Bob Collins: Everybody Has a Great Story
Bob Collins, a 27-year veteran of Minnesota Public Radio, talks about his career, how he discovers a good story, his love of baseball, and building airplanes in his retirement.
- Thinking “everyone deserves a voice” in media led to giving a voice to our dark side, and unfortunately, people saw they were not alone in their dark thinking.
- NewsCut, Bob’s non-traditional news blog, ran stories that tried to give people a better picture of Minnesota and the real world, not just crime and politics.
- Bob retired last year from MPR due to frequent attacks from Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear which can cause vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss.
- Bob wanted a plane, but planes are very expensive. So he built one! Turns out Minneapolis is a hotbed of home-built airplane builders who he learned from!
IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business, and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic.
My guest today is Bob Collins, who has been described as one of the most humble, honest voices in media. He was at Minnesota Public Radio for more than 25 years serving various roles including Senior Editor of News, and also, he was the creator of the NewsCut blog. He’s now been retired for more than a year and is still active in providing his commentary on Twitter. He loves the game of baseball, and he’s built his own plane that actually flies.
Hi Bob. Welcome to the show. It’s an honor for me.
BOB COLLINS: How nice of you to think I was worth talking to.
IVAN: Oh come on. [laughing]
BOB: [laughing] Well, you said I was humble, so that was my shot at giving it a whirl.
IVAN: Well you got it. I think you totally nailed it. [laughing] It’s online, it’s in an article, it says, most humble, honest voice in the media, and I would believe that.
BOB: Well, I’ll be darned. I’ll have to find that article and show it to people. [laughing]
IVAN: So, you’re from Massachusetts. A nd according to Twin Cities business magazine, you got your start in 1977 in Southbridge, Mass.
IVAN: Carter administration, LA Dodgers the World Series Champions. How did you become interested in the news?
BOB: I was already interested in the news. It’s actually what I wanted to do most of my life. Actually, I really wanted to be an airline pilot.
BOB: So I had a big plan that I would go to the Air Force academy and learn to fly and become an airline pilot. But back then you needed 20/20 vision uncorrected, and I didn’t have that, and so, radio was kind of my fallback. But all the time growing up I had been interested in the news. I rarely sat with my family for dinner. I would put it on a tray and take it into the TV room and watch the news, and so my family hardly ever saw me when the news was on.
And so this job in Southbridge came up about a year after I graduated from college, and it was as a disc jockey which I’d never done, five days a week. But, then on the sixth day they let you be a news guy, and so, I kind of jumped at that.
IVAN: They let you be a news guy. [laughing]
BOB: [laughing] Yeah, so Saturday morning, you know, big news time, and so, I would work my five days, be very bad at being a disc jockey and get up early on Saturday morning and get to do the news.
IVAN: And did you do investigative journalism?
BOB: No, that was just top of the hour newscast and reading wire copy and that sort of thing. I’m not an investigative reporter. I just don’t have that talent, and I didn’t even get into that side of things until several years later when I was working down in Boston. And we broke the story of the U.S. attorney there with the deepest penetration into the Italian mob in Boston in history. Essentially broke it up in the North End. I was an editor. I was off the air by then, I was just a full-time editor. That was my first exposure to running a unit that was doing investigative work.
IVAN: And so then, kind of everything spiraled from there in your evolution into politics of news, or the news of politics?
BOB: Yeah. This was a great radio station that I worked at in Boston in the eighties, AM station, back when AM was king. And it was a great radio market but they laid almost everybody off in the newsroom and so, I was out of work. I did some fill in work as a writer for the local TV station, and I hated television news. I could never figure it out.
But then I got an offer to go down to New York as an editor at the RKO Radio Network in Times Square, and I worked there for a couple of years. Then I went back to the Berkshires because my father-in-law had a couple of small radio stations up there, and wanted to get an FM license for one of the markets and asked me to join him and be their Vice President of Programming. I think he wanted to get my wife back close to home. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] So then, shortly thereafter you moved to Minnesota?
