Anyone who thought Tom Barnard would end his unprecedented run on KQRS on an upbeat note hasn't been listening to Tom Barnard.
During one of his last shows before Friday's finale, the 71-year-old radio legend groused about upcoming doctor's appointments, politics, being bugged by fans and having his nut bowl swiped. He saved most of his venom for Cumulus Media management, which he insists booted him out the door after about 37 years, most of which he spent as host of one of the country's most successful morning radio shows.
"They called me back in May and said, 'This has got to come to an end' because I kept saying to them, 'Please stop destroying my show,' " Barnard said Monday during a commercial break. "They hate me."
Managers for Cumulus, which has owned the classic rock station on 92.5 FM for a little more than a decade, declined to comment on Barnard's contention. In a news release issued in June, the station described the departure as a retirement.
"He is the mastermind behind tens of thousands of hours of laughter, irreverence and thought-provoking conversation," Brian Philips, chief content officer for Cumulus, said in the release. "We thank Tom for the glory he has brought KQRS during his remarkable run."
But Barnard said he never retired. He insists that the bosses were tired of him complaining about every little thing, including not enough promotion for the show.
"I didn't agree with one thing they've done over the past 10 years," he said. "We literally do not like one another. At all."
Since Cumulus took over, the "KQ Morning Show" has faced daunting challenges from rivals such as KFAN's "The Power Trip" and 93X's "Half-Assed Morning Show." In November, Barnard's once No. 1 program in overall ratings for mornings in the Twin Cities market had toppled to sixth place.
KQRS has not revealed details about the future lineup. Shelly Malecha Wilkes, vice president market manager for Cumulus Media Minneapolis, said in an email that an announcement will come next week. The rest of the morning team — Tony Lee, Brian Zepp and Candice Wheeler — is expected to continue.
There are several reasons why the "KQ Morning Show" made Barnard the Twin Cities' most popular on-air personality and earned him a spot in the Radio Hall of Fame in 2017: the commanding voice, his rapport with comedians, his enthusiasm for local sports teams.
But it was his anti-establishment opinions and my-way-or-the-highway attitude that appealed most to listeners who craved something more than "Minnesota nice."
"We didn't sugarcoat things," said Mark Rosen, who was Barnard's sports sidekick in the 1980s. "We reached people and grabbed them in a way radio never had before."
Barnard's independent streak has kept him isolated from his on-air team for more than two decades. Lately, he's been doing the show alone from a private studio in St. Louis Park, a Diet Pepsi usually by his side. His table is cluttered with bottles of hand lotion, holiday cookies and pictures of his grandkids.
One subject that gives him joy is his family. He praises Kathryn Brandt, his wife of 39 years.
"I would imagine if I hadn't met Kathryn all those years ago, I would have probably killed someone and been in prison by now," Barnard said. "She keeps me pretty even-keeled."
A picture of his 1-year-old grandson, Ethan, was propped up against a stack of paper plates. He's set up a tent in the neighboring room for his other two grandkids, who call him Bop Bop, to take naps when they visit.
Barnard plans to continue doing his afternoon podcast with Kathryn and their children, Andy and Alex, as well as launch a weekday morning podcast early next year that will focus more on conversations with family than comedy bits.
"I always just wanted a couple people in studio and just have fun," dismissing a more structured approach with an expletive. "But most people can't handle non-structure."
Barnard has been in broadcasting for more than 50 years. While working as a record representative for Capitol Records in New York City in 1979, he started lending his deep, rumbling voice to commercials. By 1982, he was in such demand that he could quit his corporate gig and concentrate solely on voice-over work for such high-end clients as Burger King, Cargill and Nike.
At his peak, he was hooking 1 in every 4 Twin Cities listeners from the ages of 18 to 34. Barnard has never been sentimental about his accomplishments. The same could be said about his departure.
He knows there will be some kind of tribute on Friday's show, which will air from 6 to 9 a.m., but he doesn't seem too excited about it. At one point Monday, he half-heartedly considered Lee's private suggestion that he not even show up.
When pressed, he mentions some of his famous guests who included Jane Fonda and Peter Falk, and the chance to get to know such comics as Tom Papa, who called in during Monday's show.
"I've been a very, very lucky man," he told Papa on the air. "When I walk out the door on Friday, it's going to be, 'Man, that was a hell of a run. What's next?' "