Trial Balloon

Ask Dr. Heartlander

Posted at 6:00 AM on June 4, 2010 by Dale Connelly (124 Comments)
Filed under: Ask Dr. Heartlander

Today's "Ask Dr. Heartlander" comes by emergency e-mail from an iPhone somewhere in North Carolina. If you have never seen this Trial Balloon feature before, it operates on a simple premise - many minds are better than one, and we are ALL Dr. Heartlander.

Thumbnail image for AnnLandersFreud3-small.jpg

Dear Dr. Heartlander,

I work for the US Census visiting uncounted households. Because we have confidentiality rules, I can't tell you exactly where I am at this moment.

I just finished enumerating the individuals living in the F_stein residence (lovely castle by the way) and was slowly backing down the long, treacherous, winding driveway when a sudden flash of lightning and the howl of an incessant wind momentarily distracted me. The rear wheels of my car slipped over the embankment and now I'm balanced on the edge of a precipice overlooking a 1,000 foot drop. Each time I move, the center of gravity shifts and my vehicle tips a little bit more towards oblivion. Opening the door or climbing out the window is not an option. I'm middle-aged (really) and by no means quick or nimble.

I honked the horn a hundred times before Dr. F_stein came out of the house to see what was going on. He took one look at my situation and went back in the house, rubbing his hands together and mumbling something about "releasing the creature". I don't know if he's talking about me (we are all God's "creatures") or if he's going to get somebody else. He said he lived alone, but I'm not sure I believe him - there were strange crashing and moaning sounds coming out of the basement. He said it was the water heater. Dr. F_stein was kind enough during our interview (it was long) but if he brings another person out of that house I know I am going to feel betrayed and I will have to start the enumeration process all over.

On one side is certain death. On the other, sure disappointment and a lot of extra work. Plus, there's an element of fear in the air - something sinister that I can't describe. That's why I decided to write to you.

Dr. Heartlander, what is the secret to happiness?


I told "Tipper" that the secret to happiness lies in never having to back a car down a winding driveway in a thunderstorm without someone to help you. Even if you are working for the government, it is dangerous to visit strange, remote households alone. Now that she has already violated some cardinal rules and is in this difficult situation, her only remaining choice is to keep a sunny disposition, expect the best of others, and be careful around fire.

But that's just my opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Heartlander?


Taking Stock & Moving On

Posted at 6:00 AM on June 3, 2010 by Dale Connelly (178 Comments)

Radio Heartland has been rolling along with its eclectic, acoustic mix of listener friendly music for 17 months and 22 days now.

Not that I'm counting.

The aim has always been to stay connected to the listeners who appreciated the casual, quirky style of MPR's long running Morning Show, and to explore new ways to deliver audio programming online and on HD radio in the Twin Cities. For any major Minnesota station to devote a full time announcer to a project that can't be heard over standard radio is, as far as I know, unprecedented.

How has it been going? That's hard to say. HD audiences don't show up in the ratings, and measuring online listenership is tricky. To my way of thinking, the only meaningful yardstick for Radio Heartland has been membership response. In that regard, every individual who makes a contribution and mentions Radio Heartland as a reason for becoming a member represents a success, and we've had thousands of them.

Many, many thanks to everyone who has joined in this effort.

However, management has decided the cost of this project is too great, and I have been told my Radio Heartland assignment will end with this Friday morning's show. My services are no longer needed and my job at MPR vanishes completely at the end of the month. You can read more about the decision here.

The good news is this - two extremely important components remain in place. Mike Pengra will stay in his producer / music picker role and JASPER, the computer you named back in January 2009, is tireless, so the familiar Heartland stream will continue online and on HD radio. What does that mean for the future of Radio Heartland? Alas, I have no crystal ball. If you have opinions and advice regarding what happens next, you may send your thoughts to

This decision comes as a surprise to me. As many of you already know from your personal stories (so generously shared on this blog) when you get to be a certain age, the sudden changes that come are often dark and unwelcome but we are resilient people who are very good at imagining the worst and naturally inclined to hope for the best. This is another one of those situations that only appears dire. Greater trials are visited every day on good people who are much less deserving of trouble. Because I know you'll be concerned, I want to assure you that I'll be fine.

