First time since 1946: No daily broadcast of WCCO Radio at the State Fair

A letter to our listeners who we'll miss seeing this summer

Lindsey Peterson
May 22, 2020 - 10:42 am
WCCO State Fair Sign

(WCCO Radio)

The Minnesota State Fair has been cancelled before.  Five times, according to the records we have.  The last time was another epidemic, when polio caused a shutdown in 1946.  

The fair was a very different experience in 1946.  Prior to 1947, there was no Pronto Pup (the horror!).  The French Fries didn't appear until 1973.  That pail of Sweet Martha's cookies that you drag home? Didn't show up until 1985.  

And there certainly weren't 2,000,000 people attending.  It was still mostly an agricultural experience in those days.  While that is still part of the Minnesota State Fair, the cultural identity of the 'Great Minnesota Get-Together' is very different now.  The reasons behind the draw of America's greatest state fair (sorry Texas) are different for each of us.  All are significant, and there's a personal cost to those of us at News Talk 830 WCCO Radio too.

There are none left that remember the origins of WCCO's state fair broadcasts, although we do know they go back to the very beginnings when WCCO came on the air in October of 1924.  That following summer, WCCO had a presence there although "live broadcasts" in those years were beyond difficult.  

This is a very small photo, but it's evidence of WCCO's earliest days appearing at the fair.  

1925 State Fair WCCO Booth
(WCCO Radio)

In later years, WCCO icon Cedric Adams would make appearances at the Fair, reading the newscasts in front of massive crowds.  Bob DeHaven and the "Red River Valley Gang" would entertain audiences with live music.  

Then, WCCO Farm Director Larry Haeg Sr. helped to found the National Association for Radio Farm Service Directors. With his help, WCCO Radio, for the first time established a live, daily presence at the Minnesota State Fair.  Through Haeg and WCCO, they helped strengthen 4 -H and the Future Farmers of America movement and helped to build that reputation at the state fairgrounds each August.  

Sig Mickelson, Larry Haeg, Cedric Adams State Fair
(WCCO Radio)

By the early 1960's, WCCO was beginning to expand fair programming beyond just music and agricultural reports.  New personalities like Charlie Boone, Roger Erickson, plus Howard Viken, Joyce LaMont and others started doing daily broadcasts from a brand-new building next to Ye Olde Mill near the corner of Carnes and Underwood.  That tradition of broadcasting every day from that location continued each and every year.  

Until 2020 that is.  74 years later, there won't be a daily broadcast from WCCO at the Fair.  It seems surreal to say.  

WCCO's personalities love, and don't love, the State Fair.  Some, such as Steve Cannon, despised broadcasting in front of a crowd, some years flat-out refusing to do it.  Rumor has it, Ma Linger loved it but Morgan Mundane hated the audience.  He probably felt more comfortable at a bar in Nordeast than at the fairgrounds. 

Others adore it.  The recently retired Mike Lynch couldn't contain his excitement over fair broadcasts.  It became a behind-the-scenes joke for us, how long before Mike was dragging the microphone into the audience to engage in some "group weather".  And put more gray hair on a producer's head as we got more and more behind.  

Also behind the scenes was the amount of planning needed for our fair broadcasts.  It's no secret these days that media companies, ours included, are struggling to make ends meet.  Advertising nationally is down record (and then some) levels.  One more thing we can't sell to our precious advertisers in 2020?  The State Fair.  Promotionally, we dedicate hours to what we're giving away, t-shirt designs, scheduling people to man the fair booth, the logistics of getting tickets for staff, parking, shuttles and more.  We'll take less work this year I guess.  We won't be happy about it.  

Finally, I want to say something about WCCO's listeners.  Our history at WCCO is something that we try to embrace, while of course thinking towards the future.  The long-running joke that WCCO is "your grandfather's radio station" is true. Your grandfather did listen to us.  Who didn't? 

We also know there is a new generation of Minnesotans who listen, and we will genuinely miss the chance to connect with them face-to-face, to share a Sweet Martha's cookie, and to hear how 'CCO still impacts their lives.  There will be no live viewing of Minnesota Hospital for the first time in over five decades. Five decades! It's just sad to say it.  

MInnesota Hospital
(WCCO Radio)

But while we'll miss that interaction in 2020, we're hopeful and excited to be there again in 2021.  We're not here to say we agree, or disagree with the decision to cancel the 2020 State Fair.  You can have your opinions either way.  We wish there was a way to still be there.  We also recognize the immense challenge of keeping people safe through the elimination of large gatherings.  It's hard to imagine how, under the circumstances, the State Fair could continue this year, unfortunately.  

As Minnesotans, we will stick together, and we will somehow conquer this pandemic and eventually return to some sort of normalcy.  When we do, we'll see you at the Fair!

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