By James L. Stroud, Jr.
After 20 years, a local cable television program, the “Art Cunningham Show,” is still on the air at Northwest Community Television — Channel 12 (NWCT), located in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. If show host Art Cunningham has his way, the programming in the next 20 years will keep getting younger.
The “Art Cunningham Show” is one of few programs if not the only one shot live at the NWCT studios and then delivered to Minneapolis and St. Paul cable outlets for prerecorded broadcast the following week. The program is hosted by Art Cunningham, who is also the executive producer.
According to Cunningham, over that 20-year journey he estimates producing about 1,280 shows and interviewing over 3,000 guests.
Cunningham, who also celebrated his 82nd birthday on November 11, originally came to Minnesota in 1952 via the United States Air Force after fighting in the Korean War. Cunningham thought Minnesota would be a good place to live and decided to stay. “That was a time when Minnesota Cold was really Minnesota Cold,” says Cunningham.
Cunningham was not trained to be a journalist/interviewer or to host television or radio. After six years in the military, he worked as an automobile salesman for six months and disliked it because, he says, the business didn’t seem to be honest.
Later moving on to work briefly for Hennepin County, Univac and Munsingwear, Cunningham one day received a telephone call from his friend Manny Jackson, who worked at Honeywell Corporation at the time and later went on to purchase the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. Jackson encouraged Cunningham to come over to Honeywell. Cunningham took him up and 15 years later retired as an operations manager.
What makes a man in the year 1990 wake up one morning and decide at age 61 that he wants to start a cable television talk show? Was it for money, fame and fortune? According to Cunningham, none of the above. MSR spoke with Cunningham (AC) about his 20-year journey and how it came about.
MSR: Tell me when your show started.
AC: It was 1990.
MSR: What was the inspiration for doing your show?
AC: During my earlier days, I was active in a lot of stuff in the community and interviewed a number of times. There were questions that I thought I should have been asked that I was not asked. So I said, “You know, if the opportunity ever arises, I want to do what I think they should have done.”
So I thought about it for a long time. Then I decided that I should figure out some way to give back to the community, because the community has done a lot in giving me opportunities. So I went to the NWTC studios and asked them if they had or if they were interested in my program.
At the time they said, “We don’t have that and we’d be glad to do it.” So then I decided to do it. We talked about the mechanics and that sort of thing. My first show was with three different mayors from the suburban area — Golden Valley, Robinsdale and New Hope. That was my first show, and since then, as they say, “The rest is history.”
MSR: You seem to light up while talking about the show. You must really enjoy what you do.
AC: Yes, I felt that there are lots of folk out there with information that other people need. If I can be the one that can seek those people out and put them in a position to share with people who need the information, then I’m serving a purpose.
So that’s what I’ve sought to do, seek out people who have information. I don’t have it, but I know who does have it. That has been my purpose throughout the time I have been doing the show.
MSR: What would you see as your show’s impact on the community, and are your guests selected based on some of the issues burning for you personally?
AC: Well, several things. Sometimes I tie it to what’s going on in the community and what may be dominant on the minds of the people. The other thing is that there is a lot of information that “Joe Blow” doesn’t know. Many times he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know, but he needs it. So I zero in on knowledge to make sure it gets to “Joe Blow.”
There may be a parent out there, a mother with three children. She has one child that may need a bit of information or resources that will hopefully make life better for her and the children. That’s what keeps me motivated to do what I’m doing.
The “Art Cunningham Show” has no sponsors and about four volunteers who help produce the show. Cunningham says that he wants to keep going and will continue to recruit young people he can educate about television production. Over 20-plus years, Cunningham’s all-time favorite show was a show he did with youth talent, and he would like to produce more shows with young people in the arts.
For more information about the “Art Cunningham Show,” contact your local Comcast television network for scheduling or contact Northwest Community Television — Channel 12 at 763-533-8196.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to [email protected]
Photo by James L. Stroud, Jr.