Wednesday, May 10, 2023


 I don't do much writing anymore. Once writing was a joy, before Minnesota Public Radio basically beat it out of me thanks to writing 17,000 blog posts there over the years. That's work. Writing shouldn't be work.

Even so, it was a surprise to note today that I haven't written since 2020, a year after I retired. So there's nothing in this journal about Finn, my second-born grandson, born July 23, 2022. More accurately: Finley Robert Collins, his parents honoring me and an uncle.

Like Dex before him, Finley got an autographed baseball to mark the occasion.

With any luck, the ball will survive enough for Finn to appreciate his grandfather's gift. Not so much for Dex, whose ball disappeared into the clutches of the amazing Reggie the Wonder Dog. No matter, Dex is none the wiser at his age.

Anyway, I dig the grandfather scene. We're fortunate to be nearby both kids, having decided a long time ago we weren't about to flee to the disgusting South, leaving our family behind, so we can survive a Minnesota winter. Frankly, I wonder what snowbirds are thinking.  But maybe they just don't love their kids and grandkids as much as we do.

This is a great age for kids. They're cute. They still love you, and they're not shy about telling you.

That, of course, will all change in the teenage years.

The other night I read a tweet from an online acquaintance who was divorced a year or so ago, but still maintains a good relationship with the father of their son. Still, she's hurt that at the moment, he prefers Dad over her.

This, of course, is not unusual. The teenage years are a time when kids realize they're going to be leaving someday and they have a way of starting the process a little too early. We've all done it. You can argue that Mom bearing the brunt of that process is actually a sign that the son is closer to Mom than Dad, which, by the way, is the first thing any new father should accept.

Parenthood can be non-stop heartbreak at times.

Your time with your kids is a bank account. The "cute years" are deposits that you withdraw to get through the teenage years.

But, eventually, they "come back" as pretty neat and interesting adults. And sometimes they give you pretty neat grandchildren.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

My brother Bill


This guy has been my friend longer than anyone else on the planet -- my twin brother, shown here at my oldest son's wedding with his incredible spouse, Felice.

He may not tell you how he feels about you but he'll show you, and God help you if you're not paying attention.

We were having coffee one day in Afton MN when he visited in 1997 and I casually mentioned I hoped to fly one day. He already had his pilot certificate.

He went back home and a few days later on our birthday, he called and said, "Happy Birthday, you start flight lessons tomorrow in St. Paul "

He prepaid them.

Flying changed my life for the better. He did that.

2011 photo

I marveled, during that coffee stop, at his easy way at making small talk with perfect strangers. I vowed to be better at it and, as a result, I became a writer known for telling stories of people whom I'd randomly meet. I made a good living and told good stories.

He did that, too.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Here's a little great radio history

Just a few months before I left the Berkshires and moved to Minnesota, a freak October snowstorm hit The Great Northwest and Minnesotans haven't shut up about it since.

I guess I can relate a little bit. It was was October 1986 when a blizzard unexpectedly hit the Berkshires, knocking out power and stranding people for days.

Somehow, with no emergency generator, WSBS in Great Barrington was the only radio station to stay on the air for the duration.  We were a daytimer then with authority to broadcast at a ridiculous 3.9 watts at night, which would usually carry the signal all the way to the KMart across the street.

But when all the power was out, it carried quite a distance.

From about 7 in the morning on Sunday to about midnight or 1 a.m. on Monday, we stayed on the air to talk about it.

And, for the most part, unlike Minnesotans, that was the end of it.

Until today when I was processing some old reel-to-reel tapes that I had digitized and, to my surprise, one hour of the broadcast was one of the files that came back.

This was probably around noon or so, and includes the segment where NBC's Gene Shalit, stuck at his second home in Stockbridge, called.

Behold,   radio the way it once was. Live reports of the end of the town locust tree, and details of the winner of the person to correctly predict the first freeze of the year.

God, it was great!

I wrote more about this some years ago.

My family -- Carolie and two-year old Sean (Carolie had yet to give birth to Patrick) -- were somewhere, but I didn't know where. Carolie is the daughter of a radio guy; she knew I had a job to do and she'd figure out how to survive. They huddled with some neighbors who had a wood stove.

It was 10 or 11 O'clock at night and the Berkshires were scared. And then, a power company truck came by the state highway out front, then another, and another, and another. They kept coming. The rest of Massachusetts had sent us some help. So I told southern Berkshire County that help was here.

