RADIO WARS: THE SOUND AND THE FURY IN S. FLORIDA
Miami Herald, The (FL) June 3, 1984
Author: Bill Cosford Herald Staff Writer
All of a sudden, South Florida’s “talk radio” is hot.
Channel 10 has done a two-part Focus on the hosts. 60 Minutes had a
Miami host in a segment on contentious talk radio, and Phil Donahue–always
innovative, always on the leading edge –followed up with the same host.
Finally, in a rambling inspection about “insult comedy” several weekends ago,
The New York Times once more invoked that host–Steve Kane of WNWS.
It is as if something new has been born here, something more interesting
than the long gray line of diet-book authors, “astrological psychics” and
In fact, as local listeners know, not only is day-long, night-long talk
a long-time tradition of area broadcasting, but Steve Kane is not a particularly
controversial personality. Local radio is actually somewhat more good-mannered
today than it was, say, during the Mariel boatlift uproar, when WNWS host Stan
Majors, since departed, took to referring to callers with Spanish accents as
What is new, however, is the Radio Wars. Radio, like the other forms of
mass communication, is for the most part governed by a kind of unwritten
gentleman’s agreement, according to which its practitioners, even fevered rivals, do not speak ill of one another in public. What has happened here is that most refreshing of disruptions to a potentially deadly routine: a breaking of the treaty.
Two stations, WNWS and WINZ, have added each other to the stable of
nightly topics, and from host and caller alike, the bashing has been spirited.
That word, “refreshing,” has to be taken in the proper context. The
local Radio Wars have seen their share of distasteful episodes, including thinly
veiled references to the sexual orientation of the warring personalities by
their time- slot opponents, and every now and then a talk-show host will summon
an entirely unwarranted measure of dignity and declare the whole business
“undignified,” “unprofessional” and beneath comment.
A curious aspect of talk-show radio is that when this happens, callers
will invariably match the host’s new-found propriety and call in to support it;
you’re so much better than that other fellow, they will say, you’re above all
Happily, the hosts’ resolve is usually as short-lived as the episodes of
utter tastelessness, and it is only a matter of time before they are back at it,
back in what Neil Rogers, whose success seems to have inspired it all, calls
“the sandbox.” (When this happens, many of the same voices may be heard calling
in, offering the goad and crying for audio blood.)
Rogers, long the top-rated AM radio personality in the three counties,
used to be at WNWS, which is almost all talk and where he would occasionally
spice his open-phone segments with light-hearted impressions of his competition.
He did a great Alan Burke, for instance (“Hey! Let’s SCHMOOOOZ with Alan!”).
Then Rogers became embroiled in a contract dispute, was suspended by
WNWS and went off the air. He finally turned up on WINZ, after a judge said it
was OK. The slot Rogers took over–8 p.m. to midnight–was that previously held
by Burke, who is now off the air.
In the meantime, however, conflict was assured. Rogers’ popularity was
such that WNWS was besieged by callers wanting to know what had become of him,
and pretty much everyone, some of the remaining talk hosts included, got fed up
with hearing about it. Annoyance was in the air.
When Rogers returned to the air, on WINZ, he was free with his criticism
of his former employers. Push came to shove and gag to insult, and the two
stations’ hosts have been needling one another over the air ever since. (Some
personalities, such as WNWS’ Shirley Peters, refuse to fight; most, including
Rogers’ WNWS replacement, Tom Leykis, have waded in with relish.)
It did not ease matters that while Rogers was off the air, in
contractual-conflict limbo, 60 Minutes arrived in search of the Miami angle for
their mean-radio story; a Donahue invitation was as sure to follow as a duckling
does the mother duck.
CBS’ timing was off. Rogers, given his background (he “came out” as a
homosexual years ago on WKAT and frequently airs shows challenging the
orthodoxies of organized religion) would have made the most interesting story.
They filmed Kane instead, which explains his current run in the major
media. Kane is ordinarily a mellow, conventional, You’re-OK-I’m-OK kind of guy;
the one mean thing he does is hang up the phone on callers he doesn’t like, but
an hour or two of listening is enough to convince the average person that the
host who does not hang up on some callers isn’t paying attention. They’re out
there, folks, and they’re not all well.
In any case, Rogers may be forgiven some quiet pique for missing the
national media attention, and over at WNWS they may be forgiven some
professional jealousy stemming from local attention to Rogers, who remains the
most articulate radio voice in South Florida. He is also the one most likely to
seize on local issues and keep hammering, with the result that he is most likely
to be taken seriously, and most deserving to be.
These are the provocations for conflict, and conflict we have got:
Barely a day goes by without a disparaging word skimming the ozone from one
station to another and thence out to the homes and automobiles of us all.
Rogers seems the one most stricken by it. One night he will declare a
moratorium on remarks about his competition, the next night he’ll say the hell
with it and name names. Mostly, though, he seems uncomfortable about the Radio
He shouldn’t, because “professional” or not, the host- fights have been
Civility is one thing. The carefully preserved and wholly artificial
etiquette of show business, however, is quite another, and if there is a
show-biz scene more annoying than watching a TV celebrity introduce a fellow
celeb whom he has just met as an old and trusted friend, it certainly is not
the screeches and scratches of opposing talk hosts battling for a thrill-hungry
audience. Hearing local celebrities tear at one another may not be “good radio,”
as the hosts’ phrase goes, but what is? The “99 percent accurate” psychic?
This, at least, is new.
And this, I’ll bet, turns out to be popular. When you punch the button
and catch a host shrieking, “…and he’s an idiot!,” it may not be seemly. But
it’s safer than boxing and every bit as much fun. And it’s a reminder that South
Florida radio is one of those institutions, however cantankerous, that is
uniquely our own: You don’t hear this kind of thing in the other big cities. I
hope, when it finally spreads, that they remember to blame us.
photo: Neil Rogers
Edition: FINAL Section: AMUSEMENTS Page: 1L
Record Number: 8402110051Copyright (c) 1984 The Miami Herald