On this episode of Leader of the Pack, Tom has a virtual sit-down with Duluth local Marty Meldahl, a master in the radio industry, discussing the evolution of broadcasting and the development of podcasting. Marty shares with host Tom Sega about his early beginnings, the transitions in his career that have brought him to where he is today, and so graciously and transparently shares about the biggest hurdle he has battled so far – a cancer diagnosis in February of 2021. So, Duluth Pack friends, buckle up and prepare to be inspired.
Background on Marty Meldahl
Marty begins the conversation by stating that he was born and raised in Duluth but traveled around the Midwest before settling back in Duluth later in life. He jokingly tells Tom, “When you’re born in Duluth, you do everything possible to get out of Duluth, and while you might succeed, you’ll end up back here eventually because you need to live where you love to be.” At 13, Marty fell in love with radio and broadcasting at a young age. He would wake up every morning and listen to AM radio, captivated by every minute of it. Finally, he realized that he had a calling for radio and decided to pursue his dream.
Marty’s Career in the Radio Industry
Marty started his radio career working at Beautiful Music Station (KPIR), which is now 98.9 to local Duluthians. He would work many overnight shifts “spinning tunes all night” after attending a VOTEC college. He described the scene as a room full of vinyl with two turntables going at a time. He tells Tom that he felt inspired by having a medium he can use to connect with people he’s never met before, whether that be about music or life. He could only explain this feeling as falling in love with being on the air. This feeling lingered with Marty for the rest of his career in the radio industry. Tom asks Marty what the most glaring changes he has seen when he started his career and what the radio meant to people back then versus today. Marty explains that back then, he had a lot more freedom and wiggle room to “take it over the edge” and jokingly says that his promotion budget was based solely on how many lawsuits he had against him. More specifically, he was supposed to have five active lawsuits against him to know he was doing a good job. He continues by explaining that nowadays, lawyers have control over everything, and it is vital not to offend anybody on the air. When Marty first started, ratings were based on going over the edge without worrying who was going to call and who was going to send their lawyers. It was about having fun and entertaining. The most glaring change he has seen in the radio industry is that it’s lost its spontaneity. Switching things up, Tom asks Marty what his most gratifying role was throughout his career in radio. He responds, “The thing I loved to do the most was hosting the morning show. That was a hoot. I’m a morning person, and that’s when my energy level is up, and I could just get in there and do anything I wanted to do.”
Once he and his wife had kids, he realized that the radio industry wasn’t providing him with the financial stability they needed to raise a family, so he stepped away from the spotlight and instead took sales, sales management, and station management positions. When Marty and his family moved back to Duluth, he went back to college and earned a degree in Marketing with a Business Communication minor at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. He tells Tom that these degrees came in handy and gained him a better understanding of the radio industry as a whole. Tom asks Marty what the biggest misconception is that he has seen be made about the radio industry. Marty responds, “Getting people to understand how radio works as well as that everyone thought for the longest time that the TV industry would kill off the radio or going digital would kill off the radio, but roughly 90 million people still listen to the radio every day. It’s a more powerful medium than people give credit.” Tom goes on to then ask Marty what his biggest accomplishment has been, and he answers, “Having a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives. With the radio, if someone calls in and needs something, for example, you could mobilize a whole audience of people to help somebody. In radio, you can use what you have been given to help other people.” Marty explains the importance of the radio industry and how incredible it is that with one voice, you can mobilize a whole audience for a good cause.
Marty’s Life Now and Overcoming Cancer
Marty and Tom both joke that even though they’re both at an age to retire, they could never go through with it. When Marty “retired” from his career, he “Took about a minute and a half to chill,” before diving into nonprofits. He now works at the nonprofit public radio and television station WDSE and is in charge of program underwriting. He explains that many businesses want to support public radio and television and that they are truly “local gems,” and this job allows him to talk to local people about supporting this nonprofit. Unfortunately, Marty’s life took a turn after what was supposed to be a quick visit to the doctor and turned into a cancer diagnosis. In February of 2021, Marty woke up in the middle of the night and had pain that he described as what felt like kidney stones. He went to the doctor to get some scans and give some blood, and the doctor found some blood clots in his lungs, so he was put on blood thinners. When the scans came back, Marty saw that he had multiple Myelomas on his vertebrae. Marty tells Tom that he immediately went home to Google what type of cancer he had and what it meant for his life. He found that if you catch this specific type of cancer early enough, although it’s not curable, it’s very treatable, and you can live a long life with it. It took Marty a very long time to comprehend what this meant for his life and how to deal with living with cancer. Soon after the diagnosis, Marty went to the Mayo Clinic to get a Stem Cell Transplant or a Bone Marrow Transplant, which means Marty received healthy stem cells to replace damaged ones. Tom explains to us how positive Marty has been throughout his diagnosis and treatment and how exemplary it has been. Marty simply replies, “Well, what else are you going to do? Some people have it so much worse, and I know that this won’t kill me, so why should I go through the rest of my life down in the dumps? You might as well put on a happy face and help other people if you can help them get through their day better.” Tom asks Marty what his next steps are, and he responds, “I get chemo drugs and a calcium shot once a month, and soon I’ll be on some sort of maintenance program for a very long time, so I get to just maintain and have a good time.”
It was such a pleasure to listen to Marty Meldahl share all his experiences and knowledge of the radio industry. With an incredibly contagious positive outlook, Marty has overcome cancer and has taken a new outlook on life, which is propelling him into his golden years. Thank you, Marty, for sharing your story with us at Duluth Pack!