BOB: I did.
IVAN: Why did you come to Minnesota?
BOB: You know, I was active on the old CompuServe Journalism forum back then. I was one of the moderators. At that time there was a recession in Massachusetts, this would’ve been in 1991, and we were losing our shirt on the radio station. And I was working for family, and I didn’t want to be that guy working for the family who was only still working because he was in the family. And so, I told my father-in-law “I think I’m going to try and get back into the news side of things full-time.” And he said, “Oh, that’s a good idea.” [laughing]
And Loren Omoto was the news director at MPR at the time and he was also on the J Forum and he said, “Have you ever considered Minnesota,” and I hadn’t oddly enough. [laughing] But they flew me out and they put me up at the St. Paul hotel, and I thought Wow, this is really cool, and I liked it.
I came out in March. But I really needed the work, and then they didn’t make an offer but then they called a few weeks later and they said, “we want your wife to come out with you this time,” and I thought, Well, okay, that’s good. I’m going to get an offer. They flew us both out, put us up at the St. Paul again, gave us a car.
BOB: Yeah, to explore the area. We had a great dinner over at Loren’s house with Kate Moose and they still didn’t make an offer. [laughing]
BOB: I know, and, I remember on the plane ride back home looking at my wife and saying, “What the heck was that?” And I came to find that that was kind of the MPR culture where they’re very deliberative and take a long time to make easy decisions. [laughing] But they eventually did, and it worked out really well.
IVAN: Yes it did. You were there for over 25 years, weren’t you?
BOB: 27 years, yep.
IVAN: 27 years. Wow.
BOB: That was my first public radio gig. So I figured I’ll just work there for a couple years then try to get something at CCO [laughing] something I’m more comfortable with, you know, commercial radio. Then I ended up doing that. And I came out as an editor. They didn’t have, I guess, a full-time editor per se at the time, so I took on that role.
IVAN: I remember the very first time I met you was at Public Radio camp back in 2008, and we were bright eyed and bushy tailed about how news and the internet were going to collide, and how we were going to be all local, and we’re going to target people with specific events, and so on. Those were the days, weren’t they Bob?
BOB: I was just thinking about that this morning. Those were really the golden days of news on the internet, because we were so creative, frankly. And we took risks, and we wanted to tell stories in different ways, and we did. We created little apps that helped explain things, we didn’t just slap up a radio copy and throw a picture in and walk away. We really explored ways to use the medium that was available in a supportive role to the core medium, and it was great fun. But part of the reason it was, and that we were able to take those risks, was because it was an infant medium, and there really was no risk, because we didn’t have that big of an audience, and so we weren’t risking anything.
But once we ended up with an audience, and all of a sudden you had more people saying “No” or “You can’t do this” or “There’s a resource problem” or something like that. And it’s a little bit difficult in a media where the internet side of things, the digital side of things, wasn’t the core medium, because we were always trying to teach people why this was so important.
And ultimately, I think we did some really creative and great things. But looking back now I think it’s pretty boring. [laughing] It’s just texting photos, and there’s a few videos every now and again that are fairly compelling, but it doesn’t feel the same to me.
IVAN: Do you think that public radio is fundamentally still a radio-driven organization or is it a digital company?
BOB: Well, I’m sure it changes from company to company. At MPR, and of course I haven’t been at MPR in a year, I would say it’s very much still a radio operation. And you begin to learn what they value, frankly, when they lay people off and rededicate resources.
Chris Worthington, who came over from the Pioneer Press in 2006 and was the news boss for many years, really built up the digital side of things, and when they had a big bloodletting in 2015, I think it was, they basically undid all of that; moved Chris over to the national programming side, and then took a lot of those resources and put it into a radio product in California. So that was a statement saying here’s what we value, and what we value is these radio products.
