Freddie Bell and Cathy Wurzer talk about entering the hall of fame

People produce a radio show next to microphones.
Freddie Bell, of Minneapolis, operates the control panels while hosting KMOJ's The Morning Show on May 27 in North Minneapolis.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

Every year since 2001, a short list of well-known and well-respected broadcasters are inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame. And this year’s six inductees will be celebrated on Sept. 17.

The group includes MPR’s Cathy Wurzer and KMOJ’s Freddie Bell. Bell is the first Black man to be inducted. Freddie Bell and Cathy Wurzer talk about their path, their craft and what this honor means to them both.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: You know, every year since 2001, a short list of well-known and well respected broadcasters are inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame at the Pavek Museum in Saint Louis Park. This year's five inductees will be celebrated at a ceremony this weekend. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I'm one of those to be inducted, and I am honored and blown away that I'm going into the Hall of Fame with other notables like Dave Lee from WCCO Radio, Dan Barreiro from KFAN, and our next guest, Freddie Bell.

Freddie Bell is a broadcast icon. He's a DJ and the general manager at KMOJ Radio in Minneapolis. He actually manages two stations and is the host of some three radio shows. Freddie is a speaker and an author. You hear him on this program for our Song of the Day segment. Freddie Bell joins us. Oh, what an honor. Congratulations to you.

FREDDIE BELL: Well, thank you and congratulations to you too, Cathy Wurzer, Hall of Famer.

CATHY WURZER: Isn't that just something?

FREDDIE BELL: [CHUCKLES]

CATHY WURZER: I don't know. [STAMMERS] Well, what a well-deserved honor for you, for all of us that are being inducted. Where were you when you heard the news?

FREDDIE BELL: I was actually sitting at my desk, Cathy, and a good friend of mine called me-- Dan Seaman from over across the waters. And at first I thought it was a joke, and I said, "There is no such thing as a Hall of Fame." And he goes, "No, no, no, no. Don't hang up. Don't hang up. This is real. This is real."

CATHY WURZER: [CHUCKLES]

FREDDIE BELL: And from that date-- it was a few months ago, and I'm still trying to process this, Cathy. I mean, how do you act when you're inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame? I'm trying to find a script that tells me how you're supposed to react to this and what you're supposed to say, and I've yet to find it.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, I hear you. I'm with you. I kind of shook my head and said, "Are you kidding me? Me, what?"

FREDDIE BELL: [LAUGHS]

CATHY WURZER: You know. Yeah. Hey, let me ask you. I'm curious. Now, what was the spark that got you interested in broadcasting to begin with? Was it in college?

FREDDIE BELL: It was in college. Believe it or not, when I was at Creighton University, it's known for its medical classes or its curriculum there, and I was going to be a medical technician of some sort. And I was walking into a building, and I was lost on campus. I was still a freshman. Walked into a building, and they all looked alike. And I was standing at the top of the staircase, and there was a gentleman down at the bottom of the case.

And I asked him for directions. He gave them to me, and over his shoulder, Cathy, I saw what looked like a broadcast studio. And I asked him. I said, "Do they teach broadcasting at college?" The look he gave me said, "Well, are you crazy?" And he goes, "Yeah, of course."

CATHY WURZER: [CHUCKLES]

FREDDIE BELL: And so now, the whole thing starts to flip. My career flipped in college, and I changed my major that afternoon.

CATHY WURZER: Oh. I love that mental picture, by the way. I know you started your career at KETV while you're also working for KOWH FM in Omaha. What was that like?

FREDDIE BELL: [CHUCKLES] Oh, my goodness. Leave it to Cathy to bring up the ancient history. So [CHUCKLES] I'm telling you, well, it was an ABC affiliate, KETV-- still there, oddly enough, you know, even though it's dark ages. But while I was still at Creighton University, I was recruited to come into their news department, and that started my professional journalism career. And immediately, I went into Education.

I was an Education reporter, and I also found myself as the assistant bureau chief, the first four hour legislative coverage coming from the state capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska. So it was different. We called it a one-man band. I was doing the writing, I was shooting my own video, at that time editing my own film and narrating all of it, doing my own standups. And that was a feat to position the camera then run around in front of it and record standups for television news.

CATHY WURZER: [CHUCKLES]

FREDDIE BELL: It's a lot of fun, but I learned a lot too within months of starting. I received another offer to do radio at a 100,000-watt clear channel radio station heard across the country. And I accepted that as well. And that's how Freddie Bell was born in radio broadcasting.

CATHY WURZER: Well, I can see why you went to radio. I mean, your voice is just God-given. It is just smooth as silk. You were born to do this kind of work. What do you like about radio?

FREDDIE BELL: I like the spontaneity. I love the creativity that you get. This like a wonderful tapestry. I'll go into different interviews and I've got my script, I've got the facts, I have my questions ready, and at the end of it, I look back, Cathy, and I'll understand that I didn't use anything that I had planned because I was so concentrated on how this story was unweaving in front of me. And that's the magic, I believe, of radio.

