So many memories.
So many pranks and jokes shared with coworkers.
So many listeners who will miss him.
Dennis Anhalt, KXRA Radio news director and a host of the popular Open Line talk show, is retiring after spending nearly 30 years at the station.
Well, kind of. He'll still appear on Open Line and he'll fill in for Joe Korkowski, the new news director, when needed.
"That will soften the landing, so I don't completely disappear. I'll be here as long as my mind is sharp," Anhalt said on Tuesday during an interview that was repeatedly interrupted by KXRA staffers coming in to share a memory or a wisecrack with their long-time friend and colleague.
There will be more of that today, Friday, when the radio station hosts an open house in his honor from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. He'll also be the guest on Open Line.
A special connection to area
Anhalt has long held a special connection to the Alexandria area. His parents honeymooned at Mount Carmel Bible Camp and they'd return to the area in the summer, camping at Lake Carlos State Park with their three children.
Anhalt, the oldest of the three, remembers listening to the KXRA Radio personalities Harlan Angen, Jerry VanKempen and Erc Aga on his battery-powered AM radio in his pup tent. He'd also tune in to WCCO Radio for the Boone and Erickson Show.
"I loved that type of radio," Anhalt said. "They were the same people on the air as off. Guys like Bob Hines and Erc Aga would make themselves at home on the air and that would make the listeners comfortable too."
Anhalt's father, a preacher, loved the area so much he eventually purchased a lake lot on East Lake Carlos for $2,000. The family spent more than 18 years slowly building a house from the basement up, summer after summer, and finished it two weeks before his father retired.
The early days
In 1988, Anhalt was about to accept a job offer in Monterey Bay, California when he found out his dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
He ended up staying in Alexandria, struck up a friendship with KXRA's Bob Hines and eventually replaced him on the Open Line show, joining Virginia Bloom in the radio booth.
The part-time gig soon led to full-time employment and a promotion to news director.
One big reason he stayed at the station as long as he did was the local ownership.
"Brett (Paradis) treated me real well," Anhalt said. "I couldn't have worked for a better boss. There were many of us that felt the same way. That's why we spent so many years at the same place."
Anhalt had chances to move on - WCCO Radio tried to lure him to the Twin Cities - but he stayed in Alexandria.
"There's more to a job than the pay," he said. "There's this quality of life here - swimming, boating, fishing, golfing. I just love the community."
Jabs and jokes
Anhalt isn't the all-serious news director 24/7. He relishes the verbal jabs and joking around that talk shows provide, so co-hosting Open Line and doing the Morning Show with sidekicks like Michael Right was a perfect fit.
"With talk radio, you've got to love your job," Anhalt said. "You've got to love people. You just can't punch a clock."
He fondly remembers the people he worked with on the air - Larry DeFrance, Kelly Garner, Jim Berkman, and, of course, his current Open Line cohort, Patty Wicken.
"Patty and I bicker back and forth so much people think we're married," Anhalt said. "We know each other's hot buttons and the listeners know we enjoy what we're doing."
And the pranks fly.
Once, in a burst of bold creativity, Anhalt announced on air a popular new local attraction: Squirrel World, a kind of park where people could watch the furry critters scampering about. The whole thing was made-up, of course, but the station received several calls from people wanting to buy tickets.
Another time, Anhalt decided to investigate a National Enquirer story about a Lizard Man who reportedly bit off the back of a car bumper in South Carolina. He called the town, talked to people who were peddling Lizard Man T-shirts and talked to eyewitnesses who verified the sightings. The tongue-in-cheek story made national news.
Anhalt also orchestrated a "Peeps Show" on Open Line, sharing fun facts about the bright yellow marshmallow treats and wondering why adults who love them give them to kids who hate them. He even interviewed Peeps company officials.
Not long after the show aired, a semi pulled up to the radio station with enough boxes of Peeps to pack the lobby from the floor to the ceiling - way too many to eat and nearly too many to give away.
"There wasn't a daycare within 50 miles that didn't have Peeps," Anhalt said, laughing.
A serious side
But Anhalt's job isn't all fun and games. There is a serious side too.
He remembers reporting bad storms, crimes, court cases and terrible crashes like the van crash on Interstate-94 that killed four students from North Dakota State University.
Unlike the metro media that only sweep into town to get a scoop when disasters strike, Anhalt said the local media are more conscientious of the victims and their families.
"With our news stories, we still do the fatals, the court cases. That's news," he said. "But I like to think of news as community building too. We try to focus on the good things. News is not all bad news. If a business goes up or a person receives an award, that's news."
Anhalt has an upbeat attitude toward his job, the community and his upbringing, despite being stricken with polio at the age of 2. The vaccine came out a half year later and saved his life but the effects lingered throughout his childhood. He woke up one morning and couldn't walk. He spent nearly a year at the Sister Kenny Institute and had several surgeries on his right leg but he recovered with a new outlook on life.
"Polio made me who I am today," he said. "I appreciate people and learned to make the best out of it."
What he'll miss
What will Anhalt miss the most when he fully retires?
"Getting up early in the morning and doing the news," he said. "It's always different. And for the Open Line shows, I like being aware of what is happening in our area and finding topics to talk about in common little things, like vintage toys, what kind of food people liked growing up, what kind of things they did outside as kids, how the town has changed over the years, and other things listeners can relate to."
He especially enjoyed the give-and-take between him and his co-hosts.
"We've had some knock-out, drag-out fights, with each of us saying, 'I'm talking now,'" Anhalt said, smiling.
Although the debate was heated at times, it was always respectful.
"I think it's good to have discussions with those who have an opposing view," Anhalt said. "No side is absolutely right or absolutely wrong."
Anhalt describes himself as a moderate Republican, which gives him an edge with most local listeners who haven't supported Democrats since the Jimmy Carter days.
"There used to be a running joke that all the Democrats in town could meet in a phone booth," Anhalt said.
When asked how he wants radio listeners to remember him, Anhalt paused and remembered a call he received years ago from a man who was bedridden.
The man told him, "I want to tell you that I really enjoy listening to you. Thank you for making me laugh."