MPR News legend Dan Olson retires

Dan Olson, center, with photographer Jennifer Simonson and Frank Taylor during a 2013 interview on bird banding. Photo: Frank Taylor


Dan Olson, who for 42 years has lent his voice and talent to Minnesota Public Radio, is spending his last full-day as a member of MPR staff today. He’s retiring, a feat which is incalculably difficult to do in the radio business. Not many people make it that far. After Gary Eichten retired a few years ago, Olson became the official dean of Minnesota Public Radio News.

Dan Olson looks at a gift from colleagues during his last day of work at MPR News. Photo : Euan Kerr/MPR News.

So colleague Tom Weber hauled him into a studio this week to talk about his career and found out something that’s not entirely surprising to those of us who’ve been privileged to walk on the same ground he does: Dan Olson doesn’t like to talk about Dan Olson.

Olson didn’t start out with MPR. He joined Minnesota Educational Radio in 1973, the forerunner of the outfit.

“I was an aimless and somewhat unsuccessful college student (at the University of Minnesota),” he said. Had it not been for the opportunity to work at a radio station, “I suppose I would’ve fallen into the great, big certainly worthy collection of people with a BS or BA degrees, waiting tables and driving trucks, doing honorable good service-type work.”

“I tried to be a teacher and discovered I was manifestly unqualified. You really have to be a people person and you really have to be smart. I had marginal skills on both fronts,” he said, showing an uncharacteristically poor grasp of the truth.

People who aren’t people people make lousy reporters for Dan’s specialty: Meeting people and documenting what Minnesota is by those who live here.

His favorite story?

“It’s a brutal process to narrow it down. But all roads lead to the accounts told by World War II survivors of one kind or another,” he said, rattling off names of locals who were nurses, drove tanks, flew B-17s, and survived death camps.”

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” he said, allowing himself to get as emotional as any Scandanavian can, which is not at all.