Today’s Courier Herald Column, posted early today as a reminder that you can listen to Neal’s last show this morning here.
About the time this column is submitted for its daily deadline, Neal Boortz will be starting his final show on WSB radio and its syndicated affiliates. A fixture of Georgia media for the past four decades, Boortz helped create the genre that is today’s talk radio format and has become an integral part of how many in our state follow politics and other matters of contemporary news.
Neal Boortz has been on the air in Atlanta since 1969, the year I was born. To help put that into perspective, that was the first year Tommy Irvin served as Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture. Irvin retired two years ago as Georgia’s longest serving Constitutional officer at the time.
Boortz has become an integral part of many Georgians’ mornings, and as someone whose father believed there was no need for that “FM stuff” while I was growing up, he was certainly part of our routine. When you’ve listened to someone for over 40 years, he may as well be part of the family. Often cranky and belligerent, he fit right in.
There was a time when talk radio was much less about ideological politics and much more of an outlet for people to express their own “man on the street” type of opinions. Most of my memories of Boortz during the earlier years are of a man who knew how to play devil’s advocate better than any in his business or any other.
He seemed to do this for two reasons. Delivering an unpopular opinion that went against the conventional wisdom of listeners was guaranteed to generate immediate and often entertaining responses from callers. More importantly, many of his positions and his best stunts were designed to remind his audience of the importance for them to think.
Today’s talk radio listeners are a little less tolerant of divergent viewpoints today, which is a loss for the medium. Those who will follow Boortz will have to fight this general trend and remain creative to keep the format both fresh and relevant. Pairing the shows with social media has been one of the approaches that seems to keep the audience involved in a format that relies more on the views of the hosts and less of those of callers.
Set to join a new generation of these hosts is the founder of my blog Peach Pundit, Erick Erickson. He’s found success in Herman Cain’s timeslot and has been a regular guest host for Boortz as he’s wound down his show. Cain, meanwhile, will begin Boortz’s regular timeslot on Monday morning.
Last Saturday evening Neal Boortz held a farewell event for his listeners at Atlanta’s Fox Theater. Erickson and Cain joined others such as Sean Hannity and Jeff Foxworthy to roast Boortz into retirement in front of a few thousand fans. Monica Kaufman Pearson – a legend of Atlanta’s TV news for over three decades herself – handled part of the event with a discussion with Belinda Skelton and Kristina Gonzalez, his two on air…handlers might be their best job description. Though I’m sure they would scoff at the notion that Neal can be handled.
There was also a tribute to Royal Marshall, Neal’s longtime engineer and board operator who died suddenly of a heart condition two years ago. Boortz confirmed to the audience that Royal’s untimely death did factor into his decision that it was time for him to move on as well.
Boortz has his detractors, as anyone who has held strong opinions and used them to provoke discussion for more than four decades would. Some of them will be happy that today is his last day. They’ll likely still be irritated on a semi-regular basis as Boortz pops up to support items such as the FairTax and other conservative issues near and dear to him.
But love him or hate him, Neal Boortz was here. He made his mark, and became part of how many of us relate to the events of the day and our local and national politics. He is an original. Georgia media will forever be different after today.