Friday, December 24, 2010

RIP Neil Rogers

I was a music promotion guy when I first encountered Neil, who was doing middays on WINZ in the early eighties. I’d been turned on to his show by my brother, Steve, who’d lived in Chicago and was a fan of the city’s free-form talker Steve Dahl. He’d send me cassettes of Dahl and his partner Garry Meier. Fun stuff!

When my brother returned to South Florida, he started talking incessantly about Rogers, saying that I really ought to check him out. But I’d heard that the guy had an issues-related show and I had no interest in listening to some radio guy’s interminable pontifications on boring politics and “serious” issues. Besides, I’d rather listen to music. That was my business and my pleasure.

But I finally tuned in just as Neil was making his incredible and unprecedented transition from issues to free-form rants and comedy.

I was hooked.

Here was a very smart, sharp guy who had strong opinions and a powerful personality. But most of all, he was endlessly entertaining and hilarious; cynical and compelling; an older guy from a generation before me; hip but not au courant — in some ways, even old-fashioned. So professional, he could break the rules and make his own. Eat on the air? Sure! Play bits and clips from other shows? Yup. Not take phone calls for weeks on end? Faxes only? He did it.

I followed him from WINZ to Zeta to WIOD to WQAM, listening live when I could or taping the show for later playback. It was as engrossing as (and grosser than) any rococo novella, with melodrama, subtext, plot, characterization and daily themes.

Rogers, who’d started out as a Top-40 jock, was the undisputed King Of Talk Radio in South Florida. Or Queen, if you’d ask him. That he was an out-of-the closet gay man was interesting, perhaps, but just another facet of his on-air persona. His disdain for what he called “mincing queens” might’ve had something to do with his appeal to the mostly young male heterosexual audience that he amazingly carried with him from station to station and day-part to day-part, as they followed him up and down the radio dial — from AM to FM and back — an unprecedented and singular feat in the industry. But mostly, he was a real voice and pulse of South Florida — even when broadcasting from Toronto.

His peak, in my opinion and others, was at WIOD when he was part of a lineup of Mike Renieri, Phil Hendrie, Rick & Suds, Randi Rhodes and others. But radio management, as Neil always said, had to mess with success. It was a short but amazing run.

Over the years, I called him a few times. Okay, A LOT of times, and because I was in the biz, I sent him a bunch of songs: Dennis Leary's "I'm An Asshole," Timbuk3, “Be True To Your Shul” and others. I even collaborated lyrically with his resident geniuses Boca Brian and Guitar Man on a few parodies and bits: “Walk Away Rene,” “Ron and Ron,” “Jeff The Florist” and others.

Naturally, that didn’t stop the “Old Man” (as he was semi-affectionately known) from ripping me on the air after any real or imagined transgressions against him. One had to take it in stride, of course. After all, as Neil constantly said, “It’s only a radio show,” and it was … but so much more.


Alvin C. Romer said...

Uncle Neil with all of his acerbic wit will be missed. Love him or hate him one would have had to admit what a formidable force he was in the annals of radio, especially here in South Florida. Gone will be the days when I would flip my dial to WINZ or WIOD to hear him berate Rush Limbaugh,and other right wing political machinations that grated on his opinionated style.

Hey Rich, thanks for this post. The words, wit and wisdom of Neil Rogers will probably be emulated but hardly duplicated. He was truly one of a kind!

Alvin C. Romer
The Romer Review
Miami, FL

Jay Allbritton said...

For anyone that missed Neil's memorial today the video is up on the Sentinel's website. Jorge, Norm and Jicha were all fantastic.

Thanks for sharing your Neil experience, Rich. I must have heard Neil say your name a million time. Here's my take on Neil God.