Friday, December 24, 2010

"It's just a radio show!"

Anyone who ever listened to long-time South Florida radio talk-meister Neil Rogers recognizes that line.

That's how Neil often described his show if anyone was clueless enough to ask him to explain it.

Either you got it or you didn't.

And if you didn't, he didn't much care. "That's what the off switch is for," he would say.

Tens of thousands of "Neilies" no doubt recalled that line as they heard the news of Neil's death today.

If you're a "Neilie" you also don't need any explanation for phrases such as Phish Food, Publix bag boys, douchebag, Howard from Boca, Boca Burgers, Boca Brian, Guitar man, the "I'm dyin' over here" guy, Happy Purim, the "Thanks for calling lady," harness racing or the legendary Bridge Tender.

I listened to Neil for over 25 years.

And as a photojournalist, I was assigned twice to photograph him at the WIOD studios.

The first time was for a Canadian wire service story on Neil. They were profiling Neil because of his relentless attacks on French Canadian visitors to South Florida.

I called his producer and he said to drop by the studio. I walked in during a commercial break and Neil looked at me and asked "what is this for?" I told him that Canadian Press was doing a story on him because of his jokes about French Canadians. Without missing a beat he responded, "Those aren't jokes."

The second time was in 1990 when I was assigned to shoot him for a St. Petersburg Times story.

I arrived at the studio - and much to Neil's chagrin - began setting up lights because I was shooting very slow transparency film. I could tell that Neil was bothered by all the equipment but he never said a word.

At one point during a commercial break, I said to Neil - referring to the callers - "It's not a very good show today, is it?" He didn't respond.

I stayed until almost the end of the show and then packed up my gear and went downstairs, loaded my car and drove away. I switched on the radio to see if he would say anything about me.

I didn't have to wait long. As he was signing off, he said something like, "And if the photographer is listening, I hope tomorrow's show is better."

While Neil's show defied description, Times staff writer Rick Bragg probably came pretty close when he wrote, "his top-rated call-in show has been a sort of mirror for Miami and South Florida, a reflection of its mind-set."

Over the years, I listened to Neil religiously. My job as a news photographer required me to be on the road all the time.

On more than one occasion I can remember pulling into a 7-11 to grab and snack and passing by a delivery truck in the parking lot with the driver relaxing inside and listening to Neil. That was Neil's audience; regular working men and women.

I learned the news of Neil's death today when Miami Herald obituary writer Ellie Brecher called to tell me. We didn't talk long because she had to get back to writing Neil's obit.

But Ellie took the the time to call me because she knows that I'm a "Neilie."

Here's a little secret: Ellie's a "Neilie" too.

(Keep that in mind as you read her story later today.)

As I decided to write this post, I called her back and asked her why she liked Neil so much. "He was funny! And incredibly intelligent," she said. She continued, "and he didn't have any patience for pompous or self-important people."

Later, by email, Ellie told me, "He called me 'the psychotic bitch from the Herald,' and a 'yenta,' but he liked me."

And we liked you too, Neil.

RIP Neil...and thanks for laughs!

1 comment:

  1. Good post. Good tribute.

    I enjoyed the Miami Hurled's obit, especially the mention of the way WQAM management essentially lobotomized Neil's show toward the end. The last few years were plainly mediocre as a result. Neil was a scrapper who took on targets much bigger than himself, but he couldn't fight with his hands tied, which is what they did to him. In that respect, Neil died a few years before it became official yesterday.

    Neil, God!


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