TCB Q&A: Mark Rosen
Mark Rosen, the last remaining holdout from the glory days of local TV news, retired just after New Year’s from WCCO-TV, where he’d been working since he was a teenager, most recently as sports director and lead sports anchor. At 67, he wanted his evenings back to spend with his wife, Denise, who was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer in 2018 and whose condition is currently stable.
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He is not on the golf course or a hanger-on at local team clubhouses. Instead, he’s doubled down on his KFAN radio work, is producing original content for the Vikings, and is active on social media. Rosen was the first of the local TV newsers to diversify into radio and his tenures on KQRS and KFAN helped build a brand that made him invaluable to WCCO in an era when high-priced legacy talent was being purged all over the country. We sat down with Rosen in August because he doesn’t need to spend the month at the State Fair anymore.
Q | You’re now how many months post-TV?
A | My last day was Jan. 10, the day [abducted teenager] Jayme Kloss was found, and thankfully it was a happy ending. But the newsroom that day was chaotic, and if that story hadn’t ended happily for Jayme, we were not going to do [a farewell show].
Q | You seem extraordinarily visible and busy for someone who is retired.
A | I’m busy, but not extraordinarily. I’m getting busier. The TV part was important to retire from because the hours were not negotiable with my wife’s health situation.
Q | Could you have stayed at WCCO indefinitely?
A | I signed a contract that carried me through March 2021. I told my former news director Mike Caputa, under whom I signed the contract, that I won’t be here then. I didn’t want to be there. The combination of the hours, lack of staffing, my radio obligations, and wanting different challenges made it that way.
Rosen’s Sports Sunday had ended because of the economics of the business. I pulled the plug on that show. I couldn’t keep doing it under the circumstances. I was spending my days off lining up guests, and there was no compensation for the guests. I’d used up all my goodwill and I was feeling the strain. I felt it was time. I might have stayed deeper into this year … But of course, everything toppled over when my wife’s diagnosis came about. And I just accelerated that.
I think the low point was probably when new management in 2002–03 wanted to run all of us out of WCCO. I took the brunt of it in the sports department when they hired Anne Hutchinson without my knowledge because they wanted to sex up the department. They had it out for me, Bill Carlson, Amelia [Santaniello]. No one has any idea why they were so ill-equipped to run a television station. They were mean-spirited people. And when I look at my career, I’m grateful that only happened once.
Q | Was your TV compensation ratcheted down over the years, like that of many legacy news personalities?
A | A long time ago it was. Nearly a decade ago it reached its peak [prerecession]. That wasn’t an issue recently. I was fine with it, given the reality of TV news economics and that it was obvious the glory days weren’t coming back.
Q | What were your professional priorities post-TV?
A | I had discussions with KFAN about what I could do, and they kind of gave me carte blanche, but we decided to crawl before we walked. I added another day with “Common [Man” Dan Cole] from 2–3. We talked about a podcast. That’s still on the table, but other things were out there.
Recently, the Vikings came to me about other possibilities. My whole thing was that I really need to be home at night. I can figure the rest of it out. There’s still a little bit of apprehension about it, but [the Vikings] all know I can pull back if I have to.
People don’t understand you can’t just retire overnight. I have a pension through my union. I was able to sit down and think about it, and then my wife’s illness came, and it was a process. It took time.
Q | From a 10,000-foot-view, you seem either extraordinarily savvy or extraordinarily lucky by repeatedly aligning yourself with what was the most buzzy, dynamic morning radio shows of their eras—first at KQ with Tom Barnard and now with KFAN. Shows with a younger, differentiated audience from who watched you on TV. How were you so wise?
A | A lot of it was good fortune. I started [at KQ] two months before Barnard in 1986. I’ve hit more home runs because of the people I’ve been associated with. Both shows were still building their brands. But I also worked with Bob Yates, who was a genius, but definitely not someone who had mainstream appeal. But I thoroughly enjoyed working with him.
Q | Do you stay in touch with Tom?
A | Not much. But I ran into Tom at Frank Vascellaro’s mom’s memorial. Tom knows Frank really well. It was one week before Denise got her diagnosis. Anyway, I came up to him, pulled him aside, and I don’t know why, I got really emotional, I started crying. I told him how much he meant to me, that I missed him, and will always cherish our years together. He was taken aback. It just felt right to do. We always had this bond. We were born six days apart. We always felt a connection. I know he’s always there for me. He’s like a brother.
Q | What was your appeal to KFAN?
A | They were still using a lot of national talent and experts throughout the programming day. I think I added some local credibility.
Q | You never got tarred by some of the rough spots. There was a time when Tom’s brand became very polarizing. KFAN’s morning show can have a juvenile edge, it can be pretty crude.
A | I was gone from Tom’s show by that point. But sure, I know what line to draw. I found my niche [at KFAN] in that madness and it’s relatable, but I’m the voice of reason. But I talked about taking my daughter to Black Swan and told the story in a way that was not creepy, but it was me.
