MPR News' Cathy Wurzer, Mike Mulcahy reminisce on their early reporting days together

a radio reporter at a political convention
MPR News senior editor Mike Mulcahy reports from the 1986 state Independent Republican Convention.
Courtesy of Daniel Corrigan

MPR News Senior Politics Editor Mike Mulcahy is retiring after nearly four decades covering news and politics in Minnesota for radio and TV.

The longtime host of “Politics Friday” will step down Sept. 29 after 38 years with MPR News.

He joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer for a walk down memory lane in the studio, one last time.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Long, long ago, in a place not too far away from here, there was a young reporter who was covering at the time a Minnesota story that was making national news.

MAN: I thought you were a union! Ain't nothing but a lowlife!

MIKE MULCAHY: Earlier in the week, unionists from the Twin Cities predicted the demonstration would be the largest yet in the 5 and 1/2 month old strike. Far less than the expected 1,000 demonstrators actually showed up. Yet they had to block the gate with their cars and their picket line for only about a half an hour before Hormel security guards closed and locked it.

CATHY WURZER: That is NPR's Mike Mulcahy reporting from Austin, Minnesota, in 1986, when the Hormel meatpackers strike was roiling the town and was making headlines across the country. At the time, of course, there were no cell phones. The way radio reporters would report the news in the field was to run to a phone and try to file their story before the competition. So, young Mike would race another youthful reporter to a payphone booth that was about two city blocks away from the Hormel plant gate.

To add to the fun, those two reporters were faced with trying to commandeer the phone booth before another reporter would get there, Eric Eskola from WCCO Radio. That other reporter Mike was up against, well, that was me. I was at KSTP Radio, and the three of us, Mike, Eric, and yours truly, were trying to cover the story while freezing outside the plant gates back in 1986. We've been doing some walking down memory lane at Mike's expense because he is retiring after nearly 40 years in this business. His last day is Friday. So we're making him uncomfortable by having him in studio with me one last time.

MIKE MULCAHY: And why does that old tape sound so funny? My voice sounds like this. Like, what's going on there?

CATHY WURZER: Like Mickey Mouse a little bit.

MIKE MULCAHY: I also want to say for the record, I found that phone booth first.


MIKE MULCAHY: I had staked out that phone booth. It was mine. And others who came were interlopers. And of course, now, young people don't even know-- what's a phone booth?

CATHY WURZER: I know. Exactly. I know I hated losing the foot race across the field to you and Eric.

MIKE MULCAHY: But that was true. That's how we had to file because that was the only way-- in radio, that was the only way you could file. I mean, we didn't have satellite trucks like the TV stations.


MIKE MULCAHY: And so, yeah, if you could land a phone, you were in business.

CATHY WURZER: And you would take forever to file your stories because they were so long.

MIKE MULCAHY: Well, I will say--

CATHY WURZER: It was public radio.

MIKE MULCAHY: --a lot of it was live interviews. And so I was debriefing, and it would take four minutes or whatever, as you well know, however long--

CATHY WURZER: Banging on the door.

MIKE MULCAHY: --a segment is--


MIKE MULCAHY: --on Morning Edition. That's what we did, and wow, that was a long time ago.


MIKE MULCAHY: And all I remember is how cold it was.


MIKE MULCAHY: I don't remember much about the phone booth.

CATHY WURZER: It was bloody cold. And your batteries in your tape deck would freeze up.

MIKE MULCAHY: And your pen.

CATHY WURZER: Yes, your pen. That's why I always used a pencil.

MIKE MULCAHY: There you go.

CATHY WURZER: Always use a pencil outside.

MIKE MULCAHY: Yeah, so--

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, I know. Anyway.

MIKE MULCAHY: Those were the days.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, thank you. Just, thank you for letting me recall that little bit of history. You moved up, though, from Rochester to St. Paul, which was good. Started covering state politics. We also met again at the Capitol. I kept thinking, God, this guy is following me around. What's the deal with that?

