The Potluck

After revelations about payments from Hagedorn, Al Travis taken off the air until after election

By: - September 29, 2020 2:32 pm

Al Travis Thielfoldt. Photo courtesy of KTOE.

WASHINGTON — A Mankato radio host has been pulled off the air until after the November elections, after the Minnesota Reformer revealed he had interviewed U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn on the air without disclosing to his listeners he had been paid by the congressman’s campaign.

Al Travis Thielfoldt, who hosts Al in the Afternoon on KTOE, will sit on the sidelines until after November 3, which will feature a 1st Congressional District rematch between first term Republican Hagedorn and Dan Feehan, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nominee. The move was announced by station management Tuesday.  

Matt Ketelsen, the general manager of Subarctic Media, which owns KTOE, said in an interview posted on the station’s website Tuesday that although he believes the station followed all Federal Communications Commission regulations, the station brass decided Thielfoldt should sit out the next month or so of shows.

“We are slightly disappointed with how the story was covered, but at the end of the day, perception is the most important thing, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “We want our audience to believe that we are 100% fair, because that is the case. So we decided that we’re just going to take Al off the air here just to avoid any perception of bias whatsoever.”

The decision was made after the Reformer reported that Thielfoldt — through his company Innovative Marketing Techniques — had worked as a media buyer for Hagedorn’s campaign while at the same time interviewing Hagedorn on the air.

Broadcast law experts told the Reformer the financial relationship could raise several problems for the station if it is found that Thielfoldt was compensated directly or indirectly for giving Hagedorn favorable coverage or extra time. Thielfoldt vigorously denied he was paid for the interviews or gave the congressman special treatment.

Ketelsen told KTOE news anchor Ashley Hanley on Tuesday that the station followed ”every FCC guideline and legality involved with this to the absolute letter in terms of equal time and equal treatment of every candidate,” and noted that candidates of both parties are regularly on the air. He said the decision to sideline Thielfoldt had nothing to do with any potential violations.

“We’re not doing this because of any legality, we simply want our audience to understand that we’re going above and beyond to prevent any perception at all of how we cover news here in the Mankato area,” Ketelsen said.

Feehan has not appeared on Thielfodt’s show, but he has been interviewed by other news personalities on KTOE. The equal time provision of FCC law would only apply if regulators found that any interviews on the air were not “bonafide news.”  

Hanley said in the interview that the station has been fielding a lot of calls and emails about the issue, since the Reformer story ran on Monday and was reprinted in the Mankato Free Press.

Ketelsen did not respond to a phone call on his cell phone asking for comment about whether he or other station ownership or management knew about the financial ties between Hagedorn and Thielfoldt prior to the publication of the article. Thielfoldt previously told the Reformer that he had sold Hagedorn’s ads to KTOE, but did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Al in the Afternoon, which runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., kicked off Monday with a guest host, Darin Svenson. Svenson made no mention of why he was sitting in for Thielfoldt.

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Daniel Newhauser
Daniel Newhauser

Daniel Newhauser is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in the Atlantic, Roll Call, VICE, National Journal and several other publications.