Stan Turner signs off from KLBB after half a century
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Stan Turner pushes a button in his studio at KLBB-1220 in downtown Stillwater, and Pat from West St. Paul is on the line.
Pat has a message and a special request for Turner, who hosts the “All Request and Dedication Show” from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“I’m going to miss this show so much,” Pat said. “I really love this station. I’d like to request — OK, this gives away my age — ‘Chantilly Lace’ by the Big Bopper.”
Next up are Marilyn from Minneapolis, Judy from St. Paul Park and “Beekeeper Bob” from Stillwater. They all sound the same refrain: profound sadness at the loss of their favorite radio station and favorite radio personality.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that when KLBB goes off the air at midnight March 31, Turner, whose broadcasting career began 53 years ago in the news department of KDWB-AM, will be looking for a new station to air his program.
“I’m going to miss folks like you so much,” Turner told Pat, a frequent caller. “You have been a member of a great, wonderful, warm, sincere family that seems to be growing as the days and the weeks and the months and the years go by. It’s so sad to see it come to an end.”
At a time when corporate consolidation of radio companies has drastically reduced the local flavor and diversity of stations, KLBB — known for broadcasting local church services and Stillwater Area High School’s football games — stands out.
Turner gets much of the credit, according to KLBB owner Dan Smith.
“Stan Turner is the biggest thing this station has — that and (Green Bay) Packer football,” Smith said. “When you ask people to call in, and they call in and respond — in such high numbers — you know you’re doing something right.”
Turner stands out in a sea of mediocrity, said longtime fan Kevin McKeever of Lakeville.
“In this age of Facebook-Netflix-Amazon mush, this show is original and unique,” he said. “It’s interaction between listeners — that’s what makes it so special. Like I’ve told Stan, ‘You’re not talking to us. You’re talking with us.’ . It’s good, clean, honest fun, and it’s sincere.
“There is no other station in the Twin Cities that can replace it, this whole model,” McKeever said. “Can you see KOOL-108 or KQRS or some other station picking this up? No. It doesn’t fit the corporate mold. To quote Elvis Presley, it’s going to be ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’ ”
The “outpouring of support” for Turner since the news broke earlier this month has touched him greatly, he said.
“There have been many people calling in, some just with comments about the station going dark,” he said. “It’s hard for me to say that, even. It just breaks my heart. It’s kind of like watching a favorite car rolling toward a cliff. You just want to reach out and stop it.”
When Judy from St. Paul Park called to express her sadness, Turner rushed to reassure her.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Fingers crossed. Hope for the best and all the rest.”
Here’s part of the playlist from a recent “Request and Dedication” show: country star Terri Gibbs, Chuck Berry, novelty songs, Motown, some Johnny Mathis, local chanteuse Sharone LeMieux and Guy Marks singing “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas.”
Each song has a story, one that has been meticulously researched by Turner. His music library fills his KLBB office and includes “Billboard’s Hottest 100 Hits,” ″The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul” and “American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950.”
“I love doing research. This is my bible right here,” he said, pointing to “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.” ″I find out information people wouldn’t otherwise get or have or know. I call them ‘Eureka moments.’
“To me, this is a logical extension of being a reporter, which I’ve been all of my life,” he said. “We are hunters and gatherers.”
Consider crooner Johnny Mathis, for instance. He was a standout athlete as a teen growing up in San Francisco, Turner told listeners.
“No one can do a romantic ballad better than Johnny Mathis,” Turner said. “He’s still around. He’s 82 years young. He was going to be a track-and-field guy . and he was going to have himself classically trained as an opera singer as well, but he went toward the pop side, and I think we’re all the richer for that, too. Nothing against classical music or track and field, but who could do ‘Misty’ better? . He took it to Number 12 on the charts, and it is a perennial favorite.”
Other music trivia Turner shared with listeners: Chuck Berry had plenty of time to compose “You Never Can Tell” because he was in federal prison for violating the Mann Act; Dean Martin was born into an Italian immigrant family and didn’t speak English until he was 4 years old; and Skip Moore, the original drummer for the Ventures, was offered either $25 up front or 25 percent of the profits from “Walk, Don’t Run.”
“He took the 25 bucks,” Turner said. “This would be not only a national hit but an international hit, and he actually sued the Ventures and the record label to try and get his royalties, but he signed that away. Poor kid. You’ve got to feel sorry for him.”
