Minneapolis anchor does double duty

Mar 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

WCCO-TV veteran anchor Don Shelby is perhaps the busiest man in Minneapolis.
Since October, the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news anchor has been at WCCO-AM studios hosting an afternoon drive talk show. Airing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., the radio show has become so successful that it has gone from being ranked ninth to fourth. Mr. Shelby is hosting the radio show from WCCO’s television studio on the sidewalk in the pedestrian mall that Mary Tyler Moore made famous when she threw her hat in the air.
It is Viacom synergy on the local level.
“It’s not an edict, it’s an opportunity-we have many Viacom brands, and certainly the top brands in this city are Viacom-owned,” said WCCO-TV General Manager Jan McDaniel.
Ms. McDaniel said it’s not the first synergistic endeavor between the radio and TV stations: WCCO’s 5 p.m. TV newscast is simulcast on the radio station.
WCCO-AM, a 50,000-watt station, is heard in 38 states in the upper Midwest.
“Anecdotally, what I’ve been hearing throughout the community is Don Shelby has a larger-than-life personality,” Ms. McDaniel said. “He is deeply rooted in community and community service. He’s a very interesting personality, and with half-hour increments on TV, his true personality doesn’t have time to come out to the degree that it does on radio with his ideas. Radio is a very intimate medium.”
Since WCCO-AM’s studio was five blocks away from the television station, Mr. Shelby wanted to be closer to the newsroom. Ms. McDaniel said the television studio that now houses the radio talk show is usually used for the 5 p.m. news when the weather is nice or during events and holidays, so pedestrians in Nicollet Mall can watch from the street. There are monitors and speakers for passers-by to watch and hear what’s on the television station.
Ms. McDaniel said from May through October, there is a weekly farmer’s market at the mall as well as concerts, “So there’s a lot of natural traffic in this area.”
WCCO-TV News Director Ted Canova said every radio show Mr. Shelby does is videotaped. The television newscast has already used footage and sound bites of Mr. Shelby with his radio guests.
“Don used to introduce the sound bite from the radio station, but now since the show is here, he does some live wraparounds in the [television] studio,” Mr. Canova said.
WCCO-AM General Manager Brian Whittemore said when popular afternoon drive host Steve Cannon retired in the late 1990s, he left a void that was difficult to fill.
“Don is a unique individual in the market, with a high name recognition,” Mr. Whittemore said. “It just occurred to me-`Wouldn’t he be terrific?’ Minneapolis-St. Paul is the kind of market where it takes awhile [for] an out-of-towner to be well-accepted on the air by locals. It turns out Don had always wanted to do a show on WCCO radio.”
Now, in addition to community appearances, Mr. Shelby-who started as an investigative reporter at the TV station 23 years ago-has a 12- to 14-hour workday. But he loves every minute of it.
On radio, Mr. Shelby said he gets to talk in-depth about the issues of the day and have guests such as actor Patrick Stewart, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, whose hits include “Hound Dog.”
“In 23 years at this [TV] station, one of the best stations in America, I have not spent more than two minutes on the subject of AIDS in Africa,” Mr. Shelby said. “I have already done two full shows on that subject, and that’s two hours of information.”
While Mr. Shelby enjoys the fun side of his radio job, he also has a more serious goal.
“It’s to make talk radio once again hospitable; to make talk radio something that people feel welcome to call in without fear of being considered the enemy for disagreeing with the host,” Mr. Shelby said. “It’s a natural line for me to follow because I have to maintain a semblance of objectivity-and I can’t have lots of opinions.”