Tom Barnard, one of the most popular and powerful radio personalities in Twin Cities history, has decided to leave his KQRS morning show.
"I cannot tell you the joy it has given me," the 70-year-old Barnard said Thursday after more than 36 years on the "KQ Morning Show." "To the people who love the show and hate the show, I owe you everything."
His final show is scheduled for Dec. 23. Barnard, who began his radio career in 1971, plans to spend more time on the weekday podcast he produces with his family and hopes to get it syndicated.
"Hometown hero Tom Barnard has defined morning radio stardom for the better part of many Minnesotans' lifetimes," said Brian Philips, chief content officer for Cumulus Media, which owns the classic rock station. "He is the mastermind behind tens of thousands of hours of laughter, irreverence and thought-provoking conversation. We thank Tom for the glory he has brought KQRS during his remarkable run."
Barnard signed a contract in 2020 that was supposed to keep him at the station through 2028.
"I'm still really enjoying it," he told the Star Tribune at the time. "I'm kind of hoping I've grown into being a voice of reason. I guess if you're given this voice for all these years, I should use it for some good stuff. There's all this hatred out there based on people just not agreeing with each other. What is that? It doesn't make any sense to me."
Barnard was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2017. During much of his run, he ranked as the Twin Cities' most-popular radio personality. At one point, his morning show had the highest ratings of any other in the country.
He also made a name for himself by doing voiceover work for everything from Burger King to Mike Dukakis.
"His footprint and name is bigger than one city in one state as many in our industry know of him and his success," said Mike McVay, president of Ohio-based McVay Media Consulting. "This is a seismic change in radio in Minneapolis."
Howard Stern and other high-profile competition failed to dethrone him.
"A lot of them had to leave with their tails between their legs," said Barnard's former executive producer John Lassman, who is currently the operations manager and morning show host at WHMH in St. Cloud. "It wasn't like they weren't good. He was just better."
Barnard took off almost immediately after taking over the show at KQRS in 1986. His success coincided with the Twins' World Series run. And his sports sidekick Mark Rosen became so popular, he got 9,000 votes for governor.
"Tom embracing the '87 Twins has a multilevel story line," former operations manager Scott Jameson told the Star Tribune in 2018. "That's when Tom exploded, that's when the station exploded, that's when the Twins exploded."
The station also became a popular destination for national comics, including Louie Anderson and Nick Swardson.
But the biggest part of Barnard's appeal was his sour attitude. He seemed to get up on the wrong side of bed every morning. His disposition sometimes led to controversy. Community groups, including Native American, Hmong and Somali organizations, said too much of his humor was insensitive and often racist.
Barnard has mellowed over the past 15 years — but not completely. He spent a good chunk of his Thursday podcast talking about how Cumulus had described his departure as a retirement, even though he had asked that the word not be used.
But Barnard is well aware that rants are what the audience craves.
"If there's a battle between liking you and hating you, you'll be around for a long damn time," he said on Thursday's KQRS broadcast.
It's unclear what direction the show will take once its main attraction departs. Barnard indicated on the air that his current on-air team — Brian Zepp, Candice Wheeler and Tony Lee — will continue without him. But the station will likely start searching for a high-profile name to lead the charge. In 2016, national sports correspondent Michele Tafoya joined as a co-host, a sign that she was possibly being groomed to be Barnard's replacement. But she left the position four years later.
"I don't know how you can replace Tom," said former Fox 9 anchor Jeff Passolt, who contributed to the radio show off and on between 1988 and 2018. "It's like filling the shoes of Babe Ruth."