Long-time host Gary Eichten, one of Minnesota's most familiar broadcast voices, announced Monday that he will retire in January after nearly 45 years at Minnesota Public Radio.
Eichten made the announcement at the end of his Midday program, saying "it's been a heckuva deal."
"Every day I get to talk with really interesting people about interesting and important subjects with you folks joining in," he said, adding that he hopes to do more work for MPR in retirement.
After ending his broadcast at 1 p.m., Eichten was greeted by applause from his dozens of newsroom colleagues, who had gathered to hear the announcement.
"I didn't know you wanted me to leave that bad!" he joked.
But he said retiring was his decision, and one that didn't come easily.
"I'm going to really miss this," he told his colleagues. "I love the work, I love the organization. I had the opportunity to watch this place grow from a little baby radio station in Collegeville to the greatest radio station in America."
Eichten, 64, started at MPR in the late 1960s as a student announcer at KSJR in Collegeville, MPR's first station. He later worked as station manager and news director during his MPR career.
He has hosted Midday for the last 20 years. He also anchors special events for MPR News — including election coverage — and hosts candidate debates.
Chris Worthingon, MPR's Managing Director of News, thanked Eichten for his integrity and high standards. He called Eichten "the most gracious and most kind" journalist he's worked with.
Worthington told the MPR newsroom it's rare to find journalists with Eichten's characteristics: "The news host with the fair mind, the open mind, and the one who is sincerely curious about where people stand on the issues and what people are trying to accomplish in society."
Eichten was inducted into the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting's Hall of Fame in 2007. He has also received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Award for Best Local News Program and helped produce two Peabody award-winning documentaries.
Earlier this year, Eichten received the Graven Award from the Premack Public Affairs Journalism Awards Board for his contribution to excellence in the journalism profession.
MPR's new president and CEO Jon McTaggart said MPR will celebrate Eichten's accomplishments in the coming months.
"It's a big day for me and a big day for all of us who have known really no other voice and no other presence than Gary when it comes to what he does so well," he said.
McTaggart said MPR wanted listeners to know of Eichten's retirement plans before the State Fair, where Midday will host several live broadcasts.
Eichten has developed a large fan base over the years, and more than three dozen people reacted to the news on MPR News' Facebook page.
Members of the Twin Cities broadcasting community also celebrated Eichten's long MPR career. Jim du Bois, president and CEO of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association, said Eichten's radio career has been both "stellar and long-lived."
"This is an industry where people tend to come and go pretty quickly, and to have survived and not only survived but thrived and set new standards for journalism in a 43-plus year career is pretty impressive," he said. "He has made just some amazing contributions to Minnesota radio and had a career that is enviable to most of us and greatly respected by all of us."
Du Bois said Eichten has a unique ability to connect with listeners.
"He's extremely conversational, very, very knowledgeable, he puts his guests at ease, and Gary is just very relatable," he said.
Eichten says he's looking forward to doing more traveling and spending time with his wife, Joann, who he met at MPR. He will retire January 20 but expects to be back for special assignments.