held at 10 a.m.
-- Trudi Hahn is at firstname.lastname@example.org.