IVAN: The prevalence of, I guess, distrust of the media, this phrase that I hate hearing “fake news”. Do you think that’s something that we could’ve predicted in the industry? Do you think that’s something that we could’ve seen coming down the road. Or do you think that’s kind of hit the market and just sort of blasted everything with great surprise?
BOB: Well, it’s a little complicated. I don’t think we saw or could have seen the extent to which this cult of denial has been created. Recall back when we were at radio camp how we were going to give everybody a voice. And we were going to take the patriarchy away from the news gathering process, and we made a fundamental fatal flaw in our thinking which was, everybody deserved a voice. What we ended up doing was giving a voice to this dark side of ourselves. And in so doing we allowed people to see that they were not alone in their dark thinking. And in a way we helped them organize and created this frankly monster to democracy, I think, that has really threatened us in ways that we never anticipated. But I think it all goes back to giving people that voice.
BOB: Enabling. And, of course, they were very good at drowning out all of those voices. I read up until the last minute at MPR, I was convinced that a good comment section was possible. But right near the end I realized it wasn’t.
IVAN: Yeah, it really did. Didn’t it?
BOB: But that’s where it all started, but now, of course, it’s migrated onto other platforms. Yeah.
IVAN: What do you think we can do? What should we be doing to bring back the trust in journalism?
BOB: I think we have to recognize that we are in an age that all the old norms and the established principles no longer apply. So, you have a media that wants to build up this trust by not having, or at least giving away that they have a dog in the fight. Well, the fight now is literally the survival of democracy. And I think it’s okay to have a dog in that fight, and I think it’s okay for the media to lead that fight, and it’s for the most part, not willing to do that.
IVAN: I think so too.
BOB: It holds onto this concept of, and this is a word I’ve always hated, objectivity, because I think some of the values of Murrow, who is, let’s face it, the godfather of journalism, I think a lot of that got corrupted somewhere along the line that has prevented people in the news business from leading that defense of democracy.
And so, that’s how you end up with what aboutism, and this balance thing where you give the dark side a voice as if it has a legitimate right, and you amplify this cult of darkness. So, until that changes, and maybe we’re seeing a little bit of that now, but I think too often media organizations have just backed away anytime that anybody yells bias, or especially liberal bias in the case of public radio, and have really ignored their true responsibility, because they just don’t want to make anybody angry.
IVAN: And, as a result of making them angry, losing the eyeballs and losing the clicks and losing the supposed engagement, right?
BOB: I think that’s right. So, I don’t know how to answer [laughing] the question. Whether there’s anything we can do. I mean, yes, there’s stuff we can do. Are we going to do it? Boy, I think we’re really running out of time.
IVAN: We are. I agree with that. Why did you start NewsCut? And for the record, that’s my understanding, you started NewsCut. Can you explain to our listeners what NewsCut is for those who haven’t been on this site, and what’s the origin story there?
BOB: NewsCut was never able to be defined, but it was a blog, a newsroom blog. They gave the complete free reign to do whatever I wanted to do with it. And I wanted to tell people stories, and really confront things that maybe the news side didn’t want to have confronted. And, a lot of it was silly, some of it was serious. It was just a little bit of everything, and it was in the first person, so it had a personality to it, which is very unpublic radio like. I had actually taken the summer of 2006 off because the boss at that time of MPR News had zeroed out my capital budget. I was managing editor of Digital at that time. He had zeroed out my capital budget for the seventh straight year. [laughing]
BOB: So, I had all these things that I wanted to do and I couldn’t do them because I couldn’t get the budget, because that was all going to radio, he was a radio guy. So I just couldn’t get the resources, and I was going to quit. I think it was Bill Wareham or somebody down there had said “Why don’t you take time off?” So, I took the summer off, and while I was away, they hired Chris Worthington. The big news guy left, and they hired Chris Worthington and Mike Reszler, who is still at MPR as their digital boss.
Reszler basically took my job and then Worthington wanted me to go do this blog fulltime, because I had gone off to political conventions in the, and I had always been able to find interesting, kind of wacky things, or serious things told in a different way, and he wanted me to do that fulltime.
