Howard Viken, whose deep voice and warm, casual wit were familiar to generations of Minnesotans who grew up listening to WCCO AM Radio, died early Saturday at the age of 97, the station reported.
"He was very intelligent, but never condescending," said longtime WCCO personality Denny Long. "He was just a gem."
Viken worked at WCCO Radio from 1950 to 1989, during its heyday as a powerhouse statewide station. Especially during wild winter weather, he was a trusted voice for many Minnesota households.
He was among the AM station's many celebrity broadcasters, along with such airway notables as Cedric Adams, Steve Cannon, Charlie Boone, Roger Erickson, Ruth Koscielak, Tim Russell and Maynard Speece. Another was Joyce Lamont, who often performed with Viken on the air.
In 2004, he was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame. According to his Pavek Museum Hall of Fame biography, Viken fought as a Marine in Guam and Iwo Jima during World War II, then studied speech and journalism at the University of Minnesota and broadcasting at the former Brown Institute.
"He always looked like a Marine, with this great posture," Long said Saturday. "When you saw him walking down the hall, it could be kind of jarring, but he was really a kind guy. He never had a bad word about anybody."
Viken's influence was extensive, going well beyond the Minnesotans who turned up the volume when his smooth voice began announcing school closings on winter mornings.
Comedian Bob Newhart said his debut album, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," was going nowhere until the Minneapolis radio station got behind it.
"Every pressing was being sent to Minneapolis," the comedian told the Star Tribune in 2019. "Howard Viken at WCCO Radio was putting me on the air. They were even publishing in the paper what times certain bits would be airing, like: 'Abe Lincoln at 5:30 p.m.' "
The record would go on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year.
Long was serving as music director in 1972 when he got ahold of a song from the producers of the film "Deliverance." He suggested that Viken play it on the air.
"Dueling Banjos" became a major hit in the Twin Cities market and, eventually, the rest of the country.
Viken's primary role in the early 1950s was introducing popular serials like "The Lone Ranger" and "Gunsmoke." But as TV became more powerful, radio became less reliant on national programming and more dependent on locally produced shows.
"Howard was among those who successfully transitioned from formal radio to friendly radio," said former WCCO managing editor Steve Murphy, who had a chance to visit with Viken in January 2020 at his assisted-living residence in Plymouth.
Viken had recently moved back to the Twin Cities to be closer to his children after spending several decades in Florida.