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'MPR Connects!': Wurzer connects with Bemidji

There was no mistaking the enthusiasm in the overflowing crowd that gathered Tuesday night to hear Cathy Wurzer, host of Morning Edition on Minnesota Public Radio, and new MPR CEO and President Jon McTaggart.

People who have been listening to MPR for years and those who are new to the station gathered for refreshments and a chance to meet and greet at the Hampton Inn and Suites. But it was evident from the beginning that this crowd was filled with fans of Wurzer on both sides of the aisle -- that is, male and female, not in the political sense.

"I am wearing this T-shirt because Cathy is one of my most admired women," said Shirlee Mertens of Bemidji. Mertens sported a black T-shirt saying, "It's 7:01 and the news is next."

Another couple was there because the husband (a DNR forester and firefighter) is "totally in love" with Wurzer and listens to her every morning. Local politicians like Bemidji Mayor Dave Larson and State Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, were joined by Bemidji City Council members Rita Albrecht and Jim Thompson and other recognizable people in the crowd who were mentioned by name. Evan Hazard and Fulton Gallagher were cited as those who have each had a longtime association with MPR.

Marilyn Heltzer, a longtime MPR employee in the Twin Cities and in Bemidji, said, "It is wonderful to see all these people here to celebrate the occasion."

Wurzer, who has traveled throughout Minnesota, admitted this was her first time in Bemidji and she was enjoying the scenery, although not necessarily the long ride up from the Twin Cities. That is to be expected, as Wurzer stated that she starts her broadcast day at 3:45 a.m. with show prep that began the day before with reporters, station manager and the variety of people necessary to bring the news to the public.

"I look at regional news websites -- thank you, Bemidji Pioneer -- the Wall Street Journal, Pioneer Press, among others, and then begin what I would call a 'journalistic jigsaw puzzle,'" said Wurzer. "I try to find the 'connective tissue' that knits together the international, national and regional stories in a cohesive manner."

Wurzer confided that sometimes they have to make a wake-up call to someone for an online interview on a breaking story. She leaves that job to the station manager while she decides what the listener wants to know, needs to know or just what would be nice to know about certain events.

Sometimes, and that is just very seldom, the wrong guest is on the air, and Wurzer said that it is "brain split" when part of the brain is carrying on with the interview and the other part of the brain asks 'What do we do now?'

"Working live is always walking a tightrope," said Wurzer, "but live stuff is the best. I tell my students to listen, listen, listen to what the person has to say; remember you have two ears and one mouth."

She also talked about how sometimes interviews can get emotional and spoke of Bruce, the young man with amotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. And now she will be walking with him as she follows his life path through interviews.

Wurzer brought the audience back to the time of smoke-filled newsrooms with teletype machines clicking in the backroom and the banging on manual typewriters; it was certainly a male-centered domain and she loved it.

When a colleague of Wurzer had scant interest in or admiration for the advent of the Internet in the newsroom, she remembered him saying that he couldn't imagine how they were going to use them (computers). "They will never last," famous words that she will repeat to him during his upcoming retirement celebration.

Although Wurzer studied political science, print journalism and animal sciences in college, she switched to broadcast journalism and has never looked back.

"My job is a gift," Wurzer said. "It is a great banquet with so many things to sample. I never get bored. My favorite interviews are not the famous people. It is the folk living in small towns and overcoming the odds. Those are the stories I remember."

Wurzer and McTaggart were invited to Bemidji by the local MPR stations - the news station at 91.3 and the classical music station at 88.5 - by Kristi Booth, regional network director, as an opportunity for loyal and local listeners to see and hear them speak. The invitation went out over the Net and some came from as far south as Park Rapids and some from as far west as Mahnomen.

From the turnout and interest in the crowd, it is apparent that MPR is fulfilling its mission statement: "To enrich the mind and nourish the spirit, thereby assisting our audiences to enhance their lives, expand perspectives, and strengthen communities."