Star Tribune and Associated Press file photos
How news arrived in the hinterlands
This amazing innovation we had been reading about called television became available to the southwest corner of Minnesota on May 19, 1953, when KELO, Channel 11, started sending out a signal from Sioux Falls, S.D. The funeral business in Fulda, Minn., must have been strong in 1954, because my father, Richard, was among the first to bring home a television set to his family late that year.
I don’t recall watching the 1954 World Series, although I did lose 50 cents to my Uncle Harry betting on the 111-win Cleveland Indians against Willie Mays and the New York Giants. There was a requirement for a tower high enough to threaten small planes heading for Worthington to bring in Channel 11’s signal, and even then, the black-and-white telecast was frequently masked by snow.
I did ride my bike home from St. Gabriel School at lunchtime to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees in 1956, and was late getting back to St. Gabe’s because Don Larsen was pitching a perfect game for the Yankees. Watching it on television only increased my anxiety for the arrival of the Minneapolis Tribune the following morning, in order to read full details and reactions and clip out the boxscore for posterity on Larsen’s accomplishment.
The arrival of one-channel television in the mid-50s changed the evening schedules for us residents of the Minnesota prairie, but it did not change this: The Minneapolis Tribune in the morning and the Minneapolis Star in the afternoon were our main links to the outside world.
This was particularly true for a kid who claims to have learned to count by 7s, not 10s, due to football, and started checking the boxscores of the 16 big-league teams by age 8.
My father and his best pal, Joe Miller, would start every morning before 7 at our kitchen table, discussing world events and sports taken from the Tribune. Richard and Joe were all-in on Fidel Castro and his Cuban Revolution for two, three years, and then he turned out to be a Commie. What a bummer.
I’d manage to grab the 2 pages of sports and generally start with the small type (agate) of results. Fulda was 170 miles of two-lane roads to Minneapolis a four-hour drive with one pit stop when our family made its handful trips to the Cities per year. In the retrospect of six decades, it’s amazing the amount of up-to-date sports material you could find in the Tribune dropped on our porch every day. Back then, I would be unhappy when there were missing boxscores, and I’d have to wait until after school to read them in the afternoon Star.
Everything changed on Sunday. The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune’s sports section was published on peach-colored newsprint. It was a huge section during the college football season. There were the famous sequences of six or seven photos of a play in the Gophers game taken from far above with a machine-gun camera. It was instant replay in still photography. Gophers football was king in Minnesota sports in the 1950s. On Sunday mornings, you absorbed the Peach’s Gophers coverage before leaving for 10 o’clock mass.
One of the happier days of my childhood was in August 1957, when I bought a national magazine and our quarterback, Bobby Cox, was on the cover. My mind raced with Rose Bowl thoughts while pedaling rapidly home to absorb the glory being predicted for the Gophers. This optimism was confirmed regularly by the energetic young Sid Hartman, and the wizened Dick Cullum, in the morning Tribune leading up to Murray Warmath’s fourth season.
All of this led to one of the worst days of my youth: Illinois 34, No. 4-rated Gophers 13, in the fourth game of what became a 4-5 season. I’m not sure that I mustered the courage to Reach for the Peach of Oct. 20, 1957, to read the depressing details of the carnage in Champaign-Urbana.
There was another element of the Tribune that hooked us: Roundups of high school football games on Saturday mornings in the fall, and for basketball games on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We would scour those gigantic roundups, rooting for a mention of the Fulda Raiders game, but taking anything we could get for southwest Minnesota a highlight from Luverne, Windom, Pipestone, Marshall, Jackson, Worthington, even Slayton, our hated rival.
On Sundays, we received another shot at attention for our part of the prairie: Ted Peterson’s Nocan Pickem! column that was a massive collection of items from the state’s high schools. The name and masthead were as politically incorrect as you might think, but this was the 50s and it made Ted the Tribune’s sports advocate for outstate Minnesota.
My father got to know Peterson through town-team baseball, and that connection got me a job at the Tribune as a sports copy boy (that was the title) in August 1963, as I was starting a failed stay at the University of Minnesota. The terrific Bob Sorensen, later the books editor, was the editor in charge of making up the Sunday sports section, and he would ask late in the week: Ted, do you have Nocan Readem done yet? That was always worth a laugh, but it also landed me a job taking phoned-in highlights for Ted’s roundups, and eventually an occupation.
Nocan Readem? Hey, without Teds and the Tribune’s commitment to Minnesota that carried all the way to the southwest corner, I might have had to work for a living for 50-plus years, and there’s a dreadful thought.