Thanks for your support and friendship during the last year and a half, and in many cases well before that, stretching back 34 years to the June day when I started at MPR's station KRSW in Worthington, a 20-year-old broadcast journalist fresh out of college. It has been my great privilege to be one of the people inside your radio and more recently your computer or smartphone or HD gizmo or whatever you want to call it. Regardless of whose voice is coming out of the speaker, I have always believed that everyone who listens should make a contribution. The personnel will always change. The technology is only a detail. The real success story of public radio in Minnesota has always been about what happens outside the box of wires. You made MPR great with your support, and it will always be great as long as you are there.

As for the Dale Connelly Show, we have two days left to play as many of your requests as time allows.

What would you like to hear?


This Just In

Posted at 6:00 AM on June 2, 2010 by Dale Connelly (72 Comments)

More Memorial Day Weekend photos came in yesterday, and these latest show how closely we're connected even when we are far apart.

Sunday gave us a beautifully textured evening sky - powerful and memorable whether you were with Steve on the water at Lake Superior ...

Steve 1 sunset.jpg

... or with tim, taking in the Twins game at Target Field.

tim 1 sunset.JPG

Watching the sun vanish over the horizon might be our most widely shared group astronomical activity, at least until the Moon Shuttles start running.

What's your most memorable sunset?


Scene Through A Lens

Posted at 6:00 AM on June 1, 2010 by Dale Connelly (30 Comments)
Filed under: Guest Bloggers

It's a group Guest Blog day today.

tim made a suggestion on Friday that Trial Balloon readers take a picture over the three day weekend to share with everyone. Excellent idea!
Here are the replies.


2_Donna 2 Jackson Cemetary.jpg

This is the war memorial at Sunset Cemetery in Jackson, MN. This cemetery and two others are on either side of hwy 71 on the south edge of town, which is the road I usually take, once I exit I-90, when I visit my parents. As far as cemeteries go, Jackson's are very pleasant to look at.

Barb in Blackhoof:
Barb 1 fungus.jpg

We walked with our local naturalist friend on saturday, and he found a dead tree with this beautiful sulfur fungus called "chicken of the woods".

Such striking colors in the late afternoon sun.


This picture is Saturday morning fieldwork with our home / farm in the background.


2_Joanne 1 tomatos .jpg

I am a sloth - but I did manage to plant 4 heirloom tomatoes and 2 heirloom pepper plants in my wonderful Earth Boxes. Taa Daa!
I am not a gardener, but using the Earth Boxes makes it quick, easy and I get great results with very little effort. Perfect!

2_Anna 2 butterfly_2.jpg


We moved through Saturday and Sunday with a huge collection of morning cloak caterpillars (about 20, now in their cocoons in our bug house), including a very friendly butterfly who came for a visit in our yard.

Thanks to our photo-correspondents.

Even if you didn't take the picture, what image sticks in your mind from the Memorial Day weekend?


A Day to Relax and Reflect

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 31, 2010 by Dale Connelly (24 Comments)

It is Memorial Day, 2010.

In the United States this day of remembrance started out in the Civil War years with the placing of flowers on the graves of those who died in battle. It was formalized as Decoration Day and later as Memorial Day, honoring those who gave their lives in service to our country. Please keep them in your thoughts.

I am not in the studio today but will be introducing tunes in my most companionable (though remote) way. If you are looking for a current weather forecast, check this page from the MPR website. I'll be back with a live show tomorrow.

Happy Memorial Day, Heartlanders.

Since we have already talked about great three day weekends of the past and the ideal imaginary summers we would spend floating in a lotus petal on a pool of ambrosia, feel free to summarize your actual weekend so far and / or share your plans for today.

If you didn't see the proposal from tim on Friday, he is suggesting that Trial Balloon readers send in a photo or two from their weekend to be featured in a post later this week. You can send yours directly to me at this address:


Debbie Duncan and Decoration Day

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 29, 2010 by Dale Connelly (1 Comments)

Tonight on Radio Heartland on MPR news stations, a Memorial Day Weekend program featuring a great jazz singer who has delighted Minnesota audiences since she came here in the mid 80's for a temporary gig at a night club called "Rupert's".


The nightclub is long gone, but Debbie Duncan continues. She'll perform excerpts from an upcoming show at the Capri Theater in Minneapolis focusing on the work of lyricist, singer and music business executive Johnny Mercer. We'll also pay tribute to a one-of-a-kind musician, teacher, scholar and character, the late Bill Hinkley.

