Welcome to what Don Shelby calls his "I Like Me" room.
It's a windowless office on the second floor of the WCCO-TV building in downtown Minneapolis. The red walls are lined with prestigious awards Shelby has won during more than three decades with the station, along with dozens of pictures - shots of family, some of him with famous folks (Katie Couric, Jimmy Carter, Andy Garcia), some of the places he's been (Mount Kilimanjaro and the Boundary Waters) and one that's especially close to his heart: his mentor, former WCCO anchor Dave Moore with a quizzical look on his face. A tree-shaped yellow car freshener hangs from the doorknob.
In one corner of the "man cave," as one of his co-workers has jokingly dubbed it, is Shelby's radio setup - microphones, computer, a desk, chairs - all of which he purchased with his own money. This is the headquarters of the Don Shelby radio show weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on WCCO-AM.
Friday marks Shelby's retirement from radio after nine years behind the mic. When he's done, he'll pack up his pictures and awards - his kids already have dibs on the couch, end table, lamp and TV. And while the radio office will shut down, he's still got his desk in the TV newsroom on the first floor - at least for another year.
Come December 2010, Shelby will say goodbye to his anchoring/reporting duties at WCCO-TV, a station he's been with since 1978, when he was first paired with Pat Miles on the weekend anchor desk. Growing up in the small town of Royerton, Ind., just outside of Muncie, Shelby, 62, says he never thought he'd meet a congressman, let alone "put them on the hot seat and ask them tough questions." Last year, he even interviewed President Barack Obama the day before he won the election.
Shelby also never dreamed he'd be making big bucks doing what he says he was "born to do." Although he took a 10 percent pay cut last year to help save jobs when the radio station was undergoing budget cuts, this coming year will mark his biggest WCCO paycheck to date - $1 million.
On a recent Monday, in the middle of his radio show, Shelby - clad in one of his trademark three-piece pin-striped suits (sans jacket) and a sharp blue striped tie that matches his eyes - clutches the microphone with his right hand as he quietly props his feet up on the desk and leans back in his chair. If you look closely, you can see a teeny tiny speck of an earring on his right lobe.
Throughout his two hours on air, peppered with snippets of songs from James Brown, the Beach Boys and Slim Harpo, he talks about topics ranging from security cameras to suicide to Sarah Palin. His prep for the show? A lifetime of covering stories, he says.
When Shelby started his radio show in 2000, he vowed the microphone (and the telephone lines) would always be open to an "informed opinion," not for those looking to complain.
With his radio tenure coming to an end, he admits to leaving behind a big part of himself. On TV, things are tightly scripted, he explains, but on radio, he's able to let his personality shine through and connect with listeners.
"The public likes me better on radio. After nine years of listening, they can tell what you're made of. They hear you choke up on a sad story that somebody's telling you. They hear your gentleness with young people who have been through terrible things in their lives. ... People have told me, 'I never watched you on television - didn't like you at all, but I listen to your radio show, and now I'm watching because I now know what kind of person you are."'
And while he's going to miss talking to the people for "whom I mean something," he's especially going to miss his on-air sidekick Jeff McKinney, who delivers the "McSkinny" reports.
The two have "natural" chemistry, McKinney says. And any listener knows the duo make entertaining sparring partners.
"We vacillate between being intelligent and intellectual men and being adolescent boys," Shelby says. "And you never know which one is going to answer the question."
McKinney says his fondest memory of doing the show is their annual trek to the Minnesota State Fair.
"I don't particularly enjoy a crowd as much as Shelby does," McKinney says. "But he was always able to walk me through it and get me to the point within a few minutes that I was very comfortable. I was always amazed at just how comfortable Shelby is. He's one heck of a showboat, and he's entirely in his element with a lot of people watching him."
McKinney especially had fun over the years taking playful jabs at Shelby's tendency to be a know-it-all.
"He is a know-it-all, and the best thing about Shelby is: a) He is a know-it-all; and b) He knows he's a know-it-all; and c) He approves of being a know-it-all," McKinney says. "He wallows in being a know-it-all, so I always gave him a lot of trouble about that."
Shelby says he's a sponge when it comes to retaining information, but he believes the fact that he's "extremely confident" is sometimes confused for ego.
"This is the reason I say I'm not an egomaniac - because these issues about pomposity and know-it-all and stuff like that - I joke about that more than anybody can joke about that. Because I have a tendency to know an answer and tell people what the answer is to a question. Paul Douglas used to say when kids asked him what he did before Google, he said he'd just ask Shelby. When I read, I don't read for pleasure. I read for information, and then I remember everything I read."
Although WCCO hasn't announced his radio successor yet, Shelby's not interested in speculating on what kind of person will take his place.
"I don't have any skin in that game. That decision has to be made by people who are worried about ratings and listenership and the time spent listening. But I have an overall hope that has nothing to do with WCCO radio. I have an overall hope that we bring back gentility, that we take hate out of the equation, that we take fear out of the equation.
"There are so many pot-stirrers in the business today who say things that are designed only to inflame or designed only to get people on your side."
"On television, you look at Lou Dobbs or Glenn Beck, or you listen to Rush Limbaugh, their whole job is to keep the pot stirred. I like when you turn the heat off and say, 'Let's taste this and see if it needs a little of that or it needs a little of this.' Because at some point, you have to stop stirring the pot and you've got to serve it. I like to finish the meal." ---
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press