T.D. Mischke fired from KSTP

T.D. Mischke, The Mischke Broadcast, AM 1500 KSTP

(Update: Great news: Tommy Mischke will be heard again on weekday afternoons beginning March 4 from 2 to 4 p.m. via CityPages.com.)

As you most likely know by now, broadcasting legend Steve Dahl was let go on Friday by CBS Radio. Phil Rosenthal has the details over at the Tribune’s site.

While I was sitting here just now answering an email from a listener, there was a question about whether there is anyone left doing anything like the kind of radio that Steve did in Chicago for nearly 31 years.

I really can’t think of anyone around here. However, there is one guy that I have spent many hours listening to via the Internet. His name is T.D. Mischke, host of The Mischke Broadcast on AM 1500 KSTP, a radio station with a front walk and antenna tower exactly straddling the line dividing St. Paul from Minneapolis in Minnesota.

I first read about Tommy Mischke in a September 2000 Atlantic article by James Fallows.

Back then, Mischke’s show was 10 p.m. to midnight, and it featured a lot of regular callers who might be considered “characters.” He called it Black Sheep Radio. Amy and I would lie in bed in Kenosha, laughing in the dark at these unusual people and Mischke’s off-the-cuff interactions with them. He might humor them along on some loony mental goose chase, or he might be surprisingly frank and address someone’s obvious drinking problem. Each night was a wild adventure, and between the crackling imagination of Mischke and the odd tangents of his listeners, you never knew where those two hours would take you.

I read a few more stories about Mischke, including a feature from The Rake which revealed that Mischke had gotten his start in radio exactly the same way I got mine: As a “Phantom Caller” to a show that he loved. In his case, the host was the late Don Vogel who, besides KSTP, also may be known to you from his work on Chicago stations WGN, WLUP, and WMAQ or Milwaukee’s WISN. Six years after his first call, Mischke was hired as Vogel’s sidekick, and they spent a couple of years on the air together before the partnership fell apart and Mischke went solo.

Mischke was always a bit of an oddity at KSTP, a station otherwise dominated by conservative talk shows. Although he sounded much more liberal by comparison when political topics came up, his show was not about politics, but simply about the shared experience of being a human being in this day and age in Minnesota.

On the nighttime show, there was frequent music, and it struck me that almost all of the songs Mischke played were slightly obscure singer/songwriter tunes that I have in my own collection. He would play Bob Dylan or Neil Young or John Prine songs that are rarely heard on radio these days. As a November City Pages story details, Michke is a music scholar and a musician. I have heard him perform on A Prairie Home Companion (fellow Minnesota radio man Garrison Keillor is a fan). He recorded an album called Whistle Stop in 2004, and his latest, Songs For The Livin’, was released on December 4.

I learned a lot more about Tommy Mischke through a fan site run by Derek Larsen, who conducted an extensive interview with him in June 2005. In it, Mishke talked openly about everything from working with Don Vogel to his own personal battle against depression.

On October 30, 2006, KSTP moved Mischke’s two-hour show from its nighttime slot to noon, immediately following Paul Harvey. This altered the atmosphere of the show considerably, making for far fewer wacky callers and more sober discussion, and Derek Larson posted a message from Mischke on MySpace which addressed listeners’ concerns about the change:

If you hate the show now I understand. But know that I prefer it, I’m happy right now and I wasn’t during late night. I was tired of the hours, tired of the drunks, tired of the psychos, and tired of feeling lost in a radio abyss. Maybe it was being in the building alone evening after evening, maybe I went a little mad, but it got to me.

I’m now doing what I like to do when I prefer to do it. If the show works for you I’m delighted, if it doesn’t, my apologies. I pray you find something cool along the dial to replace it.

Some people love the folksy Bob Dylan and hate the electric guy. Some people love the Blood on the Tracks Dylan but shun the born-again songwriter. Some people like the old, beaten up, froggy-voiced Dylan of today. He changed and pissed people off all the time. If even the great Dylan can tick off the masses I suppose I shouldn’t expect to be loved all my life.

As someone who simply enjoyed Mischke, I liked the show just fine in its midday incarnation, but I didn’t have as much time to listen to it in the new time slot, and KSTP’s streaming system got flakier and flakier, sometimes cutting out, other times looping back to something you already heard 20 minutes ago. I would listen to the podcasts when I could, occasionally marathoning a week’s worth of shows back to back.

So tonight, when a Steve Dahl listener asked whether, in the wake of Steve’s termination on Friday, there was anyone left worth listening to, I decided to pass along a couple of Mischke links, including the one to Derek Larsen’s fan site, MischkeMadness.com. That’s where I read the latest Mischke news:

THE MISCHKE BROADCAST

January 3, 1994 — December 5, 2008

Thanks for the memories Mischke. My sincerest sympathies to the state of Minnesota.
You’ve lost the biggest talent to ever grace the airwaves of the Midwest.

Sonofabitch.

Sure enough, a City Pages story from last night reports that Mischke was fired on Saturday by KSTP.

Update, 12/8/2008:

James Fallows reacts to Mischke’s firing and includes a couple of links to the RealAudio clips which accompanied his original story, giving a taste of what the nighttime show was like. Derek Larsen has long archived more clips — the Most Frequently Requested Bits and his own personal favorites — at MischkeMadness.com. Many, many complete shows, including the final show, have been lovingly digitized and compiled at TD Mischke Podcast.

Also, for a wonderful, extended, and very recent appreciation of T.D. Mischke from childhood through the midday show, be sure to read Davin Hansen’s November 4 City Pages profile.

Update, 12/12/2008:

A December 9 City Paper story, “Details emerge about the firing of AM 1500 personality T. D. Mischke,” suggests that the FCC rule against putting people on the air without clear notice may have played a part in Michke’s termination.

A December 10 City Paper item, “Losing Mischke vol. 2,” puzzles over the mystery surrounding the whole story.

Update, 12/14/2008:

Mark Moeller, CEO of R.F. Moeller Jeweler, is a hero. A December 12 MinnPost story tells how he has pulled his advertising — worth well into seven figures” over their 15 year relationship — off AM1500 in response to Mischke’s firing:

“No one understands the time we spent on those ads — 40-50 takes, and it was just freaking hilarious. But Tommy and I have talked since this happened. We’re planning some YouTube ads, some viral marketing.”

Way to go.

Update, 12/16/2008:

James Fallows posts “Mischke CD, video news” — which includes a link to new Michke music, and also this heartwarming video:

Update, 12/18/2008:

Over at MinnPost today, David Brauer has: Mischke speaks: Why I was fired.

It indeed was the FCC violation. What a stupid reason for ending a 17-year relationship with a brilliant radio talent. It’s enough to make you throw up your McDonald’s lunch.

Also, do not miss: Mischke, Part Two: What’s next for me, and radio.


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