Last week a minor miracle occurred on Miami radio– Two prickly old talk hosts were nice, to EACH OTHER. For Florida listeners who remember the on-air feud between Bob Lassiter and Neil Rogers a dozen years ago (an WSUN and WIOD), it was an unprecedented radio moment. Two of the greatest talents in talk radio who are not known for grace or forgiveness exhibited large helpings of both qualities to each other live on the radio. While much was made of Letterman and Oprah patching things up a couple weeks ago, THIS was the real thing. There was nothing superficial about it.
I lived in Florida back then, and listened for weeks on end as Rogers and Lassiter fired daily salvos at each other during their respective programs. Rogers’ show from WIOD in Miami was syndicated on WSUN in St. Petersburg at the time, and If you were listening in the Tampa area Lassiter would follow Rogers at two in the afternoon. As it dragged on, most days were filled with cruel jokes, accusations and ad-hominem attacks. Neil would kick it off in the morning, and Bob would follow up for hours. It was both compelling and kinda pathetic.
And what exactly was all this hostility about? Good question. From what Lassiter says, it started each host with serving up their own brand of indignant talk radio schtick to each other and somewhere along the line it turned into an ugly and real radio slap fight. As a listener, I really don’t remember the specific points of contention (and I haven’t heard any recordings from that time to help me remember). Of course it was a while ago, but what I do recall is two talented radio misanthropes going at each other with very little mercy. The argument at hand really became beside the point. It obviously wasn’t a joke.
But last Thursday, for over ten minutes, Bob Lassiter was back on the radio for the first time in six years. However, it wasn’t quite the same hearing Lassiter’s big voice on a little bleary phone line. But considering his health and the awkwardness of the moment, Lassiter sounded as warm and strong as I could imagine. And Rogers’ unstoppable string of insults were particularly good natured.
Here’s an MP3 of their short conversation. Besides being kind of touching, the call features Lassiter and Rogers discuassing the glory days of Lassiter’s meteoric career. And for completists, here are MP3's of part one and two of the entire Neil Rogers show from that day. Bob is the topic of conversation for almost half the show.
A side note– although Neil’s show is broadcast on WQAM in Miami, when he mentions a foot of snow outside it’s not the coming ice age. He’s doing his show from his home in Toronto. He stays away from Florida as much as possible, and beams his show in from Canada or Amsterdam. When you can do that, you know you’ve hit the big time in talk radio.
If you’re wondering why I find two old windbags making nice so interesting, you might want to take a look at a couple of my previous posts, a short feature on Bob Lassiter and another post where I discuss the significance of Florida talk radio in general. And a while back I put together two “Aircheck” shows on WFMU covering Lassiter’s career, and the links to stream them are here and here.
For further reading, and listening, here’s some more relevant links:
Bob Lassiter Airchecks! (This just went online over the weekend! Please be nice and download the files one at a time.)
With the arrival of the Bob Lassiter aircheck site, as well as the increasing popularity of his blog, there seems to be an upswing in Lassiter consciousness out there. Although Rogers was his mentor, Lassiter brought something strange and unique to talk radio that had never been heard before, and hasn’t been heard since. He is his own branch on the talk radio tree. And although Lionel at times comes close, no one has continued the Lassiter combination of talk radio tactics– entetaining the masses with balls-to-the-wall confrontation, while occasionally exposing his own human frailty for examination and forcing active listeners to do the same AND intellectually weigh their own opinions and behavior. It was nothing like a programming scheme that might have been cooked up in a corporate boardroom. It was a powerful and idiosyncratic approach to radio carried out by a flawed and talented guy.
That said, when Bob Lassiter wasn’t annoying, he was often great. If you ever knew somebody who made you mad, made you think, made you laugh, and every once in a while made you very happy, maybe you know what I mean. Some of the best things in life aren’t easy. And they’re never perfect.
So, that’s it. Have a great Christmas Bob. Thanks Neil. And everybody else...