WCCO Radio tests an ugly, right-wing mid-morning future

Brian Peterson, Star Tribj r

Brian Peterson, Star Tribj r

“You’ve been catnip to the ladies,” Star Tribune gossip columnist C.J. cooed last week, “seducing them with your mellifluous, sexy voice.”

John Hines shot back: “Then they see the balding, hard-of-hearing reality.”

That million-dollar voice has graced radio waves with those honeyed tones for 45 years, the last nine years of them with WCCO.

When he first got to WCCO, Hines sometimes riffed on the hot topics of the day. His takes didn’t exactly set phone lines alight.

“But then he would talk about the best way to get from St. Paul to northeast Minneapolis, in traffic, and people just loved it,” recalls Hines’ board operator, Christopher Ellston.

Hines’ political philosophy, if he has one, Ellston sums up as: Discrimination is wrong, and you should speak out when you see it.

When Hines signs off from daily radio next month, his listeners will miss him. And they, in turn, will be missed by WCCO, if the station takes the hard-right lurch foreshadowed by on-air auditions for Hines’ seat.

First up: Rob Carson, a Chaska native who had a short run on KS95 in the mid-1990s, later hosted shows in Ohio and Missouri, and is currently a “self-employed podcaster.”

His Tuesday show came one day after news that no charges would be filed in the police shooting of Thurman Blevins. Carson marked the solemn occasion by saying it “is not uncommon in inner cities for ...African-American men to begin a spiral, a chain of crimes, some becoming more violent, more dangerous.”

Other Carson insights: America’s racial divide “started in the last presidential administration”; black NFL players’ “First Amendment rights do not matter” when they’re at work; ousted Papa John’s CEO John Schattner was “goaded” into using the n-word; it’s unfair only blacks get to say that word; and: “I like Papa John’s pizza!”

Carson was holding back from his usual schtick. Last year, Carson’s podcast aired a joke song called “Oh Tranny Boy.” In May, he called the people of the Middle East “Third World mindless monkeys from the seventh century.”

Then on Thursday, WCCO gave the mic to Bob Davis, the host who once told parents of slaughtered children in Newtown, Connecticut that his losing Second Amendment rights would be a “greater tragedy than [their] loss,” and to “go to hell.”

Davis informed WCCO’s listeners he was a changed man, no longer prone to tell people how to think. In subsequent monologues, this kinder, gentler Bob Davis said “there’s too much government,” no one wants a “bike trail in [their] backyard,” there is no “fact-driven media anymore,” and warned about “the list of health problems caused by vegetarian diets.”

Why did the station that fashions itself “The Good Neighbor” give a combined 12 hours of airtime to toxic characters you’d prefer were kept six zip codes away?

Last year, WCCO and other CBS radio stations were “merged” into Entercom, a Pennsylvania company, forming America’s second-largest radio network behind iHeart. Days later the station announced it had won back hosting rights to Minnesota Twins games. WCCO’s employees were optimistic.

In April, Entercom made its first big local hire: Andy Bloom, who would serve as operations manager of WCCO and its sister music stations, Buz’n FM (country music) and Jack FM (pop). A Minneapolis native, Bloom most recently ran a set of sports-and-talk stations out of Philadelphia. Before that, he was communications director for Michael Turner, a Republican Congressman from Ohio.

Bloom doesn’t hide his politics: Earlier this year he was writing for Newsmax, the hard-right news outlet, penning op-eds about how gun laws “will make some people feel better, but won’t prevent shootings,” and why Donald Trump is wise to admire Andrew Jackson.

Bloom says his views aren’t an influence on his tastes in radio. He says he’s not out to convert anyone, unless you mean getting them to buy the sponsors’ products. In scouting John Hines’ replacement, Bloom says: “My only interest is getting someone that will generate an audience.”

An internal memo he sent WCCO employees shows where Bloom thinks the audience is.

“The fact is, the majority of News-Talk radio listeners are center-right,” Bloom wrote, advising his staff to “stop chasing off the Right” by giving “info-mercials” to guests with “left-leaning agendas.”

Bloom claims ignorance of any “shock-jock” material from Rob Carson, and cited the candidate’s radio experience: “He, for many years, wrote for Rush Limbaugh.” Carson’s and Davis’ auditions are about “seeking a diversity of opinions.” And? “I thought both Rob and Bob did particularly good jobs.”

They’re just two among “hundreds” of qualified candidates under consideration, Bloom says. He notes that current WCCO figures Blois Olson and Roshini Rajkumar—both milder-mannered than Carson or Davis—had also auditioned.

“This is a really difficult choice, with so many incredibly talented choices,” says Bloom, adding: “Openings here at WCCO do not happen frequently. It’s important to get this right.”

Bloom was quick to say Hines will still be on the air, filling in when other hosts are out. The host’s charms were not lost on his short-term boss. Soon after he came aboard, Hines invited him to lunch at a club “along the river,” says Bloom. “John has been extraordinarily kind to me.”

That’s not changing now. Hines says the entry of Entercom, and Bloom, had nothing to do with his decision to end his show, and he’ll be back “as often as they would like to invite me.”

He hasn’t given much thought to who might take his job—“it’s no longer mine, and in the big picture, it was never mine”—and, though he’s paid attention, doesn’t have a rooting interest in his replacement.

Even if it’s a right-wing firebreather?

He sighed. “If somebody thinks that will be successful, that that’s the way to go in the future, more power to them,” Hines said, adding: “I’m just the announcer guy. I don’t have a judgment or a value to put on any of that.”

Hines was apologetic.

“You’re probably looking for something more, but I’m not the guy,” he said. “Other people will probably have stronger opinions.”

Anyone who heard last week’s auditions misses him already.

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