CATHY WURZER: Mm-hmm. You got to listen more really than you talk, I think, you know. And you do that so, so well. And you really connect with your guests. Let me ask you this too about your leadership. Now, when I'm on the air, I say, you know, Freddie Bell is a DJ and general manager at KMOJ. That's an interesting combo there, you know. Tell me about working at a station which is so rooted in the North Minneapolis community and being a leader there.

FREDDIE BELL: It's an interesting walk, and I'll just say that it's really interesting. I was recruited to come on and help with their morning show. And a couple of years later, things changed and they asked me to leave the radio station. And it's not-- for one, I've led a couple of other radio stations here in the metro, but to ask to come to help at KMOJ at a time when it was in some peril at that point, I just did not want to be the person that, where the headlines would read and Cathy Wurzer would call and say, why did KMOJ fail? I didn't want that to happen.

And the key is to be really sensitive to the needs of our community and to answer the call before the call is brought to us. It was difficult to get the people to understand that this fellow who was a broadcaster was now their leader, and there are some people who are still trying to wrap their heads around that, but we've got a fine group of folks. I'm just in love with our community. They've really embraced the work that we're doing.

CATHY WURZER: Mm-hmm. See, I need to, of course, know that you are the second Black broadcaster to be inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Robyne Robinson is currently the only person to this point to be inducted who's a person of color. What do you make of that?

FREDDIE BELL: Robyne's the first, a good friend of mine, in television, and I'm the first in radio. And I've got this wonderful picture of us from a New Year's Eve party in downtown Minneapolis. Both of us are wearing red. She's in a wonderful cocktail dress and I'm in a tuxedo. We're just having a great time.

CATHY WURZER: [LAUGHS]

FREDDIE BELL: But it's just really interesting that a good friend of mine and I share something that's called Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

CATHY WURZER: And you were coming up through the ranks as a person of color. Did you feel pressure to-- this is a very difficult business, as you know, and you have bosses that you run into that try to-- and program directors, and, you know, music programmers who try to kind of bend you to what they think you should sound like. Did you run into that, and how did you battle that?

FREDDIE BELL: [CHUCKLES] The answer is yes. Even in the very beginning, I had to shave my mustache in order to conform with the look that this program director, in this case a news director, wanted his people to look like. And I said, well, what am I going to do next? Do something to alter my color? There are people who just don't know how to manage people of color. They don't know how to manage the differences and to embrace the gifts that these individuals bring to the business.

It is the diversity of thought. It is the diversity of writing that really helps to tell the real stories that we're trying to uncover as journalists and as broadcasters in this industry. It's been difficult. I've been benched because of the way that I happen to look. I can't change that. I've never tried to change it.

But the whole idea is that I've never strayed away from what it is that I've been trained to do-- to tell the true story, tell the right story, do it in an objective way that arms people with the information that they're looking for and helps them to make cogent decisions about their lives.

CATHY WURZER: Amen. Sounds like good advice to the next generation of broadcasters, too.

FREDDIE BELL: Maya Angelou told me several years ago that the key to communicating is to be completely present. And I'm sharing with you what she shared with me-- nothing else matters right now other than the conversation that we're having. There's a lot of things going on around both of us, I would imagine right now, making sure this connection is clear for our audiences, but Cathy Wurzer is the only individual that I'm concerned with right now. So what are you going to do with this Hall of Fame title, Cathy Wurzer?

CATHY WURZER: I don't even know. [BOTH LAUGH] I don't even know, Freddie. Oh, for goodness sakes, I guess, what do you do, put it on your resume? I guess you put the plaque on your wall and you look at it and go, well that was, yeah, that was OK. You know? [BOTH CHUCKLE] I don't know.

You know, since you are-- and thank you for being a regular contributor to this show. You know, you share music with us for a song of the day. What song would you play to commemorate this achievement?

FREDDIE BELL: Well, it would be Diana Ross.

CATHY WURZER: Ah.

FREDDIE BELL: And it would either be "Upside Down" [BOTH LAUGH] or "I'm Coming Out," and I want the world to know.

[MUSIC - DIANA ROSS, "I'M COMING OUT"]

- I'm coming out. I want the world to know, got to let it show.

CATHY WURZER: I would go with that one for sure. Well, you know what, I've told you this privately, but I am a huge fan. When I think of a true broadcaster, you are it, and I'm just so honored to be going into the Hall of Fame with you. Thank you so much, Freddie, for everything you've done for this community.

FREDDIE BELL: Well, the pleasure is mine, and thank you for making a difference in the lives of the people that you touch. Folks just love you, and I see why-- because you're the consummate professional with a wonderful voice. And such-- it's so cool to go into the Hall of Fame with you.

CATHY WURZER: Aww, I appreciate it. Freddie Bell, thank you.

FREDDIE BELL: Thank you, Cathy. Thanks for asking me to be a part of your show.

CATHY WURZER: That of course, is the incomparable Freddie Bell, general manager and DJ at KMOJ Radio in the Twin Cities, and a new Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame inductee.

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