Introductory theme music played that Sunday morning when Minneapolis Tribune sports columnist and WCCO Radio personality Sid Hartman told his new co-host off air their partnership wouldn’t work, that he’d tell the station to cancel the show.
“And then we went on,” that co-host, Dave Mona, said this past week. “That was my pep talk before our first show. I thought it was over after the first two minutes. It sounds strange unless you’re anybody who worked with the guy and then it sounds just like him.”
That was 39 years and some 2,000 shows ago.
On Mona’s first day, in 1981, the show simply was called “Sports Huddle,” a 25-minute program that for its first two years featured Hartman and longtime WCCO farm director Chuck Lilligren talking sports at 10:05 a.m. after the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s live broadcast every week.
What Mona calls a “funny, little” but already profitable show became through the years the must-listen, three-hour “Sports Huddle with Sid and Dave.” It dominated its time slot with guests that included sports’ biggest names and redefined how station managers program sleepy Sunday mornings before there was a thing called sports-talk radio.
“Whenever I was talking too much, Sid reminded me it was his show,” Mona said. “That only went on for the first 35 years.”
The very last show came on Hartman’s 100th birthday, March 15. It was an all-day, all-star cavalcade of calls from politicians, owners of sports teams, executives and star athletes the day before the pandemic shut down WCCO Radio’s studios and the show was suspended indefinitely.
Isolated at home these past many months, Hartman died last Sunday surrounded by family, without having done another show.
His byline in the paper since the 1940s and his abundant “scoops” on the day’s biggest news — sporting or otherwise — for decades made him famous as a newspaper reporter and columnist who could get the biggest sports stars on the phone.
But it was radio’s medium — and later his place in a long-running sports reporters television show — that brought to life the sheer force of his personality, his flaws and malaprops, and made him a legend known across the Midwest and beyond.
“His personality was so big, it needed more than a newspaper,” said Ch. 4 anchor and WCCO Radio host Mike Max, who sat next to him on TV’s “The Sports Show” and the “Sports Huddle” for 24 years. “In the newspaper, you couldn’t hear him. You couldn’t laugh with him — or laugh at him. To be able to hear him, that was the game-changer.”
This can’t last
On Mona’s first day, Hartman was 61, opinionated, argumentative and known for his tireless newspaper reporting and his presence since the 1950s in short sports segments — including “Today’s Sports Hero” — on WCCO.
Mona figures he became the sidekick maybe because he just submitted an audition tape seeking part-time work while he launched his own public-relations firm.
“I remember thinking, ‘How long could this show go on?’ ” Mona said. “He’s 61. He’s an old man. Nothing in radio has that kind of longevity.”
It reached its fifth decade — and Hartman’s 100th birthday. At its height, “Sports Huddle” had its star, its own cast of characters that included close personal friends Bobby Knight, George Steinbrenner and Lou Holtz, even its own currency: the Murray’s Silver Butter Knife Steak certificate given to guests.
Raised poor on Minneapolis’ North Side, Hartman befriended sports’ most powerful and often unpopular power brokers. “People were intrigued he was friendly with the black hats,” longtime WCCO foil Eric Eskola said. “He was friends with the unpopular people. That’s still a mystery to me, but it was an intriguing part of who he was.”
WCCO Radio director of content Lindsey Peterson called the show “a foundation” of a station whose list of greats includes Cedric Adams, Boone and Erickson, Steve Cannon and, yes, Sid. Even in Hartman’s later years when he couldn’t hear well, no station GM dared not offer another year’s contract.
“Every athlete in town had to be on it at some point,” Peterson said. “Listeners had to be sure they were out of church on time so they heard Tom Kelly with Sid on Sunday morning.”
Hartman didn’t have a voice made for radio, but he had a newsman’s instinct, determination, sources and ego — and then some.
“The great thing about radio is you don’t need the pipes,” said WCCO host Dave Lee, who sparred 31 years with Hartman on the morning-drive show. “What you need is personality, and he had it.”
‘One small circus’
Max and the late radio host Dark Star conceptualized television’s “The Sports Show” that ran for 20 years and featured both plus Hartman and Patrick Reusse, friends and rivals all.
Max calls it “one small circus” at its best with the cameras off.
“You’d just laugh,” Max said. “I would laugh from the time I got there until I got home and told my wife what Sid said.”
He maybe hasn’t laughed like that since the last “Sports Huddle,” the radio show Max said is finished “as we know it, for sure.” Hartman’s lifelong friend Bud Grant and Hartman’s son, Chad, a WCCO Radio weekday afternoon host, were in studio to host extended coverage that final day.
“None of us have worked in that studio since,” Max said. “We shut it down and that was it.”
Dave Mona will host a special three-hour “Sports Huddle with Sid and Dave” starting at 9 a.m. Sunday on WCCO (830-AM) with Sid stories, sports talk and special guests.