So, I guess there were either two theories on how NewsCut started. One is, they had this idea and they wanted me to do it. The other is, they wanted me out of the job I had so Reszler could do it. [laughing] And this is what they came up with. So, I don’t know which one is accurate, but they both lead to a pretty good product.
And so, Chris, we talked a long time about it, and I went back to work in September and for three months I would be doing NewsCut without anybody being able to see it, and running everything by him. And he said, “we want this to be just short pieces and don’t write in the first person.” [laughing] So I immediately started writing in the first person. [laughing]
The idea was I’m basically having a conversation right, with the readers, and then we’re going to continue to engage in the comment section. And in that section, I’m going to have, well, opinions I guess is the word people would use, Chris used to say observations, and really challenge people and challenge things. Because in terms of the serious side of NewsCut, how many times do you listen to the news and you hear a news cut of some politician saying something, and you know it’s completely BS.
BOB: But because of this corrupted Murrowism, [laughing] they put it on the air, and nobody calls it out, even though everybody knows what it is. So, I tried to use it for that. The other thing I really tried to do is to give people a better picture of Minnesota and their world; public radio and news in general is crime and politics mostly, and that’s not the world we really live in.
I mean, the real world we live in are people trying to get through the day or doing interesting things. It’s kind of that whole tapestry of the community, and I tried to do posts and talk to people and try to tap into that. People seemed to respond to that at one point. The blog was great. It was the most popular page on the MPR site for 11 years,12 years, whatever it was. I don’t think it ever really got a great deal of support in the newsroom, because it was so non-news.
BOB: Yes, non-traditional I guess is a better word.
IVAN: I absolutely loved it.
BOB: So we had some fans, but I think people were uncomfortable with it.
IVAN: I think people were uncomfortable with it and I think that was a good thing. I loved it. I very much appreciated your tweets very early on, asking people for What should I talk about today? I’m low on ideas, help me out. That was refreshing. I spent a fair amount of time reading the articles, I clicked through at least a dozen times in each of the articles, and I skimmed the comments. The comments were hard. The comments are just so hard to deal with sometimes. But I am glad they archived it, and I’m glad that it’s still out there.
BOB: Yeah, I don’t know how long it’s going to be out there, because every time they change a server or redesign a page a little piece of it falls away. But my youngest son, when I retired, had paid somebody to scoop up all of the content from the site, basically recreate the MPR site, and gave it to me on a flash drive.
IVAN: Oh, isn’t that great.
BOB: Yeah. I miss some of those stories. I don’t miss writing it because it was hard. The writing part is easy, but finding what to write about is hard. I miss how good I felt after talking to people. My favorite, I think, was the Wrenshall Minnesota Girls Basketball team, in, I think it was 2012. They had just played maybe Barnum or Carlton or somebody like that, and they lost 65 to nothing. And it made the AP wire. It immediately became the butt of jokes. Leno at that time was on and he made fun of them.
What I tried to do at NewsCut is just look at things in a different way, and I thought, I bet there’s a good story here. So, I called the coach and I said, “can I come up and talk to you and meet your team?” She was happy to have me do that and they were just great kids. And there weren’t very many of them, because in a small Minnesota town, one graduating class can wipe out a sport.
BOB: They had a lot of junior varsity kids. Everybody showed up for practice every day, nobody quit the team even though people in their own school were making fun of them. They went on to lose another game, 100 to 12. They didn’t win any games that year, but I got a good couple of pieces out of them. They were just great kids. In the last few years of NewsCut I thought I really need to go find those kids and find out whatever happened to them, because I’m sure they did great in life. They all had the right attitude. I miss those stories. I miss how good I felt after doing those.
IVAN: I miss reading them as well. I was always amazed at how you were able to generate that much content.
BOB: Thank you. Because like you said, we’d ask. Everybody knows somebody, and everybody has a great story, they just don’t think they’re “newsworthy” because everybody has been force-fed this definition of what is news. I used to have this thing where I said, “If you give me seven questions to ask you, I will find something that people will want to read about.”