As midnight approached, people were still calling. When they weren't, I pulled out the Old Farmer's Almanac and began reading stories. Finally, around 1 a.m., the Berkshires were asleep, and I signed the station off the air.

I miss radio. But I also miss the evidence that we were all once there. Finding this archive was a treasure. 

Friday, October 16, 2020


 Dexter Michael Collins arrived on October 2, 2020 late in the evening, accomplishing what no one else has on Planet Earth: he made me a grandfather.

The arrival of a new human in the age of a pandemic is alternately uplifting and frightening, particularly sprinkled with the realities of life ahead from climate change and the turn to a more authoritarian country. What will Dex's role in it be? How will he change the world for the better?

Those are all questions that will wait for he is like his father: slow to arrive and demanding once here. But, of course, it's not him. Babies change our routines and our priorities, but they also give us a new perspective on ourselves. Things about our upbringing that didn't make sense, suddenly start to make sense.

I'm here for all of it, as long as I can be, however.

We are not the type of people to push for our children to make us grandparents; we're happy with whatever decision people make with what works for them. So when we found out in the spring that Dex was coming, we were surprised.

Parenthood is hard to define. It is both joyous and heartbreaking as we watch our children navigate through the world and, inevitably, fly out of the nest and into it. 

Dex has the luxury of two parents who'll put him first, will make the mistakes most parents make, question their ability to raise a kid, and one day watch the person that 6 pound 13 ounce baby becomes with a mixture of pride in him and satisfaction in themselves.

Just as we did with ours.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Who is 'Postcard Underground'?

(Originally published May 23, 2019)

I occasionally get mail looking for help finding someone or wanting some information from a NewsCut post 10 or so years ago. And over the last 12 years, we've been able to solve mysteries and make connections using the power of the internet for good.

I first started chasing the question of Postcard Underground in 2012, when postcards for Gary Eichten , longtime Minnesota Public Radio legend, started showing up. I wrote the following on a blog, at that time the morning roundup of all things strange in the news.

My colleague, Alana, has presented us with a mystery that only the power of the Internet can solve.

It appears that for the last week or so, at least two postcards a day arrive for the recently retired Gary Eichten, all bearing the mark of the "Postcard Underground."

Today's postcards were from the same person: "Sue."

A Google search reveals no certain answers, although the blog of a woman in New England indicates she once received the postcards. Check the signature on the top card:

There are other websites all reporting the same thing: Postcards show up from someone who obviously is paying attention to the specifics of what's being lauded. And "Sue" is obviously behind them:

Somebody in the InterTubes knows who Sue is. Come forward!
Sue came forward. Sort of. She sent me a postcard about two months later. But she didn't reveal that much information.
We never were able to make much progress in uncovering the brains behind the Postcard Underground after Gary Eichten's retirement in January, when anonymous (except for first name) postcards started showing up every day.

We have found more examples, however. The Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, for example, got inundated last March. The organization, A Peace of My Mind, got them last summer.

The fact that the postcards arrive in bunches indicate an organized structure but how do they communicate and keep it such a secret?

"Sue" shared no secrets in her postcard which arrived today in response to a NewsCut post last month.

They are clever, these postcarders.
And I let the mystery go. Until Thursday's email got me to revisit Postcard Underground, and I found out it's still out there. Somewhere.

Architect Grace Kim gave a Ted Talk on co-housing in 2017. Then started getting postcards, each bearing the red "Postcard Underground" stamp.

Other than finding out Postcard Underground was real, she didn't have any more luck than I did.

In March 2017, Imesh Samarakoon appeared on a talk show on KPCC, the MPR sister organization in California, to talk about his effort to start an economic crisis team at UCLA for students in financial distress.

A month later, he started getting postcards. Tracking the mailing locations didn't reveal much.

But one of them was from Sue. Sue from St. Paul.

He made a logical deduction. Postcard Underground is based in St. Paul.
Based on the high concentration of Postcard Underground members in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, it seems like the organization is loosely based there. But since they have members all over the nation, they often send messages to projects all over the place.
But he struck out on the other, more obvious question: who are they? Along with how do they organize? Who makes the decision to bombard someone with nice postcards?

So he looked at the type of organizations that get the postcards.
Postcard Underground seems to be an environmentally minded group of individuals. I also suspect that the members in Minnesota are a part of Audubon Minnesota, since one of their postcards is from the Audubon, and many of the members are interested in birds (so many bird stamps!).