Turner, a former news anchor and news director at KSTP-TV and former news director for the Minnesota News Network, stopped by KLBB one day in October 2004 during a visit to downtown Stillwater. Smith asked if Turner had any interest in hosting a show.
“I said I had a full-time job elsewhere, but Saturday might work,” Turner said, “and he said, ‘Well, sure, why don’t you do it?’ ”
The first “Stan Turner Show,” which went on the air at 8 a.m. on Halloween 2004, featured Turner’s friend Don Boxmeyer, the Pioneer Press columnist who died in 2008.
Eventually, the show moved to the noontime slot and “has been going nonstop ever since,” Turner said. “That was my foot in the door here.
“I call it storytelling,” he said of the Saturday show. “People call it a ‘talk show,’ but I like to bring on people . maybe book authors, anyone with an interesting story, nonfiction usually, real stuff, to tell stories. People love stories.”
In April 2013, a few months after he left MNN, Turner was hired by KLBB to host the weekday request and dedication show.
“I set out to try to make a radio program that is different from every other thing on the air,” Turner said. “There’s so much homogenization.
“Everybody is playing a lot of the songs, but they don’t give you the background; they don’t give you the context — the stories about how they were written, why they were written, the songwriters. These people labor in the shadows. They’re brilliant,” he said.
The show is a great example of “the perfect host finding the perfect slot to re-create — and update — the exciting feel of 1960s AM radio that baby boomers grew up with,” said former Pioneer Press editor Don Effenberger, a frequent guest on Turner’s Saturday show.
Turner’s “folksy style” and “self-deprecating humor” are essential elements of the show’s charm, Effenberger said.
Turner’s producer, Bob “Bobby J” Jurek, delights in introducing the host at the top of each segment. Turner never knows who might be delivering the punch line.
Last Wednesday, it was the voice of the late sportscaster Howard Cosell: “He’s a prime-time dream. Witty, knowledgeable and vastly entertaining.”
The line got a booming laugh from Turner.
“Who was that guy defaming me?” he asked Bobby J.
The two, who worked together at the All News Channel, have a great rapport.
“We bounce off each other, and it’s real,” Turner said. “Nothing is contrived here. We’re going to have technical screw-ups sometimes, but you know what? That’s an opportunity. Don’t try to pretend nothing happened. We don’t want a seamless, perfect show. There’s no such thing. It’s live. People seem to connect with us, and they know him as well as they know me, and they should.
“I hate cliches,” he said, “but this is a labor of love for both of us. It’s not work. We live our bliss.”
Said McKeever: “Sometimes you listen to the radio, and the disc jockeys are going back and forth, and you know that laugh isn’t real. You know it’s forced. It’s not genuine. People can pick up on that. Stan and Bobby J are genuine.”
When the show, officially known as “The Wolf Brewing Company All Request and Dedication Show with Stan Turner,” breaks for a commercial, chances are good Turner will be endorsing a local product like Chaska-based MyPillow.
“It helps me sleep, which is what a pillow is supposed to do,” he said. “It’s really good for the neck. I wouldn’t endorse it if I didn’t believe in it. Not that I’m a goody two shoes, but I wouldn’t do it. That’s a lie. We don’t do fake news.”
Other sponsors include Heimie’s Haberdashery in St. Paul, the Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, a tour company in Hudson and a retirement community in Shoreview.
“Surprisingly, it’s not an old-fogey station,” Turner said. “We’ve got a wide spectrum here: young, old and in-between.”
The shows are successful because of Turner’s “personality, professionalism and preparedness,” Jurek said. Turner, for example, would never interview an author on air unless he had read their book, he said.
“When we have people like Mike Love on from the Beach Boys, they all say, ‘My, you’ve done your homework,’ ” Jurek said. “Most of the time, they’ll say, ‘I was only supposed to be on for 15 minutes, but I’ll be on for an hour if you want.’ ”
Turner keeps a list of the musicians he’s interviewed on the air pinned above his desk. Among them are Neil Sedaka, Bobby Rydell, Brenda Lee, Peter Yarrow, Tommy Roe and Jimmy Webb. “Not a bad list,” he said.
Turner, who lives in Oakdale, said his love of music came through “osmosis” when he was a baby.
“I had eczema, a terrible skin rash, when I was born, and I almost died from it,” he said. “It was tough to get me to take naps or get to sleep because I hurt all the time, so my mother would roll the crib over by the radio, and that would help me go to sleep. I think that’s part of it. I just absolutely adore music.”
