The passing of an icon:
Here is my editorial in The Winchester Star this week, a tribute to Jerry Williams:
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Radio will never be the same after the death of The Dean of Talk Radio, Jerry Williams, on Tuesday.
For those of you who didn't know Williams, he ruled the Boston airwaves for the better part of four decades and was one of the founders of the talk radio format.
At the height of his career, Williams was holding down the afternoon shift at WRKO, informing New England about the issues of the day. He pursued truth and justice for his listeners in a way that drove elected officials to their wits end.
Most people believed Williams was a conservative because of his relentless attacks on former-Gov. Mike Dukakis and Democratic hacks on Beacon Hill.
But in fact, Williams was a rare political breed - a unique combination of classic liberalism and populism seldom heard these days. He was one of the only talk radio hosts to stand against the Vietnam War or to interview black leaders like Malcolm X. President Richard Nixon had him on his enemies list and consumer advocate Ralph Nader was a regular guest over the years. So were strange callers like Grace, Queen of the Cockamamies, a crazy old lady who would call up and blather about nothing. And who could forget his annual week of sex survey shows during the summer.
During the last recession, in 1991, Williams' show was a magnet of activity, as callers laid-off from their jobs freely talked about their frustrations.
But as radio stations consolidated, Williams was pushed out of his job. The consultants said it was his age - nearly 70 - when he was bumped from his full-time gig. However, conversational, issue-based talkers were driven out of the business all across the nation, replaced by more "lifestyle" programming; shows that acted more like a mind-numbing distraction then the empowering call to action Williams offered listeners.
His last fight was exposing cost overruns on The Big Dig. As it turned out, Williams was right - but very few people were listening.
In 1996, The Dean was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, but he still joked that no one ever held a dinner for him.
Sorry Jerry, we never did have that dinner for you. But thank you for everything you did for us.