|Neil Rogers (R) and the “Bird” (L)|
One of the opening scenes of the movie “The Boat That Rocked” is a little British boy, in 1966, going to bed listening to a little muffled portable transistor radio tucked under his pillow, enthralled to the sounds of devilish delights in the form of Rock and Roll. The scene took me way back to my youth. I could relate to a point, for somewhere … somewhere way across the pond, I too went to bed with a little transistor radio tucked under my pillow listening to the same rhythmic art of the muses that breathed life into me. However, as Judd Jugmonger might say, I didn’t know no nothin’ ’bout no devil.
Now, Anita Bryant, a former Oklahoma beauty queen and fundamentalist gay rights basher would most likely say that the devil eventually made his way to South Florida some years later and raised his ugly head in the form of Jim Morrison’s member…. which of course she never really saw, nor did anyone else for that matter. She, a spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission and yelper of “breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine” nevertheless, spearheaded a smear campaign and decency rally against the Lizard King. Six warrants on obscenity charges were issued for Jim Morrison. Despite a lack of evidence, a jury eventually convicted Morrison of only two misdemeanors of indecent exposure and open profanity. It was a crock; there was never any cock.
|Anita Bryant (Pie in the face compliments of a gay activist)|
A few years later in 1977, the citrus queen, turned sour again in light of a local ordinance in Dade County, Florida, that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Although Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to repeal the ordinance, her crusade against homosexuals eventually brought on the demise of her own career… but it also gave rise to a new voice in South Florida; a deliciously devilish voice that would go onto rule the radio airwaves for almost 30 years. Today, that enlightened acerbic voice is best known as Uncle Neil, Neil “God”, and a variety of other terms of endearment. Last week, Neil Rogers, an iconic radio personality that both shocked and amused, passed away. Today, I’m eulogizing him.In 1977, in response to Anita Bryant’s crusade against homosexuals, this topical talk show host, boldly announced one morning over the air that he was gay. I heard it on the radio. His self-outing shocked the locals, and I’m sure many tuned in just to “monitor” his broadcasts. I, no doubt like others, tuned in to hear the truth about the town and times we lived in. He encouraged us to think, and later he encouraged us to laugh.
Back in those days, I listened to the radio a lot, but it wasn’t just music I listed to, it was Talk Radio. You see, I skipped school a lot, thanks to allergies and an over-protective mother. Hey, it was easy to confuse an allergy with a cold. Anyway, music on AM radio was dying, but News and Talk Radio was thriving. With the exception of FM radio statoin Zeta-4 that played progressive rock, most other FM radio stations in the Miami market played disco and repetitive top 40 crap. When I wanted light rock I’d listen to WGBS 710 on the AM dial. Mainly, I played my records, listened to Zeta-4 from time to time and learned to play guitar. Still, I wanted to be informed and was yearning for the education I wasn’t getting in religious private school, so I read the newspaper and listened to talk radio.
My father got me into listening to talk radio and I remember listening to Neil when he started working at WKAT. He had something to say and he said in an interesting way that made me stop and think. Now the truth was, I was enamored of his colleague Craig Worthing at the time, because hey, let’s be honest, Craig was funnier. Neil’s shows, like most of talk radio at that time, were about serious ‘topical’ topics back then, serving the interests of the terminally retired folks that populated South Florida, or as Neil would say, “God’s Waiting Room”. Guests included boring authors of coffee table book that even today Barnes and Nobel couldn’t give away, and doctors dispensing advice on the buoyancy of turds. Senior citizens would chronically call in to complain about life and the young, to reminisce about their use of mothballs up north, or to seek advice concerning how much Feldene they were prescribed by their doctors. It was terminal and coma inducing radio… but Neil always had a way of adding an element of surrealness to break up the monotonous drone of his guests and callers; he would debate them in sincere, and expose them for who they were.
At some point, Neil began opening his shows with diatribes about the state of things locally. He would rant and rave, bang his fist and shock the bejesus out of me! He would mock our daily existence and implore us to “wake up!”. In retrospect, Jim Morrison sort of did the same thing with his poetry and stage antics. Neil was brilliant and dead on. He was “absolutely correct, sir” about everything. It was mind blowing. It was controversial and intriguing … and it was also comical. It was great radio. It was great theatre for the mind and certainly theatre of the absurd – and trust me, Miami, was and still is absurdity’s playground.
From self serving hypocrites, corrupt politicians, nazi highway patrolmen, proselytizing pedophiles to geriatric old farts who stole silverware and packages of “Sweet n’ Low” at Wolfie’s or Pumperdink’s Restaurant (homes of the pandering “Early Bird” specials), no one was safe from Neil’s barbs, not even himself. He was a self described “fat, balding, Jewish homosexual”. He was a gay who hated gay activists. He was an atheist who hated organized religion but didn’t shirk from embracing (and lambasting) his Jewish culture to some extent. Neil taught me it was ok, and maybe even therapeutic, to be self-effacing, but also to be self-embracing, if not self-righteous at the time. Most of all, he taught me to speak up, be assertive, and at the same time, not to take things so seriously. I learned it was ok to be me, at a time in my life when I was expected to be something else. Religion admonished me to be self-nullifying; Neil taught me to just be comfortable in my own skin.
Eventually Neil, blew off topical radio and his mind numbing guests, as well as the many chronic callers he had. He blazed his own path in comedic farce, albeit what some might call shock radio. His ratings were astronomical. He was politically incorrect and still politically correct for doing so. When he wasn’t calling out those who deserved to be called out, he played comedy bits that were rude, crude and lewd – and still, his audience grew. He pulled no punches and most listeners got his shtick and loved him for it – but others still did not – especially those chronic and pretentious sour faced bile filled “douche bags” who regularly monitored him, and would eventually call-in claiming to have inadvertently tuned in, feigning a “radio accident”, and being shocked that “this sort of filth” is allowed on the air. These were the types who, as Neil would say, just couldn’t turn his show off and would get a sexual thrill from just tuning in in order to fume, seethe and writhe their hands. Yes, many people as such tried to get him off the air, even the city government of Hallandale, they didn’t succeed. When he “retired” in 2009, he was the highest-paid radio entertainer in South Florida. He may have earned an estimated $1 million per year in salary, but he was one in a million and worth every penny.
Growing up, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a radio on somewhere in the background. Radio was everywhere it seemed in those days. You could find it at home, at work, in the car and even outside in your hand (and the radio, too! – as Neil was wont to say). And, all through the years it seemed Neil was there, too. Being a long time listener, an admirer, a fan and admitted life long “Neily”, I eventually took his best advice “to get the hell out of South Florida”. I currently live in Greece. Ok, maybe I went a bit too far … but I’m sure Neil would tell me “not far enough”.
Rest in peace, Neil. Thanks for “mammaries”. Yes, it was only a radio show, but you will be missed … you bastard!
PS. Thanks for reading. If you were also a “Neily”, leave me a comment. And, if you would like to do something in Neil’s honor, make a donation (as per Neil’s website) to: Abandoned Pet Rescue, Inc.