So I’ve taken a small step towards identifying the members of Postcard Underground. But I really wanted to nail the identity of at least one member.
He wrote that he thinks he was able to identify one member: "David" a Lutheran in Gilroy, Calif. But there the trail stopped. He never wrote another post.

"Clearly, there’s a Minnesota nice connection," Philadelphia Daily News columnist Helen UbiƱas determined in February when she became the latest person to try to solve the mystery.
Like those before me, I tried to figure out how the writers connect and communicate.

I noticed one sender from Minneapolis had included, inadvertently I think, her first and last name. I won’t out the kind writer, but her name was unique enough to turn me into a detective for about a week, leaving messages for at least half a dozen Minnesotans who are probably wondering just what’s in the Philadelphia water.

(If I did stumble on the right person, I’d love to hear from you. Maybe you’d consider letting me join the group — because who doesn’t want to be part of a secret society of kindness that cuts through the noise, especially when these days noise seems to be the country’s official language.)
And that's where the trail ends, near the end of this blog. An unanswered mystery that allows the act to speak for itself.

NewsCut: Good night and good news

I'm reprinting some of my favorite NewsCut posts. This one is from May 31, 2019

I actually thought I had nothing left to say.

And then you all gave me the greatest day of my life on Thursday with the exceptions of the day I married a woman whom I can't wait to run home to every day, and the day the two greatest kids in the world were born.

For many years, on days I would struggle with things, I watched this -- one of the greatest moments in the history of television.

And I always thought, wouldn't it be nice to go out with such love?

And then, at 4:29 p.m. on Thursday, I did.

It would be my preference you listen to the extended interview and then all 2 1/2 hours, but if you want to cut to the chase, then scroll on No. 3 to 29:40 and  you'll pretty well get the picture. Let the love wash over you. And take note of the song that plays after.

After that, I got a chance to cry my way through my goodbyes to the staff of The Current, providing a wobbly  bookend to the day, which started with a poor attempt to get through my remarks to the newsroom.

As I told my colleagues later, "this  is what happens when you wait 27 years to tell people how much you love them."

Then it was a session with Jana Shortal and Carly Danek. And, again with the crying.

And then Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan read a proclamation declaring Friday Bob Collins Day in Minnesota.

All that and two lengthy pieces from both Morning Edition and All Things Considered too.

It's going to take awhile for me to process what happened and at some point I'll write something meaningful, probably at my old blog, Stirrings From the Empty Nest.

Though I've made my living in the last 21 years online, I will always be a "radio person."

I don't read scripts when I'm on the radio (one of the reasons, I think, I was banned years ago from membership drives at MPR) and I never let show hosts tell me what questions they're going to ask, because I always figured if I can't tell the story off the top of my head with the words from my heart, then I'm not ready to tell the story at all, especially on a medium that should be nothing more than a conversation.

I wasn't sure how this radio career would end at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. I trusted Mary -- as I've always trusted Mary -- to get us to the moment we needed to get to, and allow you to share it with us, just as radio intended.

And so it gives me a great satisfaction that the last words I'll ever utter on a radio station -- and the last words I'll write on this blog are the same:  "I love you..."

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Waiting for baseball

Sara Meyer, the longtime producer and conscience of Minnesota Public Radio News, gave me a great book when I retired in May 2019. And the current virus quarantine is a great time to finally getting around to reading Joe Bonomo's  No Place I would Rather Be, a history of Roger Angell's life writing about baseball for The New Yorker.

I was breezing along in the relatively early part of the book when this quote of Angell's hit me like a bucket of cold water.

"Baseball is stuffed with waiting."

We're now waiting for baseball, of course, and especially so for those of us who are ushers at the parks around the nation, Target Field in Minneapolis in my case. We live not only for the baseball, but for the social glue that the sport provides us.

I miss the kids at Target Field. They get me.

The game has certainly changed in recent years. Too many parks -- that is to say: all of them -- cannot stand the sound of silence. And so we are inundated with game hosts and contests and music  and kiss cams and decibels -- so  many decibels.

Major League Baseball has, over time, chosen to push the game itself farther into the background in order to save it. We can debate whether it's working, but I choose for now merely to pull the game back on stage.

I had to go Googling to find the quote that Angell used. It was  simple lede sentence in a paragraph about the New York Yankees comeback in the American League Divisional Series in 2017  against the Cleveland Indians, the team for which I've lived and died since I was a boy, even though I never lived in Ohio  (I explained it all here one glorious afternoon the year before for my day job at the time).

