You don't have to be a regular listener of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion to know that the winters in Minnesota, the public radio show's home base, are long and bitterly cold. The northwest winds blow frigid air from the Canadian Arctic, and snow falls in piles. The state's extreme winter weather has been the butt of countless jokes, while also providing solace to people in other cities girded by the snow belt, Toledo included, who only think they know what cold really feels like.
One city in particular, International Falls in northeast Minnesota, is renowned as the coldest city in America during the winter, with temperatures often dropping to 40 and 50 below zero. Located at the Canadian border, the very name sends shivers up the spine, and no self-respecting list of temperatures in cities around the nation is complete without a mention of International Falls.
The city of 6,703 responds the only way it can: By capitalizing on its reputation as “the Icebox of the Nation.” That means an annual celebration in January, the town's coldest month of the year, and the establishment of International Falls' official Web site, Intlfalls.org., a Chamber of Commerce enterprise that sings the icicle city's praises both as a winter wonderland and as the home of a cold weather testing industry that has brought engineers and manufacturers there for the last 40 years.
As for January's outdoor shindig, nicknamed “Icebox Days,” there are predictable events such as candlelight ski runs, old-fashioned bonfires, ice skating, snow sculptures, snowshoe races, ice golf, a barrel sauna and polar bear dip, and turkey bowling, skittering frozen turkeys instead of bowling balls across the ice.
And don't forget the “Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run,” a 10K race that typically attracts 200 to 250 runners. According to the Web site, the race has never been canceled because of the cold, but the 1982 competition was cut to a three-mile race because of a wind-chill factor of 72 below.
Finally, browse on over to International Falls' official city Web site, a rather work-a-day governmental destination that greets visitors with a welcome from the mayor and a list of references to various city services. Surfers who may actually want to visit the Icebox of the Nation should click on the photo gallery, which includes more than 65 pictures taken winter and summer. Somehow, against all reason, frozen winter in International Falls looks more inviting.
When I came across a Web site called Radio Hall of Fame.com, my pulse quickened. Here was a chance to listen to some of the best-known voices in radio history, as compiled by The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. The home page, featuring a big old radio microphone, looked promising, and the list of Hall of Fame inductees was truly impressive.
Some of the inductees were pioneers of the medium: Fred Allen, Eddie Anderson (Rochester on The Jack Benny Show), Edgar Bergen, Dick Biondi, Eddie Cantor, Harry Caray, Dick Clark, Stan Freberg, Ernie Harwell, Edward R. Murrow, Orson Welles, and many more. A good handful of well-known radio programs also made the list, from Bob and Ray and Burns and Allen to The Lone Ranger, Fibber McGee and Molly, and even Car Talk.
Click on each name to read a biography of the inductee, including career highlights. But you already know what's missing: There are no audio clips to bring back the personalities that so many of us grew up with as children or listened to as adults. Someday, maybe clips will be added, although there's no indication at the site that this is being considered. In the meantime, you're stuck with reading about, instead of hearing, some of the greatest voices in radio.