Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Leaving Idaho September 40 years ago

It was 40 years ago this month that I left the beautiful snow capped mountains of Southern Idaho for the flat, flat, flat prairies of Minnesota in my ‘67 Plymouth Satellite loaded with all I owned in the world. That would have included a Magnavox portable radio, Smith Corona typewriter and a rather meager collection of clothing.
As someone remarked this summer: “You are a Minnesotan.” I resemble that remark but I cling to the fiction that I am an Idahoan, born in Spokane, scant minutes from the Idaho border where the men are men and you know the rest. Famous for their libertarian notions, Northern Idaho is a far cry from the more straight laced Mormon dominated Boise where I was a boy reporter for the Idaho Daily Statesman, a Federated Newspaper, for four years, Local option gambling was popular in Northern Idaho.
I had exhausted my possibilities in Boise, having won a national award for my reporting on air and water pollution. I was a member of the Capitol Jaycees, a post frat drinking society, where I produced a slide presentation with audio on pollution that I showed to community groups. (Lon Dunne at KIDO NBC Radio did the audio track). By the time I reached the four year mark I was researching a story on pop culture , interviewing the program director at KFXD Radio, which boasted a Sunday night underground rock extravaganza. I can’t believe that Jim Golden, the assignment editor, gave me time to do this. Nothing came of that story.
I was massively bored by this time and when my friend at the Statesman Ralph Nichols suggested I get a master’s degree I jumped on that, researching universities and getting valuable insight from Gene Byrd, a Marquette University journalism professor who later transferred to the University of Minnesota to initiate a urban affairs emphasis in the School of Journalism. Byrd soon ran into a brick wall and left for the University of Texas. It was clear that the U of M faculty disdained anything as faddish as urban affairs journalism. So that was my first mistake.
It was a gorgeous sunny fall day when I drove into Minneapolis on Highway 12 with AM radio tuned to KUOM where they announced a seminar on the Urban River at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, sponsored by the University. I had a wonderful supportive supervisor, Vern Keel, at the Agricultural Journalism Department where I worked as a graduate assistant. So Vern got the University to pay my way to the Urban River seminar where I floated down the grossly polluted Mississippi with Star columnist Barbara Flanagan and other community do-gooders. It was a super introduction to Minneapolis.
So as Jim Gilligan of the Statesman observed: I had “returned to the womb” at the glorious U of M, a graduate student in journalism taking inter-displinary classes related to urban and regional affairs. I was the right guy for Agricultural Journalism because economist John Hoyt was heading an initiative on regional development, a controversial issue supported by Gov. Harold Lavander, a moderate Republican unlike the strident ideologue Republican who now holds the office. My student days at the University were all I dreamed they would be and after graduation I was hired by the U, based on my great efforts as a graduate student.
Bottom line: It’s better to be a student at the U than faculty where you bump up against petty egos, back-stabbing and other drama. In 1981 I returned to the University staff at KUOM radio for a one-year temporary dreamy job as an assistant producer on a radio documentary series on psychology with Vickie Lofquist. I cherish those memories of KUOM where I used broadcast tools I learned at the University of Washington.