MIKE MULCAHY: You know, I think your memory is failing.


MIKE MULCAHY: Because we first met at KSTP-AM. You probably didn't remember me because you were an on-air personality, and I was a lowly button pusher, running the mixing board. And that was like my first job out of college. And you were already working there.

CATHY WURZER: Sad, isn't it?

MIKE MULCAHY: And then I remember, several years-- well, not several years-- a couple of years later, I was walking into the NPR building probably after a press conference or something, surly and on deadline fever, and there's this woman sitting in a car. And she says, hey, remember me? And I'm like, oh, yeah, it's Cathy Wurzer. Yeah, hey, how are you doing? And she says, I just applied for a job in there, so put in a good word for me.

CATHY WURZER: God, your memory is much better than mine.

MIKE MULCAHY: Which, in fact, I did. I went in and I said, hey, I just saw Cathy Wurzer outside. She applied for a job? You should hire her.


MIKE MULCAHY: So you basically owe it all to me.

CATHY WURZER: I do owe it all to you. How did I miss-- you never said this until this very minute.

MIKE MULCAHY: Well, I thought you remembered. I can't help it.

CATHY WURZER: I can't even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, much less what happened.

MIKE MULCAHY: Well, you work too many hours. That's--

CATHY WURZER: That is true. That's true. So when you went to the Capitol, some reporters dread getting the assignment to go to the Capitol. I really liked it. How did you view it?

MIKE MULCAHY: I liked it. I liked it a lot because I had been covering, sort of, St. Paul City Hall. And there was interesting stuff going on there, but it wasn't really of statewide interest. And the Capitol, I was also almost always desperate to find a story in those days because I was thinking if I didn't have a story on, they would realize I was a fraud and fire me. And so I was always looking for something to put on the radio.

And then when the Capitol position opened up, I thought, well, that's great because there's always something happening at the Capitol. But almost as soon as I took that job, I don't know if people still remember from a long time ago, we had a Capitol reporter named George boozy. And he was great. He came out of UPI, which was one of the wire services. And I was going to work with George. He was going to be the experienced guy. I was going to be the new guy. And we would work together.

Well, a week later, after I started, George got promoted. And he became the boss of the newsroom, and he left the Capitol. And so I'll joke that I never saw George again, but it was like, I'm the new guy. Hey, I'm supposed to be the second banana here, and all of a sudden, I had to cover the Capitol all by myself for a little while there. And that was tough because it's competitive up there, as you know.

CATHY WURZER: It's very competitive. Very, very competitive. And how things have changed, obviously, social media has changed things so much when it comes to political reporting. I wonder what AI will do.

MIKE MULCAHY: That's funny you should mention that because I know you were talking to John Wanamaker last week, who just left NPR. And John, at his going away party, was like-- I wish I could talk like John Wanamaker. I'd be--

CATHY WURZER: That voice?

MIKE MULCAHY: Yeah, I'd be a millionaire. But anyway, John Wanamaker is like, well, they're not going to need me after a couple of years. They're going to replace me with AI. They'll just feed the script in, and it'll read it in my voice. And I'm like, oh, come on, John. They're not going to replace you. But then I started thinking about it. Maybe he's right. Maybe he's right. And the real scary thing about AI is, and about all this technology is, what's real? What's not real?


MIKE MULCAHY: What can you trust? What can't you trust? And that puts us in a perilous place. And I worry about that.

CATHY WURZER: I do, too. I do, too. I wonder how long we're going to last. I mean, I do think a lot about that. I was talking to Dana Ferguson on Almanac, and she had mentioned that she was at a political reporters' gathering, a convention of some sort, and they did bring it up, which is good. You got to talk about this and figure out how are you going to deal with this, right, you know? The thing that was different, when you and I were at the Capitol-- and maybe you can talk about this a little bit. Maybe you don't want to talk about it. The growth of government PR people in terms of kind of getting in the way of the message or trying to spin the message.

MIKE MULCAHY: Well, I think I'm not somebody who thinks all politicians are bad, all government is bad.


