I found out today, from Christine Craft, about the passing of Lee Rodgers. The news has made me sad and wistful and also caused a flood of memories about Lee and the role he played in my getting an opportunity to be talk show host on KGO. Lee was part of the real golden age of KGO. Ronn Owens, Jim Eason, Lee Rodgers, Michael Krasny and Ray Taliaferro were the best lineup of talk show hosts in the nation. To have been able to be around them, and to learn from them and to watch them work was the equivalent of earning a degree in this discipline. I am so lucky to have known Lee and any success I achieved at KGO was directly attributable to his help and guidance and example.
I started Godtalk in 1985. As it was on Sunday, I came up with any and all reasons to be around KGO during the week. I hoped someone might call in sick and I could fill in for them. I was a pest to management, but persistent. I talked then news director, Bruce Kamen, into letting me try my hand at reporting. It meant I was in the station later in the day and would run into Lee as he prepared for his show. (Lee would come in by 11am to start preparing for a show that didn't start until 7pm.)
Lee would ask me about a news item. His usual opening line would be something like, "...can you believe what those whiney liberals are up to now?" Or he would hook me with, "...your commie friends are at it again." He knew I had worked for Barbara Boxer, as her chief legislative assistant, and I was progressive and his needle was always out. Never one to pass up an argument, I would engage him and occasionally hold my own. He liked that. He liked we could argue, but not become argumentative. I liked listening to him and watching his work ethic and learning how he constructed his show.
One night, we were going back and forth and I walked into the studio with him. He didn't want to let go and abruptly suggested I sit down so his listeners could hear how crazy, loony and nuts my positions were. It lasted the whole first hour. We both enjoyed the competition. Over the next few months, he would occasionally invite me in and we would do it again. Program director John McConnell loved it...thought it was great radio...saw its potential and suggested we formalize the bit and this is how the Monday Night Fights came to be.
It took off. People found it compelling. No matter which side of an issue you were on, you heard your side articulated and defended. We shouted and picked on each other and responded to callers and we would have a great time. No matter how heated it got, and some nights I thought the sprinklers might go off in the studio, at the end of the hour we would both comment on how well it went and how much fun it was. Lee never took it personally and neither did I. On any number of occasions I would give him a ride to BART after the show. Lee is the only talk show host I have ever encountered, including Hanbaugh,O'Reiley, the Weiner, Coulter, Buchanan and more, who was so comfortable in his own skin...so confident in his positions...so secure with his ego that we could beat each other about the head and shoulders with verbal cudgels and be friends and walk out of the studio talking about family and sports.
I would watch what topics he picked for his show and see how he would structure each hour. He taught me how to conduct interviews and make the subject comfortable and feel like you had read the book or really wanted to know what they had to say. It never bothered him to share how to do this thing right. He took pride in his professionalism and preparation and didn't treat all of this like it was a classified secret, nor did he fear a rival or someone new on the scene.
One day, KGO came up with something called The Cruise For A Cure. It was a luncheon on a Hornblower yacht and included a live broadcast. (it was fundraiser for Leukemia research) They needed a fifth host and to this day I think Lee got me included. It was Owens, Eason, Rodgers, Taliaferro and me. It was a free-for-all broadcast. (it would eventually lead to the All Star Remote broadcasts of legend) I was too young and new and dumb to be deferent to anyone on the panel. I went after them all. I always got the feeling Lee was the only one not to wish me thrown overboard. He enjoyed good exchanges as they made for good radio.
I eventually got my own show at 10pm. Our fights became less frequent. Lee left KGO to go to KIRO radio in Seattle and then was wooed back to take over the morning drive show on KSFO. We would never fight again, and our paths ceased to cross. It was too bad because I was the best antagonist Lee ever encountered and I brought out the best of his wit, and wicked tongue, and he did the same for me.
I never got to talk to Lee about the trouble I got myself into and my stupidity. I know he would have excoriated me for being dumb and tell me he was disappointed in me, but he also would have asked if there was anything he could do to help and he would have filled the air with expletives about the government and its heavy hand and crushing of civil liberties. He would have been Lee.
Lee Rodgers provided hundreds and hundreds of hours of entertainment and information for years in the Bay Area. He was easy to listen to and the consummate professional. He understood the balance between information and entertainment. Most importantly, he was a man never threatened by another's success...always willing to help advance a career...open enough to invite a neophyte to share in his spotlight and he was my friend.
Lee and I never talked about religion. However, today I believe he has discovered his attitude of caring, being open and accepting the friendship of a whining, limousine liberal with communist leanings and socialist desires, is being rewarded in discussions with a God who welcomes him with Her arms wide open.
Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.