Love for radio sparked at young age
Brent Ackerman has encountered a lot of aspiring radio personalities and DJs in his life, but never in his 30-year radio career had he met someone quite like Markus Handlon.
They both went to the same church, so it wasn't uncommon for their paths to cross. And once Markus learned that Ackerman worked at KROC, Markus made a point of regularly accosting the radio manager, handing Ackerman demo tapes of his radio work and telling him that he wanted to work at KROC some day.
Never mind that Markus' radio station was a toy, and that he was 8 years old at the time.
"I've met a lot of people with enthusiasm and passion, but never at that young of an age," said Ackerman, operations manager for Town Square Media, which owns six area radio stations. "I remember thinking, 'Who knows, you'll probably work for us.'"
That thought, in the end, turned out to be clairvoyant, as any listener can now discover by turning the dial to 106.9 KROC, where Markus works as a DJ from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays.
Markus, 19, dates his own fascination with radio to a Christmas gift he received as an 8-year-old. It was a "Toys R Us" radio station from his aunt. Although a toy, it had broadcast capability and registered on the AM dial. The signal carried to only a few neighbors' houses, but it was enough to create a radio audience.
He called his station KARC. Markus said he broadcast from his bedroom and built his small audience by calling neighbors and asking them to turn to his show. And they obligingly did, sometimes calling in when Markus held contests and quizzes.
"I would bring it to Duluth whenever I went to hang out with my cousins," Markus recalled. "I started a show up there called Duluth Entertainment Radio. So, it just kind of kicked off from there."
Markus was also paying regular visits to KROC, asking his dad, Chuck Handlon, to drive him to the station at six in the morning so he could talk to the morning crews. One woman there made a demo tape for him to play on his station. "This is Mark the Spark on KARC," she recorded, as the sounds of a car taking off could be heard in the background.
Handlon said his son has always had an irrepressible curiosity and social fearlessness. As a young boy, whenever they made a trip to the Hy-Vee grocery store, Markus would wander off to the produce section, where he quickly made friends with the workers there. They made a badge for him that read, "Mark Handlon, produce." In eighth grade, he called Gold Cross ambulance service and asked for a tour. As they walked around the facility, Markus peppered the first responder with questions. He is now trained as an emergency medical responder.
"I've always thought that parents who have their kids in those harnesses are bad parents. But he was one I wanted to do that to," Handlon said. "He'd be about five, and I would stop at a produce stand on the side of the road, and I would turn around and he's gone. He's in somebody's car, and he's asking them how this works or that works."
Ackerman said his only worry after hiring Markus was whether he could contain his personality within the confines of a Top 40 radio station. Given his free spirit, he wondered whether he would "try and reinvent" the genre. But so far Markus has done a good job staying within the station's guidelines while also finding ways to express his personality, Ackerman said.
Markus said that while he loves radio, his ambition is to be in law enforcement. He hopes to find ways to accommodate both in his life — and other things. If he had his druthers and the money, "which I don't, I'd love to get my pilot's license. That's what I wanted to do since I was little.
"It's going to be law enforcement, but I might do radio on the side. You never know," Markus said.