MIKE MULCAHY: All people who work in government are bad. In fact, I think most of them are really good. And but like everywhere else in humanity, there are some bad ones who-- or I won't even say bad-- some who don't do a good job. And it's the same in public radio. It's the same everywhere. And I do think that Minnesota has traditionally been a leader in public information. Things are deemed to be public unless there's a good reason to keep them private. And I think there has been a backsliding there.

And I think that some of the agencies and some of the office holders are too careful or too strict or basically just not obeying the law to release public information, and I don't like that. I think that's troubling as well.

CATHY WURZER: We buried the great Gene Lahammer recently, the legendary AP reporter Gene Lahammer. And everyone would go to Gene and ask him questions about the school aid bill or the tax bill because he had institutional knowledge. And I said this on Twitter about you, that we have a lot of institutional knowledge that's walking out the door with you. And when it comes to politics, state politics, how important is that well of information in one's head?

MIKE MULCAHY: Well, it's important, but I think we're going to be fine because we've got Brian Bakst, who's got a long history of covering the Capitol, covering politics, and he's just the best there is. You mentioned Dana Ferguson, who works with Brian at the Capitol. She's been doing it for a while. Not for radio for so long, but she's been a reporter for a while, and she is really, really good. So I think we're going to be OK, at least in terms of politics. And I probably wouldn't have left if I didn't think that.

CATHY WURZER: I understand what you're saying about who's behind you, but when it comes to generally speaking, as a political reporter, I always found that it was important to have a sense of history and what came before.

MIKE MULCAHY: I think so, but history-- correct me if I'm wrong-- it seems to be happening faster and faster. I mean, there's so much going on right now. And it's hard to keep up with and it's exhausting to keep up with. And that's one reason why I'm looking at the door, too, besides having to continue to work with you, which is just almost intolerable.

CATHY WURZER: I know. It's just such-- I know, I know. It's just such a difficulty, isn't it? Ah, I'm telling you. What do you have planned for Monday, October 2nd?

MIKE MULCAHY: Monday, October 2nd, I'm going to try to sleep.


MIKE MULCAHY: I'm going to try to sleep a little later than I usually do, although Wednesday the 4th, I signed up to go see Liz Cheney over at Northrop Auditorium, so we'll see how that goes.

CATHY WURZER: You just can't get away from it. See, that's the thing.

MIKE MULCAHY: Well, I'm still going to be a citizen, even if I'm not going to be a journalist, even if I'm not going to work here, right? And I'm going to try to exercise my vocal chords to sound more like John Wanamaker.

CATHY WURZER: [LAUGHS] And we'll see how that works for you then. We'll have to then might have to have you back, perhaps. Do a little newscasting maybe.

MIKE MULCAHY: Oh, you'll just replace me with AI.

CATHY WURZER: Our little-- don't even say that. We will definitely, definitely miss you. Really, it's been such fun. Thanks for refreshing my memory. God, I hope I was OK when we were at KSTP together. Was I OK to you? Was I nice to you?

MIKE MULCAHY: I don't think we talked more than maybe twice because there was glass between the control room and the talent.

CATHY WURZER: The alleged talent.

MIKE MULCAHY: And then there was glass between the other talent who I worked with a little more often, some of the show hosts. But the newscasters, I didn't actually deal with much.

CATHY WURZER: Because we were busy. We were actually trying to get the news on the air.

MIKE MULCAHY: We were all busy.

CATHY WURZER: We were all so busy.

MIKE MULCAHY: And we still are.

CATHY WURZER: We still are. Thank you, again, my friend, for everything. We wish you all the best.

MIKE MULCAHY: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Don't be a stranger, for goodness' sakes.


CATHY WURZER: Politics editor Mike Mulcahy. By the way, you can read more about Mike's career by going to And you can send him a note, a nice little note thanking him for one heck of a career. We appreciate him being here on the air one final time with me. Thank you for listening to Minnesota Now here on M--

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