Q | Authenticity is never a mistake. Right?
A | It’s never awkward. Which is the best thing you can say doing morning radio as an older person. I don’t feel like I feel when I’m at a bar having a drink with my son and his friends—which is I don’t really belong there for more than one drink.
Q | When was the last time you seriously contemplated leaving the market?
A | The only time I came close was before kids. It was [a job in] Chicago; my wife is from that area. I remember meeting some people at WBBM-TV. I applied for a weekend sports job once, but every time I thought about leaving ’CCO, I got a promotion. It was a legendary local news operation in that day, there was no professional downside to being there.
Q | I always wondered what your connection was to Rosen’s Bar and Grill in the Warehouse District, where Brothers is now. I don’t imagine you cooked on the line.
A | Rosen’s Bar and Grill opened in October 1991, weeks before the Twins went to the World Series and before the snowstorm of the century. I was a minority owner but really didn’t get involved in the day-to-day operation. It was a time when the Warehouse District was coming alive, and we had a great clientele and atmosphere. I was involved for about eight years; the timing was right to move on. It wasn’t a financial windfall by any means. I enjoyed the energy of the place. I didn’t miss it after I left, but remain intrigued by the restaurant business. Same adrenaline rush as the TV world … where you’re only as good as your last performance.
Q | Have you spent more than a passing moment thinking about your brand over the years?
A | When it’s happening, you don’t; you don’t have the time. We don’t have retreats where you talk about it. Three and a half minutes on TV isn’t going to showcase you. And radio was a creative outlet and a paycheck more than a brand-building exercise. Now the last six months in particular I’ve had to think about it in retirement. I’ve been more aware of the brand in the last six months.
Q | Now you’re doing a halftime radio show for the Vikings and a weekly show with Kirk Cousins. Was it difficult for you to think about accepting a paycheck from a local sports organization after all these years that it was taboo?
A | No, because there were ground rules we set. I choose the questions and I decide how to talk about the game. I would never accept a situation where I would have to be not true to who I am.
Q | Is the business of sports less interesting as it’s become more corporate and professionalized, or is it more interesting?
A | It can be both. The corporate aspect has taken some of the joy out of the day-to-day. [Back in the day] the Vikings were at 71st and France, and I’d drive up and walk in the door and Bud Grant, Jim Finks, Max Winter were right inside, and you’d say hello and make small talk. Well, now, at TCO, you can no more do that than walk into the White House. The fans don’t see that. It’s probably a necessary evil because the leagues are monoliths. But the athletes are the same. They want to win. It’s not about ownership, it’s about the game. But honestly, I have more beefs with college sports. Pro sports are corporate giants and admit it. The NCAA pretends it’s about student athletes.
Q | And modernizing is not optional. Look at how the Twins suffered for running an archaic organization that didn’t evolve with the game.
A | They had to retool. The Wolves had to retool. The Wild are a mess. People don’t understand how having smart front-office people matters in terms of longevity and sustainability.
Q | Sports has been touched by the negativity and divisiveness of this era. Do you relish engaging in that?
A | There are many times I’d like to join the fray a bit. I have to bite my tongue on Twitter. But there’s no upside in it. I’m very engaged in the world, but there’s no winning when you dip into divisive topics. But sports ends up [in divisive topics anyway]. The Adrian Peterson debate about how he disciplined his kids was a cultural conversation.
Q | The arc of your career looks fairly smooth. Are there hard lessons built into it nonetheless?
A | I think the low point was probably when new management in 2002–03 wanted to run all of us out of WCCO. I took the brunt of it in the sports department when they hired Anne Hutchinson without my knowledge because they wanted to sex up the department. They had it out for me, Bill Carlson, Amelia [Santaniello]. No one has any idea why they were so ill-equipped to run a television station. They were mean-spirited people. And when I look at my career, I’m grateful that only happened once. That was the toughest time.
Ultimately [CBS news leadership] came in and realized what was going on and righted the ship and we continued on as we were. It helped me understand this was a business, and it’s sometimes capricious. So you can’t get too comfortable.
Q | Is your story typical? Is there a Mark Rosen in Phoenix and Omaha, etc.?
A | Nah, I don’t think someone with 50 years. Every market has a senior sports person, but I think what I’ve been fortunate enough to build has not been typical.
Q | Do you still enjoy sports as much as that 17-year-old boy at WCCO?
A | Differently. I enjoy the day-to-day drama. It’s easier to enjoy it when you don’t have so many deadlines around the games. It’s a nice release when life is burdening. I’m still a romantic about baseball. Baseball is still my love. It’s tracked the seasons of my life. I’ve known Rod Carew since 1977, [known] Tony Oliva. It’s special to me. There’s still that kid in me that’s in awe.
But there’s also too much sports. I’m not tied to my TV every weekend anymore.
Adam Platt is TCB’s executive editor.