In hour two we'll expand the salute to include a handful of musicians who passed away since last Memorial Day , including Kate McGarrigle, Lena Horne, Cam Waters and Liam Clancy. Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day for the tradition of placing flowers on the graves of the honored dead. We'll place a few roses tonight on Radio Heartland between 9 and 11pm.

This program will be repeated Sunday at noon and Monday evening at 6 online at, and on digital radio in the Twin Cities (91.1 HD2).


The Windmills of His Mind

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 28, 2010 by Dale Connelly (32 Comments)
Filed under: Bubby Spamden

We have a new message from Bubby Spamden. They must be done with all their testing at Wendell Wilkie High School. His mind is wandering.

Hey, Mr. C.,


But it's just another Friday.

Well, not just another Friday, because it's the Friday before a three day weekend, which is the coolest kind of Friday to have. It's, like, all potential. Anything could happen. I'm going to spend the whole day daydreaming - looking out the window in Ms. Pakratz's class and thinking of the fun I'm going to have with the extra day off.

Once you begin to actually HAVE the fun and it becomes part of your past you can't go back and change it. That sucks. Like when me and my friend Kyle decided we were going to ride our mountain bikes across the railroad bridge. It sounded like a cool thing to be able to tell people we did, but really doing it was kinda scary and uncomfortable and expensive.

I'm thinking of getting my folks' phone number tattooed on my forehead so the authorities can quit asking me to repeat it.

Anyway, all I'm saying is the fun that's still ahead is always more fun than the fun you just had. That's what I'll be thinking about in school today (why are there still TWO WEEKS to go?) and I know I'm not alone. The teachers are doing it too. Like Mr. Boozenporn. He's always got that faraway look in his eyes. Bet if the FBI seized his computer, they'd find some wild stuff.

Anyway, have an awesome weekend, even if it's only in your mind!

Your friend,

What was your best summer vacation experience, real or imagined?


Bring Your Junk!

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 27, 2010 by Dale Connelly (39 Comments)
Filed under: Poetry

I've looked at animations and read through descriptions of the BP oil well jamming procedure now underway, injecting "heavy mud" into the feed pipes - a process known as "top kill". I understand the simplest explanations ("It's like trying to intentionally block up a toilet") and am baffled by much of the rest.

I've heard that if this doesn't work, the next step is to try to pack the leak with chunky debris - a "junk shot". I certainly get that. I know all about junk, having worked to accumulate tons of it through most of my life. In fact, I'm excited by the idea because it creates a rare opportunity in our throw-away culture - the chance to dispose of some useless things heroically.

To seal an oil well underwater
You will need some heavy fodder.
Start with thick and gooey mud
Then pack it full of extra crud.

Softballs, chunks of worn out tire

Spools of unused speaker wire.

Costume jewelry, plated gold 

and all the Chryslers still unsold.

Every bit of spare debris

should come, enthusiastically

from anyone who rides in cars.

For this calamity is ours.

DVD's you didn't watch.

Old tapes - video and Scotch.

Carpet scraps and mailing tubes.

Open board games. Rubik's Cubes.

Empty out your basement clutter
Every golf club. That damn putter.
Piles of Christmas cookie tins.
We'll plug the gusher with our sins.

From physicians - rubber hammers 

Plus their awkward beside manners.
From the stoners - bongs and joints

And from spin doctors? Talking points.

And still the void cries out for more. 

We've never gone this deep before.
So to the hungry wellhead bring
Our excess wretched everything!

Lawyers! Give us spite and greed!
(you've got extra, guaranteed).
TV stars could spare some vanity. 

NASCAR drivers, their insanity. 

Commentators? All your scorn!
Webmasters! Unload your porn.
From farmers take redundant crops

From Lady Gaga? Unused props.

Gather up each proud and smug
opinion for this oily plug.
Can written nonsense trigger clogs?
Try stupid, pointless rhyming blogs.

Then pile it all into the sea

And with the profits from BP

We'll force this cocktail down the tube

To plug the hole that leaks the crude.

What sort of useless debris could you contribute to the cause?


R.I.P. Bill Hinkley

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 26, 2010 by Dale Connelly (46 Comments)

Radio Heartland has tickets to a concert featuring Bruce Molsky and Ale Möller at the Cedar Cultural Center this Thursday, May 27th at 7:30pm.