Turner played the clarinet and thought about becoming a professional musician, but his love of journalism, sparked by “My Weekly Reader,” the educational classroom magazine, won out.
“I just loved reading about things and then telling other kids what I had found out because I knew they weren’t reading it,” Turner said. “It sounds corny, but that’s how I got into it. I love telling stories.”
He majored in journalism at the University of Minnesota and, while still a student, got a job in the news department at KDWB Radio after splicing together an audition tape at his childhood home in St. Louis Park.
He moved to KSTP Radio News in 1966, then was hired back at KDWB as news director a year later. He returned to Hubbard Broadcasting in 1968, taking a job as government reporter for KSTP-TV. He later served as the station’s associate news director, weekend anchor, news director and weekday co-anchor.
In 1989, Turner helped launch a 24-hour satellite news channel for Hubbard called the All News Channel, where he served as primetime weekday anchor and writer. He lost his job when the channel went off the air in 2002.
Now he’s facing the same fate at KLBB.
“Oh, Stan, my heart is broken that the show is probably going away,” said caller Marilyn from Minneapolis.
“It’s so great to have a small-town radio station to call and request and be treated so kindly by you and Bobby J,” she said. “It’s just a miracle that we have you guys.”
Marilyn told Turner she had come up with a solution: “I just bought a lottery ticket, and I want to tell everyone who is listening today: Go out and buy a lottery ticket. All the listeners who are listening, if you want to save this radio show, go get a lottery ticket. One of us will win it.”
“I love your thinking,” Turner said. “Miracles happen sometimes, so we’ll hang on to that right now. You are so sweet. You’ve been a stalwart requester and supporter of this program and this station for so long. The least we could do is play a song for you right now. Do you have one?”
Marilyn’s request, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, is one of Turner’s favorites, he said.
“I love this stuff,” he said while the song played. “Listen to the orchestration. Listen to the lyrics. That wasn’t thrown together in a half-hour.”
Other favorite artists include Johnny Mathis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. His favorite Presley song is “Loving You.”
“I like lyrics. I like melody,” he said. “I like words I can repeat.”
Turner thinks the high-water mark for music was the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“That’s what this show has become just because of the type of requests we get,” he said. “We have morphed into an early-’60s type of station where anything went. You look at the Top 5 on the Billboard charts in 1961, and there’s a Lawrence Welk song right next to a Little Richard song. The same people were buying vastly different types of music, which is fun. People love the variety.”
The owner of KLBB announced last year that he planned to sell 3.6 acres of land in Stillwater that houses the station’s 203-foot tower. The tower, built in 1949, had exceeded its lifespan and needed to be replaced, Smith said.
Ecumen, a Twin Cities nonprofit, plans to build senior housing on the site, which is just north of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. Ecumen will close on the property on March 30; the station will cease broadcasting at midnight March 31. Smith would not disclose the sale price.
Smith said he hopes the station may be back on the air someday “in some form — probably with somebody else owning it and running it.”
“Crazier things have happened,” he said. “It’s just not the way that we wanted to end, by signing off like this. We hope that it will be back in some fashion.”
Turner said he would love for the show to become syndicated.
“Today, at this very moment, we could drop this show into any market — any broadcast market in the country — because we take requests from all over the country,” he said.
The station has listeners online in the U.S., Spain, Brazil and Russia, he said. “We had a lady call us from Edinburgh, Scotland. She was making haggis for dinner. She used to live here.”
Closer to home, Bob from Houlton, Wis., called last week to wish Turner well.
“I’ve been following you for many, many years,” he said. “To me, this is the best show on all of radio.”
Listeners are grieving, producer Jurek said. “One person said, ‘You don’t expect family members to die,’ ” he said. ” ‘You guys are part of our family, and it hurts to see you go.’ ”
Local singer Sharone LeMieux sent her rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” as a farewell present for Turner.
“We have hopes, you know that,” he told LeMieux when she called in to say goodbye. “We have to prepare for what appears to be the inevitable, but still, maybe a little bit down the tracks, something could happen that would delight all of us.”
But tears filled Turner’s eyes as he listened to LeMieux’s recording.
“Smile, though your heart is aching / Smile, even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky / you’ll get by. / If you smile through your fear and sorrow / Smile and maybe tomorrow / You’ll see the sun come shining through / for you.”
“In this day and age of hard, jagged corners and nasty rhetoric and everything, it’s nice to connect to this every day, isn’t it?” Turner said. “I am lucky. I’ve always known that. From Day One. I never have taken this for granted.”
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com