Here’s to the greatest radio interviewer I ever heard

I don’t write fan mail. Today, I make an exception.

It was announced Wednesday that Tom Weber is leaving Minnesota Public Radio.

In the 26 years I’ve spent here, I can think of only a handful of people who may have been as well-liked, who were as funny, and who were as skilled as anyone who’s ever walked through the door in the company’s 50-year history. He also, it must be noted, led the drive for unionization of the MPR newsroom; he was a leader on the air and off it.

He will not walk out of the door uncelebrated in this space.

Weber, you probably know by now, lost his talk show when he informed managers that he was involved in a relationship with Peggy Flanagan, Tim Walz’s running mate in the current race for governor.

Though I have no doubt he would not have let the relationship interfere with his ability to ask a question, the appearance of a conflict of interest is at the heart of any ethics policy. Still, we — you — weren’t better off for our ethics in this case. But, that’s the business, and anyone who’s been in it for any length of time knows that show hosts who lose their gigs don’t stay around for long. They’re the long goodbyes of radio.

“There have been a few news reports about this out there,” he said in a note to his audience after he lost his show. “Let me just add one detail all those stories have missed: Peggy and I are over the moon happy. Somewhere in all of this, that matters, too.”

The guy knows what’s important in life, again an unusual trait for radio hacks.

It’s not for nothing that the cubicle that Tom occupied was once graced by no less a talent than Gary Eichten.

Backed by the greatest producers in the history of radio, both had the ability to turn on a dime, seamlessly and adroitly switching from an hour-long discussion on a trucker and his cat (Weber’s a cat guy), to a far more sobering inspection of the criminalization of sex workers to collectively holding a community’s hand while telling us that Prince was dead.

There are a lot of people who think anyone can do that. Every one of them is wrong, and if you don’t realize that, then you didn’t hear Weber’s interview with Louie Anderson last July, during which the conversation switched from the laughs of comedy to a heartbreaking discussion of mental health.

And he got there by listening to his guest’s answers rather than waiting for the opening to ask his next prepared question. Listen to a Tom Weber interview, and you’ll hear someone peeling an onion.

  1. Listen Tom Weber’s interview with Louie Anderson

    July 11, 2017

There can be no greater challenge for someone in public radio than to take over the time slot of an icon, as Weber did when Gary Eichten retired. I can think of no one else in 45 years in this business who could’ve done it better than Weber did.

When you choose to spend your life’s energies in the radio business, you learn two things right away: (1) You are constantly saying goodbye to people, and (2) No one is irreplaceable.

In the setting sun of your career, you learn one other thing: Only one of those first two things you learned is correct.

  • Al
  • John F.

    I had a chance to see Tom live at the State Fair last year and it was a delight. I will miss hearing his interviews – he is (was) one of the reasons I enjoyed turning on MPR during the day.

    I give my best to Peggy and Tom, I’m glad to hear they are happy.

  • Jeff

    He was a favorite, always insightful and unflappable. I understand the ethics concerns but seemed a bit overboard to me. Has he announced any plans for the future?

  • Joseph

    Best of luck to Tom in his future endevours! I wish he could stick around… he is a fantastic radio-man. What is he going to be up to?

  • Rob

    Major bummer that Tom’s leaving, but not a surprise given the circumstances. He is indeed an interviewer par excellence.

    Between him being gone from his morning gig to Kerri Miller cutting back her morning time, I’ve found myself listening less and less during the AM hours…

  • JamieHX

    I’m sorry to hear this. I enjoyed listening to him, too. I especially liked it that he always said ‘don’t call in if you’re driving.’

  • JamieHX

    Very nice tribute, Bob.

  • AL287

    Like others on this post, Tom Weber was one of the main reasons I turned on my radio every morning in the car and at home—-his pitch and pace were perfect.

    I hope his plans include radio. I’ll make a prediction here.

    I think he’s headed for a political analyst position somewhere big.

    Good luck, Tom whatever your future endeavors are and wherever those paths may take you.

  • Gary F

    Great interview. Tom does a great job.

    So, NPR is in bed with the Dems some of the time.

    • Stop it

    • theoacme

      In the spirit of the forthcoming World Cup, sir: Cartão amarelo!!!

      First, Mr. Weber treated both DFLers and GOPers with respect (way too much respect and deference given to both major parties, imo, like all mainstream news media do, but he was slightly below national averages of deference)…

      …second, wrong first letter, sir, it’s NOT NPR! Ninnesota? Nein, tovarisch!

  • joetron2030

    I had the pleasure of meeting Tom in person several years ago at the Fulton taproom. A friend of mine was in town to see a ball game at Target Field. That friend had brought along another friend who knew Tom. It was only after we left Fulton that I realized that the Tom I’d just met was the owner of the voice I knew from the radio. 🙂

    Best of luck, Tom, in your future endeavors!

  • Janis Zeltins

    The appearance of bias issue. If I knew various family, religious, education facts about all the folks they’ve put in Tom’s slot, now there would be reason to consider bias. MPR again showed it’s bizarre sensitivities. A la Garrison. What a shame, what hypocritical behaviour. Tom would have continued to be the best!

  • hennypenny

    MPR served its purpose. This could be a springboard to much better things. If Tom wanted to, he’s good enough to sub for WNYC’s Brian Lehrer or someone of that caliber (not that there are many in that league.)

    Best wishes, Tom. If you choose to stay in radio I hope to hear you on a national show in the future.