And I used to speak to journalism classes over at the U and that would be the exercise we’d do. I’d say, “Talk to this person next to you. Come up with seven questions.” And they would say, “Well, what are the seven questions?” [laughing] I said, “That’s up to you.” But the key really isn’t the questions. The key is whether you’re listening to the answers. And if you’re listening to the answers they will always, always, always, give you something that you could jump on and explore further, and that’s true with everybody. You just have to listen to the answers.
IVAN: I’m doing my best to listen to you as much as I can, Bob.
BOB: [laughing] With exceptions. There are exceptions. Can I give you just one quick example of that?
IVAN: Of course.
BOB: I was at Denver for the 2008 convention, and when I covered political conventions I rarely went into the arena because I don’t think they’re very interesting. I think the people who are around arenas in town are much more interesting, and plus we had sent a big contingent over there because we were having the Republican convention in St. Paul.
It was the night Hillary was speaking, and I thought, Well maybe I’ll go see her. But there was a long line. I said, No, forget it. I’m going to go into town and get something to eat.
So, I walked into this McDonald’s which was empty, except for this one guy and his wife, elderly couple. And they were ordering at the counter, I ordered at the counter, and then we were both going to our seats, and they apologized for moving so slow. So, of course I sat next to them. He was a delegate to the convention. I said, “Well aren’t you supposed to be down at the arena?” He had left his heart medication at the hotel, so they decided to just go back to the hotel. He was actually a Hillary delegate, not an Obama delegate.
So, we started chatting, and I finally asked him, I said, “Well, where are you from?” He said, “I’m from Ottumwa, Iowa.” The only thing I know about Ottumwa, Iowa is that’s where Radar O’Reilly was from in the TV series, Mash, and the book Mash. I said, “You know what I have to ask you now”, and he stuck out his hand and he said, “I’m Radar.” It turns out he is the guy on whom the character was based.
IVAN: You’re kidding?
BOB: Nope. So I got a good post out of that, and it all started with just being interested in the guy in the first place and his wife and listening to the answers.
IVAN: That’s amazing.
BOB: So, yeah.
IVAN: Ottumwa, Iowa.
BOB: Ottumwa, Iowa. He’s still there.
IVAN: Is he really?
BOB: Yeah, I looked him up the other day.
IVAN: Really? That’s amazing.
BOB: I can’t remember his name. It was Don something. Maybe Don Adams, Don Johnson, something. I don’t know what it was, but nice guy.
IVAN: Now, you love baseball.
BOB: I do.
IVAN: You love the game of baseball. You have been an usher at Target Field. I recall you bemoaning the escapades of the Cleveland team on Twitter.
IVAN: But I read a story about how you first got interested in baseball and it was a story about your experience at Fenway Park. Could you tell that story?
BOB: Is this with the usher?
IVAN: No, is it? I think your Mom was involved here. That’s the same story, right?
BOB: Yeah, right. Same story. I was a Cleveland fan because my older brother was. None of us are from Ohio, but I was a big fan.
IVAN: I was wondering about that.
BOB: Both my Mom and Dad originally were from Ohio, but my Dad couldn’t put it in the rearview mirror fast enough when WWII broke out. He was at the Army base in Massachusetts when he met my Mom. But my big brother was a fan of the Indians, whose name we recognize is awful and we’re glad that they’re going to change it.
So, I went to Fenway a lot when they were in town. And so, we’d sit out in the bleachers and at that time the bleachers were a dollar. So, my Mom and I went down to a game, and before the game we’re sitting there, and an usher kept motioning me down and so my Mom’s like, Go on down. So I went down and out of his suit coat, because back then the ushers wore coats, he pulls out a real baseball, and he gave it to me, which that’s about as good as it gets. So, I went back, and my Mom and I agreed to say that I caught a homerun ball. [laughing] A lie which stood only until a few years ago.
