So the King of South Florida radio is gone. Waking up on Christmas Eve 2010 I read the news that Neil Rogers had passed beyond the mortal coil. I worked with Neil at three different South Florida radio stations (WINZ, ZETA and finally WIOD) and even though I worked with the man every day over that time period, Neil was still an enigma to me, and I think to most who worked with him.
On air he was in control, brilliant, and a thousand other adjectives. Off air, he was the epitome of a nebbish. Neil was quiet, walled-off, shy and seemed to have a permanent wall erected around him. I’m no shrink, but he would undoubtedly been a candidate for an asperger’s diagnosis. But Neil’s lack of social graces off-air were no hindrance to his brilliance on-air.
When I was a rock jock at WHSE I would end my evening shift driving home listening to Neil on WKAT or WNWS, always thinking, “Thats’ what radio is supposed to sound like.” This is long before Neil went “nuts” and started doing radio his way. He was doing the typical talk show host thing, mostly political, but his brilliant personality and timing always cut through like a straight razor. Neil created the kind of radio every personality dreams of, where listeners fear turning off their radio in a panic that they might miss something. It wasn’t uncommon to see people sitting in their cars laughing listening to Neil, even though they would face the wrath of their boss for being late to work. Then running into their office, before doing anything else, they’d pounce on the radio power button in hopes they didn’t miss a perl from Neil during their sprint into work. If they were lucky, their boss was doing the same thing.
While I was at ZETA, during Neil’s stint at morning radio in Miami, I must have done hundreds of bits for Rogers. I handled Dave Caprita’s chair when he was out as Neil’s “producer,” sat in for The Bird when he was on vacation and endlessly partook of the perpetual buffet of vittles that came our way. One of my most vibrant memories was one morning, it had to be some kind of holiday or something, where the studio looked like a buffet catered from some of South Florida’s best restaurants, with containers of food literally overflowing into the halls. You never went hungry on the Neil Rogers show! I got endless praise from Rogers for my part of the show, but eventually, like every one else, I too turned to the dark side and became just another douchebag. But if you didn’t get slammed by Neil, hell, you didn’t really matter. It was, as many have pointed out, a badge of honor.
Hell, Neil had his faults, like we all do. Maybe that’s what we love so much about him, he didn’t really cover up his own shortcomings, and didn’t pull any punches with listeners, public figures or anyone else that caught his eye. He had, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst taste in music I’ve ever encountered. But we still loved him for it. It was part of his “Neilness.”
The biggest praise I can hurl at Neil is that to this day he’s still the mark I compare to all other radio personalities. When I hear a host using drops, I always think of how Neil would have done it. How he would have used that impeccable sense of timing to really pull it off. Just remember how Neil would use his “NO” drop. The man could make “NO” more entertaining than anything I can think of I’ve ever heard on the radio. Lot’s of comparison has been made to Neil and Howard Stern. Sure Stern came first, and Neil undoubtedly was inspired by Stern’s breakout style of radio abuse, but Neil could pull it off all by his lonesome. Neil’s cast of characters and bit players were a big part of his show, but he didn’t need The Bird, Caprita or Jorge as backup. Neil was, without a shadow of a doubt, the single greatest solo talk show host to ever grace the airwaves.
The last time I heard Neil was on a visit to South Florida. Neil wasn’t taking calls and was instead reading faxes on the air. To me, it was Neil committing on-air suicide. I got the feeling that he just didn’t care anymore and wanted out. A few months later Neil was gone from the South Florida airwaves. All I can say is, I’ll miss that brilliant son of a bitch.