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Steve Lang: New media connects old news hounds

As far as Lee B. Temte and I are concerned, Morris, Minn. and our alma mater, the University of Minnesota, Morris, could just as well be 10,000 miles away.

Between Thailand and West Texas, we live a combined 9,756.3 miles distant, to be exact.         Though neither of us would be quick to admit it, new media reconnected a pair of old news hounds. Lee B spied one of my columns online and electronically ended a 35-year conversation hiatus.

But, as Lee B’s first email noted, “I don't propagate stuff on Facebook and the other social medias. I don't like them too much. Too much mundane crap. My high school friends report the morning temperature like it's their last day on earth. And how their cats are doing.”

During the mid-1970s, Lee B and I constituted the bulk of Morris’ news media; Lee B as news director of KMRS Radio and yours truly as editor of the Morris Sun and Tribune, published on Tuesdays (Sun) and Thursdays (Tribune). Any rivalry was friendly, and for several years, we even lived in the same apartment building. Informal meetings of the Greater Morris Journalism Association – officially named here for the first time – were frequently conducted at the Met Lounge or the VFW Club.

Press conferences were few and far between, usually limited to visits by the University of Minnesota President or Board of Regents to the UMM campus, along with occasional stops by U.S. Senator and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Interviews of statewide and national political candidates were conducted independently in Lee B’s KMRS studio or my cluttered office, although neither of us would have objected to a joint session at the Met or Tip Top Tap.

In those days, finding news proved more of a challenge than covering it. We were not averse to supplying each other with tips, often in exchange for a good joke. With my Swedish heritage and Lee B’s Norwegian roots, Ole and Lena were frequent topics.

Therefore, jokes aside, our attendance at events like the annual Ducks Unlimited dinner, Stevens County Fair or the Mr. Minnesota Teen pageant was a given.

Before the famed August 1975 earthquake, Lee B cited one of his news highlights as the live broadcast of the dedication of the Villa of St. Francis, complete with a visit from the bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

“I expect that my on-air utterance, ‘Here they come! Here they come! They’ve now entered the parking lot!’ will be preserved for posterity in the KMRS archives,” he said upon his departure for other pursuits.

As an indicator of how little or no news occurred or times when even fewer entertainment options were available, I was a repeat visitor to KMRS’ short-lived “Happy Hour,” co-hosted by Lee B and the station’s general manager. In preparation for those forgettable on-air appearances, I huddled with Lee B to make sure neither of us led the other into jokes or quips that could result in FCC censorship.

On truly slow news days, we investigated and quashed rumors – including a Paul Newman sighting in Willie’s Red Owl – or publicly noted non-happenings, such as the cancellation of the St. Urho’s Day parade.

In July 1975, an earthquake literally rocked Morris’ world, with its 4.6 magnitude registering as the highest in Minnesota during the twentieth century. Prior to that, my primary association to this natural upheaval was reading about Oregon State running back Bill “Earthquake” Enyart, who also enjoyed a brief NFL career at Buffalo and Oakland.

After several days of broadcasts and a couple of Sun-Tribune issues highlighting the event, several non-geologists were heard to conclude: “It’s not my fault.”

Since leaving Morris, both Lee B and I have seen the elephant, proverbially as well as up close and  personally, although it’s a safe bet he sees them more often in Thailand than I do in Big Bend National Park. For those anticipating their first encounter, my best advice is to avoid standing downwind as jokes about pachyderm flatulence are not exaggerated.

Defying our hardy, thick-skinned Minnesota Scandinavian Lutheran ancestry, both of us departed wintry climes.

“I retired when I was 60,” Lee B wrote. “Never regretted it. I moved to Thailand, and things are not perfect here, but any place without snow and cold is ‘almost’ perfect.”

I replied that retirement was an option only if I did not remain above room temperature past next Thursday. I added that one of the perks of being a former Sun Tribune editor was a complimentary subscription.

“WHAT? Your free subscription ends when you do?” he wrote. “Is that what they mean by LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION? What do they offer the ‘non-living’ former editors? Only adoration?

“I do hope you have many more FREE YEARS of subscription to the Morris Sun and Tribune,” Lee B concluded. “And I hope they richly reward you for your feature articles. Not to mention the high acclaim you receive by the Erdahlites who subscribe.”

Steve Lang and Lee B. Temte subscribed to the axiom, “all the news that fits we’ll print” or broadcast until the next commercial. Lang was editor of the Morris Sun Tribune from 1974 to 1979 and currently lives in Alpine, Texas, where he works as the director of News and Publications of Sul Ross State University.