IVAN: [laughing] Who broke the lie?
BOB: [laughing] The lie was that I caught this ball, it was a home run and I caught it, when in fact the usher gave it to me. So we told all my brothers and sisters that I had caught Jose Cardenal’s home run that night. Yeah, it was a lie. But that’s when I thought, This usher thing is pretty good, and so I always wanted to be a baseball usher because of that.
A few years ago I got the job over at Target Field as an usher, and the first thing I did is I showed up early and I sat out in left field for batting practice to get baseballs to give to kids during the gam. And I still do that. Well, I’m not doing it this year , but it’s the greatest feeling in the world to give the kid a baseball.
IVAN: I want to do that as well. I mean, I grew up watching baseball in Africa on the TV when I could get it. I mostly watched Cricket, but when I finally immigrated to the U.S. and my wife was pregnant with our second kid, she was on bedrest, and that was when I fell in love with the Twins because that was all we could get on the TV at the time. And it would be awesome to be an usher.
BOB: Yeah, it is. It’s not hard. The hardest part, you know you’re supposed to hold fans back while a player is at bat. So that at Target Field the way it’s set up, if people are in the aisles during an at bat people can’t see, and so we hold them back, and you’d be surprised at how belligerent people can be when you just ask them to observe a simple baseball courtesy. But for the most part people are great. And the other thing I like about it is people, I guess who follow me on Twitter, I used to say, “Well I’m working this section tonight,” and they’d come up and chat during the game, and I liked that.
IVAN: That’s a lot of fun. What do you think of the reduced season, and in the new format, and the base runner on second when there’s a tie? What do you think of that development?
BOB: I don’t care for that. I’m kind of a purist. I think it’s funny how people just want the games to get over sooner. I’m thinking, Are you really a baseball fan if your whole reason for going is so you can leave quickly? [laughing] But, there are parts of the game that I think drag. I don’t like the fact that the game has become just home runs and strikeouts. I don’t like batters stepping out after every pitch to get themselves dressed again.
IVAN: Well, undressed and then dressed. Right. They take it all off then they put it back on.
BOB: Yeah, right. They go through this whole thing, you know, it’s like, come on man, get in there. I don’t care for the seven inning doubleheaders. I’m glad that they’re having a season. It looks like they’re going to be able to complete it. I was just thinking the other night while watching a Cleveland game, if the Cleveland should win the World Series, which they won’t, but if they should [laughing], you know, my whole dream is just give me one before I die, and I’m really running out of time here. [laughing] So I’m in no position to have high standards for my world championship. [laughing] I was watching the game the other night and getting all exercised about it, so I guess I’m in mid-season form, even though it’s a shortened season.
IVAN: Yeah, I agree. I was just talking to my son about it yesterday and we’re like, you know, it’s so weird to be watching these games and have that fake crowd sound and all the stadiums empty.
BOB: I don’t care for that.
IVAN: I don’t care for that either. I would just like to hear the banter from the dugouts. Play that.
BOB: I think the players were concerned that all of their obscenities and stuff would get on the air without the fake crowd noise. But it’s difficult for me because I’m basically deaf and wear hearing aids, the crowd noise is really difficult when you’re trying to hear the announcers, and it’s dumb. [laughing].
IVAN: It’s dumb. I agree with that, it’s dumb. [laughing] My son was saying, You know dad, there’s going to be a World Series champion this year, and there isn’t going to be a crowd to see them win it. I’m like, Yeah. How is that going to happen?
BOB: But you know baseball has been less and less about the game experience and more and more about the broadcasts anyway. And none of us were probably gonna get World Series tickets anyway.
IVAN: That’s true. Well, as an usher wouldn’t you have some sort of access to the World Series game, right? Come on.
BOB: Yeah, I could put in for it, and I’d probably get it. I did work the Yankees/Twins series last year.
