FCC clears KTOE, DJ after political scrutiny

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Trey Mewes, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·2 min read
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Apr. 19—MANKATO — Al Travis Thielfoldt is back on the air and the Federal Communications Commission has wrapped up an inquiry into KTOE after questions arose about Thielfoldt's political work for U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn.

Thielfoldt, who was off the air since late September, restarted his role hosting "Al in the Afternoon" on April 5.

"As we knew from the very beginning, we were very confident in our position that nothing was wrong." Radio Mankato co-owner Matt Ketelsen said Monday.

Thielfoldt has worked as a paid advertising consultant for Hagedorn since 2010, but media outlets including The Free Press reported last fall on the potential conflicts of interest over his role as a consultant and his role as an afternoon talk show host with KTOE.

The issue stems from Thielfoldt's interviews with Hagedorn on "Al in the Afternoon" in 2019 and 2020. While Hagedorn didn't discuss political issues with Thielfoldt on-air — Thielfoldt said in October they mainly discussed sports and updates from Washington on government actions such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response — Thielfoldt didn't disclose his relationship with Hagedorn during those interviews.

Radio Mankato officials pointed out Thielfoldt made sure to invite both Democrat and Republican lawmakers on "Al in the Afternoon." The radio company took Thielfoldt off the air last fall to avoid any perception of bias during the 2020 election season but maintained that Thielfoldt and KTOE followed broadcast regulations.

Broadcast experts and advocates said Thielfoldt's work raised ethical concerns but didn't necessarily violate FCC rules. Yet those experts also said Thielfoldt's monthly invoices could draw an FCC inquiry.

Ketelsen said FCC officials asked a few questions of the station and of Thielfoldt before dropping their inquiry. The matter was settled before March.

"Maybe it took a little longer than we would like, but at the end of the day we knew we were in the right," Ketelsen said.

The FCC also relicensed KTOE earlier this year. Radio stations must go through relicensing every seven years. KTOE's license was set to expire at the beginning of the month.