Enter the drawing.
Obey the rules.
Good luck.

A true V.I.P. died yesterday. Bill Hinkley wasn't a Governor or CEO of anything and he didn't invent or manipulate credit default swaps, but he was a very important person if you cared at all about acoustic music or wanted to learn to play the fiddle or couldn't remember all the lyrics to that song you once heard that included the line about the bumblebee and the words "root hog or die".

Longtime Hinkley friend and collaborator Adam Granger will stop by in the 8 o'clock hour (repeated at noon) today, and we'll raid the library for some recordings that feature Bill.

There is a lovely salute at the Prairie Home Companion website. Garrison Keillor sang a song for Bill Hinkley on last week's broadcast, identifying him as "The very first guitarist on our show when it started back in 1974. He and his partner Judy Larson played our theme song for the first few seasons. Our very first musician."

Reading the tributes to him and the reminiscences of his friends, one theme that emerges is that the man has a truly remarkable brain. Bill Hinkley could see things and hear them and remember it all exactly.

The Homestead Pickin' Parlor website says this: "The question has often been posed as to whether Bill may know more tunes than anyone alive today. We've not stumped him yet and we've tried. Challenge him if you must, but make sure you look good with humble pie on your face."

Bill once said in an interview, "There's a lot that I do remember. I'm a great storehouse of dubiously applicable information. One of the things that I've learned from teaching - I've learned how to read and write music. A lot of students - they couldn't learn the way I did, through mimicry and eidetic (or photographic) memory of process. The important thing is to get a sound out of the thing. Even just a primitive little sound - a note."

Bill Hinkley used his excellent brain in the best way possible - to play music, to teach others to play, and to bring some pleasure to anyone who would listen.

What is the most amazing feat of memory you have performed or witnessed? Or can't you recall?


Unbearable Heat

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 25, 2010 by Dale Connelly (40 Comments)
Filed under: Bart the Bear

Radio Heartland has tickets to a concert featuring Bruce Molsky and Ale Möller at the Cedar Cultural Center this Thursday, May 27th at 7:30pm.

Enter the drawing.
Obey the rules.
Good luck.

I was happy to receive a text message in the middle of the night from Bart the Bear, still roaming the north woods with a cellphone he found at an abandoned campground. It has been about one month since the last time Bart wrote. Last time, he forwarded a You Tube video, offering his feelings about animals wearing clothes - he's against it.
Especially pants.

Yesterday I texted him to ask what bears do on very hot days. Bart's answer has already been translated from Ursus textish to standard English.

Bart Blackberry2.jpg

Hey. Bart here. Boy oh boy. Hot days are not nice for bears. Mostly I lie around in a shady spot in the woods. I dig out a little hollow in the dirt and the leaves so I can sleep and wait for the sun to go down. If you know any hikers, tell them to stay on the trail, OK? Real important. Get off the trail and you could step on a sleeping bear's head! Then there's lots of growling and running and screaming, and everybody gets even hotter. Not fun. Stay on the trail.

At night I try to find campsite leftovers.

One good treat I really like is the plastic box. Sometimes the box has food in it - custard and pie and raw meat and good stuff like that. And always there's ice! Ice is nice. We don't see it in the woods after the middle of April, so I'm always real happy to find a few frosty chunks in the plastic box. Stick frosty chunks in your leg pits and that'll cool you off real quick.

And if people see you tearing open their plastic box, sometimes they'll run and get in the car and roll up the windows. I like when the car starts to hum and drip water, because that means it's getting nice and cool INSIDE. Mmmmmm. Pull the door off and crawl inside - it's really fun. Plus, you get to see the people doing even more running and screaming. And in the cool box, there's cup holders! Sometimes with cups still in them, and in the cups - sweet, sweet, sweet!

Also, sometimes I can re-charge my phone while I wait for the ranger.

I do like it when friends come to visit, so if you're in the woods, bring a plastic box with ice and be sure to say hello.

And leave the keys in the car!

I wrote back to Bart and told him thanks for the tips - I would most certainly not follow his advice.

What are your preferred techniques for staying cool on a hot, hot day?

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About the Writer

Dale Connelly

Dale Connelly came directly to Minnesota Public Radio in 1976 after studying Radio and Television at Southern Illinois University. He hasn't left. A more thorough history lesson is available if you're so inclined.