IVAN: Debacle is the word you’re talking about? The debacle I think? [laughing]
BOB: Yeah, well, my oldest son who was born in White Plains, NY, because I was working at RKO at the time, is a Yankees fan. And he had gotten tickets for the one game we had at Target Field. So this is really a commentary on fatherhood. I wanted the Twins to win as an usher cause I didn’t want the season to end, but I was pretty happy cause my kid was happy. I was lucky that I was working the dugout boxes along the first base side, and I was literally 20, 30 feet away from home plate, so I had a good view. And I kept looking back up to my son during the game.
IVAN: Ecstatic, I’m sure.
BOB: Yeah. Baseball’s so great. I know it’s not the cool sport anymore, but there isn’t anything that comes close to it.
IVAN: I agree. Totally agree. Now amongst your side hustles that have been described in the past is being an usher, right?
IVAN: I read that you were driving a Lyft as well?
BOB: I did. I did that when I was working at MPR.
IVAN: When? When did you do that? Like, you have a full-time job.
BOB: I would do my 4:20 bit with Mary Lucia on the Current, which I loved and miss terribly. And then I would run out and hop in the car and turn on the app. Then I would just see where people were going and it was like riding a raft down a river, it just went wherever people needed to go. And it was always interesting to see where you would end up at later in the evening. People were just really interesting, and it was kind of a natural extension of NewsCut really, because everybody who got in, if they wanted to talk, had a story. I even got a couple of NewsCuts out of it.
And I liked doing it. I didn’t do it for the money, although the money was nice at that time, and then I stopped doing that when Lyft went public, they cut the driver pay significantly. And then when my hearing started to go worse than it already was, I couldn’t hear people. So there was no reason to continue doing it.
IVAN: And you’ve talked about your hearing loss before, and I’ve read that that’s one of the reasons you retired from MPR.
BOB: Yeah, it’s the reason I retired.
IVAN: The reason. And you have something called Meniere’s disease.
BOB: Yeah, Meniere’s is an inner ear disease. There’s no cure, they don’t know what causes it, but it results in hearing loss. But more importantly, a Meniere’s attack is violent vertigo, including nausea, throwing up and the whole thing and it can last several hours. And it eventually leaves you deaf. Then in a minority of cases it will jump to the good ear, and it will go after that and that’s what happened with me.
And so, you don’t really know when the attacks are going to come and that was difficult to be in the radio business and have people depending on you to be somewhere. There was a morning I was supposed to fill in, I think for Kerri Miller, and I had done all the research for the show we were going to do, and I had an attack that morning. So, at the last minute I had to cancel, and I felt really bad about that. I was always very dependable, and I don’t like being somebody that people can’t depend on.
The next night I had another , and I just sent off an email to the boss saying, That’s it. I’m retiring on the day I turn 65 and qualify for Medicare. I had been kind of waiting them out, hoping I could get a buyout. I think they waited me out hoping I would retire first. I had nothing left to say on NewsCut, so it made perfect sense.
IVAN: And how has that affected your side hustles, like you mentioned you can’t do the Lyft driving anymore?
BOB: Yeah, I did some DoorDash. I love driving for one thing. That’s one of the reasons. I wasn’t going to take Social Security until my actual retirement age which was 66 this past May. A couple of side hustles and used the money to pay for my Medicare premiums, and stuff like that. The DoorDash was great because I would only do it for a couple hours in the afternoon, so I could listen to Tom Crann and All Things Considered and Marketplace, and The Daily, while I drove around. Whereas before I wasn’t really able to listen to it. So, that was kind of cool. I haven’t done much of that though. And, of course, then I had the Twins also. So I was keeping pretty busy. The hard part now is people are wearing masks, and I really need to see people’s lips moving.
IVAN: I guess that begs the question, how are you doing this interview? How is that working?
BOB: Remarkably well. It’s working well. The hard part of this is a lot of Meniere’s attacks are the result of stress, and you start thinking about, if you have a commitment. What if I have an attack, and then it just gets worse and worse. So, step one was just being able to do the interview, which wasn’t a problem. But I had these nice headphones and microphone that you sent me, and I have to take the hearing aids out because of the feedback, and that was the same thing when I was doing the news on the Current, you’d have to wear headphones, and I was able to hear okay, as long as I have some headphones.
