The Iron Man signs off

April 13, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

Words like “legend” are often overused these days, diluting their meaning.

There was nothing diluted, however, about the big baritone voice of the Iron Man from the Iron Range, which resonated over much of the US and five Canadian provinces for more than a quarter of a century in 50,000 watts of clear channel majesty.

When legendary broadcaster Steve Cannon died Monday night after a five-month battle with cancer, one of the biggest voices in radio history went silent.

It is hard to believe that it has been more than a decade since he signed off from The Cannon Mess on WCCO-AM radio for the last time.

Before that, he had a morning gig on KSTP-AM, working on “the boulevard of broken hearts.”

His career spanned more than 40 years, and included stops on radio and television.

The venue that made the best use of his many talents, however, was The Cannon Mess, the drive-time powerhouse that was a fixture on “the evil neighbor” for 26 years.

Despite the name, the show was the product of thorough preparation and meticulous execution.

No one pulls off something that seems that effortless without a lot of preparation behind the scenes, and Cannon made it look easy by working hard.

Cannon provided the voices for “the little Cannons,” Ma Linger, Backlash LaRue, and Morgan Mundane, and he did it so well that some people never figured out that he was working alone in “the basement studio” (which was actually on the second floor).

His fierce commitment to doing the show his way was one of the things I liked best about Cannon.

The crack management team at the station underwent many revisions. Some of them tried to get him to change his format to a call-in show, which would have been a disaster.

He remained adamant, and his response to the suggestion that he take calls from listeners may not have been suitable for a family newspaper, but the gist of it was that if people want to be on the radio, they should get their own show.

That suited me just fine, because when I tuned in for the ride home, I wanted to hear Cannon.

He was a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, and he was from the old school. He had the rare ability to tell a story in a way that made us want to pull up a chair and listen.

Every afternoon, he regaled listeners with stories of the people and events that he had encountered during his colorful life, and with his reaction to items in the news.

Cannon was a master at weaving word pictures that made his subjects come alive.

He grew up in Eveleth, and regular listeners came to know the characters he had met and what life was like growing up on the range.

He made the things he described real.

We could picture him getting behind the wheel of “the big German car” and heading home to “the mansion” after his show to greet his wife “Nanook.”

Everything about the show, from Cannon’s absurd barking dogs theme song to his cast of characters and the language that he used, was designed to create an impression.

He even made commercials bearable, and joked about the number of commercials that he squeezed into his show.

When Cannon pitched a product, it was worth listening. No matter what he was selling, there was a sensation that one was listening to a master at work.

To this day, I still buy a certain brand of bread because of Cannon. I never paid attention to what kind of bread I bought until he became the pitchman for this brand. Then, it became the only brand I buy. If it was good enough for Cannon, it was good enough for me.

I knew perfectly well he was just pitching a product, but I bought it anyway because I enjoyed his delivery so much.

In an era when so many programs were resorting to cheaper, easier ways of doing things, Cannon remained a professional and continued to do things his way.

He was interested in a wide variety of subjects, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

The time flew by during The Cannon Mess, and he always left us wanting more.

From the first. “Hi gang” to his signature sign-off, “I got the money,” Cannon made it fun.

It used to irritate me when he took vacations, because it meant we would be deprived of his talents for a day or more.

Those who knew him have said he was a very private person, devoted to his family and friends. For a few hours each afternoon though, he put everything he had into his show, and the result was magic.

Cannon said what he thought and didn’t play games. He conveyed honesty, humor, and a special insight into the world around us. Cannon really was a legend, and we were lucky to have a chance to go along for the ride.