On the day I was to speak with KFAN radio’s Justin Gaard, I received notice that University of Minnesota Gopher football single-game tickets were on sale.
Perfect. Who better to ask than Gaard, who hosts The Cake Show (11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays) and produces Dan Barreiro’s Bumper to Bumper (weekdays 3-6:30 p.m.), should I, parent of a U of M student, just buy tickets to the obligatory parent weekend game, or do I pony up and purchase more tickets and join the chorus for freshly maroon-and-gold-dipped football coach P.J. Fleck’s “row the boat” mantra?
“P.J. has lit the place on fire,” Gaard says of Fleck’s initial months as head coach. “There’s new energy over there.” Gaard should feel the glow of Fleck’s freshman year heat, since he also works as a sideline reporter for the Gopher Football Radio Network. “I really like what P.J.’s been doing and getting people (positively) talking about Gopher football.”
While I was at it, I asked Gaard which other Minnesota sports teams deserved their buckets to be filled with fan optimism? “I would say the Timberwolves for sure. [Their bucket] has been empty for so long.” He is quick to add Gopher men’s basketball to the list, too, with hopeful confidence for a respectable seat at the Big Ten table.
Edina High School (EHS) sports fans may remember Gaard’s success: as a state high school Class 2A tennis champion his junior and senior years (2000 and 2001), member of the team’s state championship team as a junior, three-time all-state player and five-time all-conference athlete. He played for the University of Iowa two seasons and coached Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School boys’ varsity tennis team (2007-09).
Gaard was about 10 years old, attending Concord Elementary School, hitting the local basketball and tennis courts and dropping into General Sports on France Avenue to indulge his early love of all things sports when KFAN (FM 100.3) hit the airwaves. Along with his mom, Peggy, he began regularly listening to the sports station, tuning in to hear the latest scores or scouting reports. Those early days defined the course of Gaard’s career.
“I decided then that was what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I like hearing what the players and coaches have to say.”
With the career box checked at an early age, Gaard notes that growing up in Edina was “tremendous. You felt like you could always do what you wanted to do,” he says, adding the community is supportive of its youth and provides them with “amazing tools.”
In addition to living in a town that places a high priority on its kids, Gaard got a kick out of tooling around town. “Everywhere was cool to hang out,” he says, recalling Friday-night football games, followed by stints at Perkins or hitting the at-the-time-new pizza spot—“Davanni’s was huge news,” he says. Southdale Mall makes the list of his Edina “it” spots, as do the town’s Fourth of July and EHS homecoming parades.
Gaard clearly looks upon his growing-up years in the city with fondness, even though The Cake Show’s name comes as a lighthearted nudge at Edina. (About 10 minutes before the show’s premiere, a listener came up with the idea, which also riffs off the timeslot’s previous show, The Lake Show with Henry Lake.)
His roles as radio producer and host seem equally satisfying to Gaard. “I like whatever I’m doing at the time,” he says. “I get to talk no matter what.” He gives a respectful and appreciative high five to Barreiro. “I think he has the best show in town,” Gaard says.
As host of The Cake Show, Gaard’s main ingredient is, naturally, sports, but he blends in some pop culture and dad stuff, a nod to his two preschool-age sons, one age 3 and one 9 months. “I try to keep it pretty light,” he understates. A recent lineup offered a buffet of sports-related nibbles, after opening up with a cheeky cup of kombucha tea à la Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd.
Regardless of the topic of the day, Gaard is happy to be behind the mic and within earshot of national and local sports news. “I always wanted to be close to the action, and if you’re not going to be in it, it’s the next best thing,” he says.