Thursday, July 7, 2016


WCCO 830 AM was once the broadcasting leader in the Twin Cities. The success of this powerhouse for over nine decades has been based their promise to be “the good neighbor” providing excellent coverage of weather, news and sports. 

WCCO broke that promise to listeners on the night of Tuesday, July 5, 2016.

SPARK! is a blog about noncommercial media and WCCO-AM is a commercial station. But noncom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. What commercial radio does affects noncom too. When commercial radio fails, it devalues the work of everyone on the dial. It makes us less relevant.

If you follow radio news, you've heard about the recent uncertainty regarding the future of CBS Radio.  After years of budget cuts and profit-taking, CBS corporate has signaled it is leaving the radio biz. WCCO is owned by CBS. This must be very distressing time for current 'CCO employees. However, I expect a station with a heritage like WCCO's to keep its promises, even during a lame-duck period.


This is my first-hand account of what I heard on the evening of Tuesday 7/5/16.

Storm damage in Minneapolis Tuesday 7/5/16
At 5:50pm CDT the power in my home suddenly went out.  A severe storm with straight-line winds and heavy rain was blowing through Golden Valley, a first ring suburb of Minneapolis where I live.

None of my usual media was available – no power, no Wi-Fi and even my cell phone couldn’t get a signal. You’ve probably been in this situation yourself. This is what life must have been like before electricity.

Power outages are common in Minnesota but usually last only a few minutes.   

After two hours with no power I began to get worried about the perishables in my silent refrigerator. I turned to my Grundig self-powered wind-up emergency radio.  I quickly wound the handle that generates power.  The radio came alive and I tuned it to WCCO AM 830. I seldom listen to 'COO but when severe weather hits I go there first.

When I began listening to WCCO at 7:50pm two guys were on the air, one “in the newsroom” and the other was host of a program about lake cabins for sale “up north.”   

Both were doing the best they could, providing fast-moving coverage of the storm damage. They were putting callers live on the air with first-hand accounts of closed roads, local flooding and where the power was out. It was simple and helpful to a guy like me sitting alone in dark house.

I learned why the power was off at my place.  An Xcel Energy sub-station had been hit by lightning. I was one of over 140,000 customers in the west metro without electricity. The guys on ‘CCO said Xcel “was working on it” and there would be updates soon.

Then, a bit after 9:00pm, there was an abrupt change of programming.  The two hosts who had done a good job said they were leaving for the night. They said the next update would be at 5:00am the next morning.

That was followed by a few seconds of silence and then an audible click.

Next I heard a brief musical interlude followed by twelve (12) commercials, one after each other. They were likely “make goods” of spots missed during the storm coverage.

Then WCCO-AM - aka “the good neighbor” - switched to a satellite-delivered talk show originating from a distant location. The topic was Hillary Clinton’s emails. That is when I turned the radio off. WCCO-AM had broken their promise and gave up on what had ince made them essential.

Shame on them. They turned their backs on broadcasting in the public interest save a few measly bucks. This kind of behavior hurts all of us who work in radio.


  1. I have one of those hand crank Grundigs in my "Emergency" locker. Weather related emergencies come once in a while but when they do, the legacy AM in town is normally where one turns for news and information.

  2. Ken, you failed to mention a key point. WCCO is owned by CBS Radio, likely one of many larger radio groups that are more focused on bottom-line profits over community service. It not surprising, sadly, that radio stations are insufficiently manned to keep the public informed during any crisis, be it weather related natural disaster or something of bigger consequence. One station I worked for was considered a "mom 'n' pop" operation but they were out there serving the communities and keeping people informed during times of need. I never hear any station state they are licensed "in the public interest" except (maybe) for their license renewal statement. When satellite programming becomes more of a priority than serving the community it's clear to see where the management and ownership are going. I suppose that's why the younger set is more concerned with the connected dashboard and smartphones instead of their local radio.