I went flying a couple of months ago because I had built this plane, which I eventually had to sell. Now I’m building another. I did find that with those headphones now in the plane I cannot hear the radio, which is a bad thing, [laughing] so my flying days may be over.
IVAN: Let’s back up there a little bit. How do you just build a plane and then have the guts to fly it, and then sell it and then build another plane? How could you build a plane? Why did you build a plane?
BOB: Well, I wanted a plane, [laughing] and I couldn’t afford to buy one, you know, they’re expensive. And so, it turns out that this area of Minnesota is one of the hotbeds of home-built airplanes.
BOB: Yeah, this area, Texas and the Pacific Northwest. So, there was plenty of people I could talk to, to see what was involved. Now I flunked shop in high school, so I was a little concerned about this. But, there’s a very popular line of home-built airplanes called the Van’s Aircraft; Van’s Air Force we call it. And the tooling on these things has just gotten so good over the years, that you're doing more assembling than building. So I started building this one in 2001, because I was convinced my kids, who at that time were small, I was convinced that they’d go to college back east and this is how I could visit them quite often.
So, it took 11 years as it turned out. I went and delivered the Pioneer Press every morning while working at MPR for 10 years, because the money for the project I didn’t want to come out of the family budget. So, I finally finished this plane, and I had a test pilot do the first flight. It was a wonderful plane. It was well built, and it just did everything I asked it to do. And I flew it back three or four times to my hometown to see my Mom, and it was just a wonderful plane. But once this Meniere’s kicked in and got worse, there was no way the FAA was going to give me a medical certificate to continue flying.
So, I sold it to a guy over in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a great guy. The last time I flew is when I delivered it to him, one very cold December day. But there’s a funny story about that. He’s a professor of mathematics at this college in Grand Rapids, and he took this woman out for their first date, and they went flying. It turns out that they fell in love, and when they got engaged a year ago, they contacted me and invited me to the wedding, because it wouldn’t have happened without the plane I built.
IVAN: Without the plane, wow. That’s a great story. Did the plane have a name? Do you name planes? I think you name planes.
BOB: No. We called it Auntie Marge, but it doesn’t really have a name like you do with a boat. But it was a great plane. And it turned out when I finished building it, and you develop a lot of skills when you build an airplane, and you have a lot of tools also. It turns out I missed the building part of things. There is this category called “light sport”, which you don’t need a medical certificate to fly, and so I started building this second plane, which goes a lot slower and stuff, but different model, same company.
IVAN: How far into it are you?
BOB: It could fly next year. I’m just doing some fiberglass work now. I just got the engine on it and just installed that. I got avionics I still got to buy, and some nipping and tucking and sanding and stuff. So maybe some time next year. I don’t know if I’ll be able to fly it or not, but if not, I’ll sell it to somebody, and I’ll build another one. It’s fun. It gives me something to do. [laughing]
IVAN: And maybe get invited to another wedding.
BOB: [laughing] Could be a whole sideline. Move over Tinder. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Yeah, right. [laughing] Well, thank you so much for spending your time with me today Bob. It’s been so great talking to you and finding out about your life and how things have evolved, and I hope to see you at a Twins game.
BOB: Well, I’ll be there. I’ll let you know on Twitter what position I’m in and you can come find me.
IVAN: I’ll do that.
BOB: And we’ll talk, and we’ll let people go down while we’re talking, we’ll just let people go down the aisles as they wish. [laughing]
IVAN: That sounds great. Thanks so much Bob.
BOB: Thank you very much for being interested.
IVAN: Bob Collins is the creator of the NewsCut blog and served in many roles including Senior News Editor at Minnesota Public Radio. You can find him on Twitter. He’s @MyLittLeBLOGgie.
You’ve been listening to The TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.