Florida talk-radio legend Bob Lassiter died last Friday at age 61. After WLS bagged its music format and went all-talk in 1989, Lassiter came to Chicago and did afternoons–and it’s fairly safe to say nobody in Chicago had ever heard his kind of radio before. The first few times I heard him, I was outraged by what seemed to me like his wanton cruelty to many of his callers. The guy could be unremittingly vicious, and when he reached the point where you’d be sure he’d have to dial it back, he’d dial it up higher. But the more I listened–and you couldn’t not listen–the more I understood why he was doing what he did, even though it still made me uncomfortable sometimes. A talk-radio host’s job is to get people to react, and few did it with Lassiter’s brilliance. The way he attacked every show, day after day, takes a level of intensity, dedication–and talent–I can’t imagine having.
I rediscovered Lassiter a year ago, online–he started a blog, in which he wrote some about his radio experiences, but also about his life. (He was much gentler as a blogger than as a talk host.) Toward the end, a lot of his blogging was devoted to the illness that was killing him. The truthfulness of those posts makes them painful to read. Lassiter signed off the blog in September, but there was one more entry, posted two days after his death by his wife, made up of a few fragmentary entries Lassiter was unable to post himself during the last weeks of his life.
There’s a tremendous tribute to Lassiter by Michael J. West at Blogcritics.org. (I didn’t know that after leaving WLS, Lassiter briefly relocated to his wife’s hometown, Davenport, Iowa. I was living there at the time, and I know he didn’t do any radio while he was there. If he’d brought his style to the market’s one-and-only talk station, villagers with torches would have stormed the place.) West links to some of Lassiter’s classic airchecks. Word of advice: Listen to more than one of them before you form an opinion.
Another radio voice, better known nationally, is also silent now. (You can’t avoid cliches like that when you’re writing about dead radio guys.) You may not know Christopher Glenn’s name, but you’ve probably heard his voice. Glenn anchored hourly newscasts on CBS Radio for many years before retiring last winter. From 1971 to 1986, he was the voice of In the News, a series of short current-events features that ran between the Saturday morning cartoons on CBS-TV. Glenn died yesterday, only about three weeks before he was set to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.
(Thanks to Willie for the tip about Christopher Glenn.)