Take a bite out of this tasty writing:
The Yankees won again last night, completing a come-from-behind three-game sweep against the Indians, with a stunning 5–2 win in Cleveland. Now we Yankee folks can sit back and wait for the Nats and the Cubs to settle their thing tonight in Washington, and wait also for the Yankees and the Astros to begin their A.L. Championship best-of-seven series in Houston tomorrow.

Baseball is stuffed with waiting. The Yanks went ahead early, on a solo homer by Didi Gregorius in the first, and another Didi shot, with a man aboard, in the third—both struck against the Indians’ well-rested ace Corey Kluber, and setting up a long out-counting wait at my house and all over Yankeeland. The Indians were up against the obdurate veteran C. C. Sabathia, whose eight strikeouts in the first four innings imposed a stunned semi-silence on Progressive Field. Four successive singles and two runs in the bottom of the fifth restored the roaring and drumming for the moment, but the Yankees’ narcotizing David Robertson, and then Aroldis Chapman, soon had us counting outs again, while the re-silenced Indians fans waited for winter. Here, at my place, I was waiting and sometimes screaming for the FS1 announcers, John Smoltz and Matt Vasgersian, to stop their flood of heavy expertise and Googled-up stats and allow us to pick up and share some of the beautiful, complex silences of the game. For a sample, they could listen to Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling, over at TBS, who had done the Cubs’ home-game loss to the Nationals at Wrigley Field earlier in the day without self-importance. This won’t happen, of course, but I was offended by a stupid little joke between Smoltz and Vasgersian in the booth just before the Indians’ last at-bats, at a moment when compassion for the appalled home fans and their millions of Midwest companions seemed appropriate. They did not honor this.

Our last and best waiting was produced by Brett Gardner, the forever Yankee lead-off man, in his ninth-inning at-bat against reliever Cody Allen, with Aaron Hicks on second and Tod Frazier on first. I was ready for this, one of Gardner’s patented wait-and-foul at-bats—a series of short, left-handed slashes and bonking fouls that cause the man on the mound to shrivel and age before our eyes. My scribbles about this at-bat came at the bottom of a page in my notebook, and the accumulating twelve pitches and six successive fouls went off the bottom and up onto the top of the next page before Gardner’s single to right center scored Hicks, and, after a botch on the relay, Frazier as well, for the last runs of the year out there.

One question for us Yankee fans is whether Aaron Judge can pick up a smidgen of waiting from Gardner’s example. Judge struck out four times in the game, and a record sixteen times in the series, almost always on breaking pitches down and away, which he could not resist. He did this without the smallest complaint—no bat-slappings or glances to Heaven—and kept his sufferings to himself. All we can look for, with proper patience, is for him to lay off those pitches, to learn to wait.

Joe Girardi had told us to expect an outcome like this in his statesmanlike interview before Game 3, so let’s try a little joy abounding. Just after the game, I heard from my old friend Allan, away in Prague for a family funeral, who e-mailed, “From the fourth inning on I followed every pitch on the Internet. It is now getting on for 6 a.m., but I am the happiest fan in the Western world.”

Angell's citation of "the beautiful, complex silences of the game" is proof,  as if any is needed, not only of Angell's ability to reach deep into your heart by assembling letters on a page, but his full understanding of his subject. The game, if we can ever peel away the sideshow again, is a soundtrack of beautiful silence.

I was thinking about this the other day when trying to fix some of MPR's old NewsCut posts (a server change wiped out all of the images on 12 years of my work) and was reminded of Reggie Deal.

Years ago, Deal, who is blind, was on a mission to visit every Major League ballpark. He could tell what was happening by listening to the ball and bat and the crowd. And the silence, sometimes.

When he got to the Twin Cities, I helped arrange for him to get onto the field and meet Joe Mauer.

But back to the heart for a moment.

For an aging Indians fan, 2016 was the closest one will come to knowing the feeling of winning a World Series. The Indians held a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, proceding to lose three straight to the Cubs.

Photo: Evan Frost/MPR News
That made 2017 a year of desperation, and the loss to the Yankees as heartbreaking as the World Series, for we all knew a window had slammed shut.

I don't know if Angell recognized it too, but he recognized heartbreak among the Indians fans in that article, insisting that compassion seemed appropriate, even when no one else did.

Today would have been opening day at Target Field. My plan was to work the game, then fly tomorrow to my hometown for my mother's funeral on Saturday, flying back on Sunday so I could be back at the park when the Twins opened a series against the Indians.

None of that, just as the notion of the Indians winning the series in my lifetime, was meant to be.

