I was in the middle of working on another radio piece for this blog when I took a break to eat and trolled a few blogs for some dinner reading. I guess I was feeling a bit braver than usual and ended up at a blog I've been avoiding lately because the content there has gotten increasingly painful to read. That’s when I found out that Bob Lassiter has signed off.
No, he’s not dead. Not yet. But the running theme of Lassiter’s blog has always been about the rapid approach of the end of his life and the thoughts and reflections inherent in being aware during the process. In his last blog entry (May 21), Lassiter says: “I am faced with both a certainty that cannot be denied, and an uncertainty that consumes me. I choose to make the remainder of the journey in privacy...”
In a way, Lassiter’s blog has been a long goodbye letter to his fans, and that’s never been more true than this last post. You can read it here.
In this profound period for Lassiter, it’s as difficult for me to write about him as it ever was. Lassiter is a such a paradoxical character. He’s a brilliant high school drop-out, an introvert who loves attention, and a man who debated great spiritual and intellectual issues with callers just to entertain and attract listeners. On any given show you might hear a raging provocateur, an obsessed geek, or just a sentimental fool.
As I’ve said before, Lassiter was one of the greats of talk radio. A host like no other who sought and created adversary listeners, demanded intellectual honesty over belief, and was often audibly bored or uncomfortable when embraced over the phone by fans or folks who agreed with him. There was nobody like Lassiter in talk radio before, and there won’t be another anytime soon.
As Lassiter’s blog comes to a close, the other popular site for Bob’s fans is going strong and getting better all time. "Bob Lassiter Airchecks" started small a while back when a fan put up a simple site with a few recordings he’d purchased from a collector. I happily sent him a bunch of the Lassiter material I had, and more people have been doing the same thing. While it’s hardly complete, this site now offers a compelling overview of most of Lassiter’s career, and quite a variety of his antics and monologues. No eye candy there, just plenty of Lassiter radio you can download for free (thanks George!). Have at it. And there’s more... VIDEO.
Yes, you can now WATCH Bob Lassiter. There’s two extended clips there. One is from 1988– a wacky local Tampa public access show, “Hot Seat,” hosted by Carroll Sudler (Who now has a loopy lefty radio show in California as “Harrison”) Lassiter looks remarkably healthy and confident in this clip, and actually seems to be having fun.
However, what’s really amazing is an episode of CNN’s Crossfire program featuring Lassiter AND Rush Limbaugh. It was 1990, and Limbaugh had only been national for a couple of years and Lassiter was doing afternoon drive at WLS in Chicago. At this time they were roughly equals in their field.
Of course, it’s the same obnoxious TV slapfight Crossfire always was, and nothing is really discussed or decided. However, Lassiter actually looks more comfortable than Limbaugh on camera (and for all the talk of Bob’s weight back then, he is CONSIDERABLY thinner than Rush), and he gets his licks in nicely over the course of the bickering. If you’re a Lassiter fan, you’re going to want to download both of these clips and take a look. You’ll see him in his prime and at the peak of his career.
The irony I get from the Crossfire clip is how flustered and defensive Limbaugh gets about being labeled a "radical." He retorts that he's merely “an entertainer” who doesn’t want to “change people’s minds or to cause people trouble.” El Rushbo says he just wants to “fun on the radio.” It’s too bad Lassiter didn’t say it. Because in that case it actually would have been close to the truth.
But I gotta tell you, one aircheck that’s recently been added to this site is one I’ve been wanting to hear for a long time. It’s Lassiter’s final radio show, from December 1, 1999. And fans will be happy to know that the Mad Dog went down in style that day, raging and ranting with his dark sense of humor intact. The target of his anger? The very station he was on-- WFLA. You don’t hear this kind of thing very often in commercial radio.
WFLA management (and Clear Channel) had apparently decided not to renew his contract, and were avoiding Bob in the hallway and not taking his calls. So, breaking a big talk radio taboo he took his beef with the station on the air. It’s “nothing to lose” radio and Lassiter is in fine form.
By this time, Lassiter knew he was a lame duck. He’d lost gigs before and was well aware that radio was a cutthroat business. However, what really irked him was the silent treatment he was getting. I mean, who WOULD want to fire Lassiter face to face? And no one did. He says on his blog that he got a short call the next day simply telling him he didn’t need to come in to work anymore.
On this last show, Lassiter mentions several times another show he did a few years before where he discussed the heartless and gutless realities of the radio business. It was quite a program. For three hours Lassiter didn’t take calls. He just recounted his radio career in dramatic detail, highlighting the lack of mercy in the business. I featured some of it when I did a two part profile on Lassiter for WFMU’s “Aircheck” in 2003 (the show is returning this summer by the way), but you can hear the last two-thirds of that show at Bob Lassiter Airchecks. It’s called “Radio For One.”
In fact, you can go to the Bob Lassiter Airchecks site and listen to his last show at WPLP, then Radio For One, and finish up with the WFLA finale you'll hear the definitive history of Lassiter's radio career from the man himself.
And now, it’s equally difficult to end this post and say something meaningful about Lassiter’s declining health, or that he's ending his relationship with his fans and followers. So I won’t. Except to say I wish him well (as much as that means). And thank you Bob, for the time you spent with me a decade ago, as uncomfortable as it was for the both of us.
So, for a few hours or days (or until Lassiter turns the comments off on this latest post) you can still say something to Lassiter if you wish. Or you might just want to read some of the comments there. He’s requested “no questions.” Seems fair. And also, don’t pray for Bob. He wouldn’t like that either.
(NOTE - Heartened by thoughtful comments after his goodbye post, Lassiter continues to blog. On the day I'm writing this note (May 25) he's written four new posts.)