Tom Barnard retiring after 36 years as KQRS’ morning show host

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Longtime KQRS Minneapolis morning show personality and Radio Hall of Famer Tom Barnard announced Thursday that he’s leaving the station after 36 years on the job at the classic rock station.

Barnard, who turns 71 in November, will host his final morning broadcast on Dec. 23.

“This is the end of an era,” said Shelly Malecha Wilkes, vice president and market manager for KQRS’ owner Cumulus Minneapolis, in a news release. “Tom dominated morning radio in the Twin Cities for decades. We are very appreciative of his innumerable contributions and wish him all the best in his next chapter.”

Born in Long Prairie and raised in North Minneapolis, Barnard worked at several Twin Cities stations before landing at KQRS in 1986. He quickly established himself as an outspoken, politically charged voice, Barnard turned KQ’s “Morning Show” into the highest-rated radio morning show in the market. In 1997, Howard Stern’s show began airing locally, going after Barnard’s audience. But Stern was unsuccessful at dethroning Barnard and left the market a couple of years later.

Barnard has also been accused of being racist and misogynistic and has drawn criticism from various minority communities including Somalis, Hmong and Native Americans. The DJ is also known for being very reclusive, rarely making public appearances or sitting down for media interviews. But in 2015, when he launched a podcast, Barnard did speak to several Twin Cities news organizations about his difficult upbringing and strained relationship with his late father.

This isn’t the first time Barnard has announced his departure from radio. In 2009, Barnard told listeners he was going to retire in 2012. He posted this on his Facebook page at the time: “I wanted all of the great listeners of the KQ morning show to hear it directly from me. I will be leaving the Morning show on Dec. 21, 2012. That will give the show enough time to find out who should host the show as my role begins to diminish in the last few months of 2012. They can continue on for many years after I leave with their abilities and talent.”

Several months later, Barnard recanted via a Facebook post: “I will be at K.Q. until they fire me or I drop over in my tracks. Hopefully, that will be a while.” He hinted at retirement again in 2012, but ended up signing a new four-year contract. In 2020, he signed on for another eight-year commitment that was to keep him on the air until 2028.

In 2017, he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and entered the Pavek Museum, honoring Minnesota broadcasters, the following year.

“Hometown hero Tom Barnard has defined morning radio stardom for the better part of many Minnesotans’ lifetimes,” said Brian Philips, Cumulus Media chief content officer, said in a news release. “He is the mastermind behind tens of thousands of hours of laughter, irreverence and thought-provoking conversation. We thank Tom for the glory he has brought KQRS during his remarkable run.”

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