So we wait for better times -- and baseball -- in silence.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The heroes on the radio

The Current staff in 2015 (Nate Ryan photo)

Back when I used to be allowed on the radio to explain why public radio was worth your dime as much as your time, I talked too much about an era that had seemingly passed long before: the shared experience of a community listening to someone on the radio.

Most of us oldtimers in the business owe our careers to the person who spoke to us from the radio. For me it was Dave Maynard, Carl DeSuzeGary Lapierre, Gil Santos Larry Glick, and a handful of others on the once legendary WBZ in Boston, a station that the despicable iHeart Media has only recently turned into a repeater frequency, the better to hike profits and the corporate stock price, the community be damned.

Fifty-two years later, I have less an image of Bobby Kennedy lying on a hotel kitchen floor bleeding out, than I do a host on the radio telling me he was dead.  Me and thousands of others sharing a moment together, a single voice separating us from our despair.

There was room for my 1,000 watt local station, too, which played the daily countdown of hits each evening.  Whatever would be #1, we'd all be hearing it together.

Radio was America's glue, and I wanted a piece of it.

I couldn't have been luckier, given the opportunities to read passages from the Old Farmer's Almanac during a blackout and snowstorm, to spending a few minutes talking on the radio each afternoon about the nonsense of news. You know, talking to you.

During the '80s and beyond, the corporate interests and listener wanderlust left that radio behind, mostly.  Satellites and iPods, then the streaming internet, combined with "consultants" -- spit --  who told the people on the radio to shut up and play the music. How, we wondered, could we ever compete with a small device on which someone's entire music library was stored?

Here, have some more Freebird.

Local radio became the land of broken toys, cast into a corner, too old to play with, but still too close to our hearts to completely throw away for good.

And now here we are, shut into our homes for who knows how long, ordered to stay apart, longing for what humans desperately need more than toilet paper itself: human contact.

Each day we wake up to a startling revelation that we are in this alone. A grandchild born today, for example, cannot meet or be held by a grandparent for maybe another year. The loneliness is a wolf nearing the front door.  You feel it. I know you do.

Enter the heroes.

Dave and Carl and Gil and Larry are gone from my life. But now I have Mary, and Jill, and Jade, and John, and Cathy and on the names go, through the employee roster -- for now, anyway -- of  Minnesota Public Radio's Current and Local News Service.

And we're discovering -- or rediscovering -- the glue, holding us together.

All of the nation's local radio stations are somehow staying on the air in an abiding belief that you're important, with employees often in their own homes, unlinked from each other while linkng us. All of them mindful of the most important words on a radio broadcast license, operating in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

On the news side, the necessity is obvious: the news.

On The Current, the necessity is reminding us that they are there... talking with us.

My friend Mary has always been particularly good at this since the day she convinced a program director to give her a shot.

Let's consider for a moment,  her  Listen to Looch segment from last August.

 I start realizing we live in a world where a lot of people think that everything should be made for them. And that blows my mind. I love living in a world where everything is not for everyone. It makes it a lot more interesting. And anyone walking around with the expectation that, "Hey, this is all gonna be how I like it and how I think and how I —" you're in for like, a complete sh*t ride, you know? It's like once you accept, "No — I can learn something from someone who really does think different things than me" and I realize how impossible that's almost become on social media so, each day I walk in to do my job and put together four hours of music that I think are gonna touch on everything: emotions, thinking — everything.

That, if you didn't realize it, is a person sharing herself with you. That is personality. That is being vulnerable. That is the essence of  being connected to someone else.

That's radio.

The irony of The Current and the Regional News channel once again emerging as a significant  means of holding us together, is it comes amid a heightened disinterest  by American Public Media management in local broadcasting.  The Current has always been the poor stepchild of MPR. The local newsroom has been beset in recent years with budget cutbacks as money was redeployed to bigshot operations in California, projects that will earn it national attention and money, or podcasts, which, for the record, are worthy endeavors but have little ability to connect us to one another through a simultaneously shared experience.

We will grow lonelier still, but for the work of our heroes, who, also for the record, need us too.

It's a dark  building now, with most people sent home.

It would be too easy to just shut up and play the music.

A studio is just you, a microphone, and the assumption that there are people out there who need to hear your voice, who need to share you with thousands of others.

But there is a need to share ourselves with each other, too.

"Oddly enough it's made this job feel important to me," Mary told me yesterday in a Facebook message.

We're out here. Listening. Loving you all. Loving each other.

Emotions. Thinking. Everything.