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Hey, Pat Reusse, are you crazy?

How the Twin Cities’ best sportwriter became a full-time radio guy.
By David Brauer

“Somewhere between wacky and MPR, there’s a morning radio show to be done.” — Pat Reusse, new KSTP morning host, in a station press release

A dozen years ago, that would’ve been me talking.

For 18 months, I was KSTP’s morning host, a liberal in the capital of Rush-land, trying to navigate between the twin shoals of Tom Barnard and a commercial-free colossus. Finally, the 3 a.m. wake-up calls, ambient audience hostility and meager ratings convinced me that writing might be less strain on my psyche and body.

Reusse — who today took over the 5:30-9 a.m. shift — has considerable advantages. He’s the biggest name to hold down the gig since a dude named Jesse Ventura. He’s clearly the struggling station’s best shot for a morning toehold, successfully yakking on KSTP’s “Saturday Morning Sportstalk” since 1981, and supporting many KSTP morning hosts with his hourly appearances. There’s a decent chance some of Joe Soucheray’s afternoon mob won’t touch their dials the next morning.

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With a contract through October 2011, the man who remains the Twin Cities’ best sportswriter has a chance to peel away folks bored with KFAN’s boorishness, KQ’s buffoonery, WCCO’s conventionality and MPR’s buzzkill.

Still, Patrick: Getting up in the middle of the night nearly killed me when I was in my mid-30s, and you qualify for AARP plus a Jillian Michaels makeover segment.

In short: Are you nuts?

“Welllllll,” cackles Reusse when his age is mentioned, “I get up at 3:30 a.m. now, so I guess I’m kind of a split shift guy already.”

Even integrating afternoon naps, the man faces a punishing schedule. He cut back to half-time at the Star Tribune, but will still write Thursday and Sunday columns. He’ll be at KSTP six days a week, continuing the Saturday show with Soucheray, but will dump a Sunday program with fellow Strib sports columnist Jim Souhan to rest on the Lord’s Day.

Reusse originally wanted out of newspapering; he asked to be part of the Strib’s recent buyout, but was turned down. Sportswriters weren’t eligible, so half-time was the compromise. (He says he’ll be making a little more as a full-time radio guy and part-time scribe than the other way around, “but not enough to pay for the remodeling I just did.”)

Reusse doesn’t deny that the Strib’s precarious economics were a factor in taking on more radio work, but there were other reasons.

“I don’t want to get on a plane and go do stuff anymore,” he says. “Travel is a pain in the ass. And frankly, I wasn’t sure if what I do is what my [newspaper] bosses were looking for.”

Noting recent columns on weeping blondes and Filipino families, he adds, “I’m more of a storyteller, and I like to go to games and write about games, not have 9,000 opinions. I wasn’t sure if that’s what they wanted. But when I told them I wanted to get the buyout, it turns out they held me in high esteem, and we worked out the half-time thing.”

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Reusse says he approached KSTP management about six months ago, telling them if they were going to make a change in the schedule, “they should talk to me. There were only two shows I would do: early morning or following Sooch. This was long before I knew Mischke wasn’t going to be around. We’d just had a horrible ratings book, and it was obvious something was going to happen.”

The bosses came to him at the end of November; the deal was finalized in late December. Reusse’s sidekick is longtime KSTP personality Jay Kolls, who co-hosted AM1500’s previous morning show.

Reusse says the goal is to beat the two other AM talkers, KFAN and WCCO. He describes his show as “Information and some entertainment, not forced talk, and not calls — very few of those. I don’t think a morning show can be caller-driven. I’d like to turn the 5:30 [half-hour] into a news block. I’m a movie buff. I’d like to find an L.A. guy.”

He stresses that the show will be “sports-y, but not all sports. Politics in the most fascinating of all sports.”

While Kolls is a more conservative guy, Reusse says, “The real challenge is I’m not sure how the old-line KSTP audience is going to like a lefty like me for three hours. I’m not going to shove it down their throats, but” — he cackles — “I will be celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama, which will be different.”