Neil Rogers, the best known radio personality in South Florida for more than three decades, died at 9:45 a.m. Friday. Born Nelson Roger Behelfer in Rochester, N.Y., he was 68.
Rogers, who had been living in Toronto, suffered two heart attacks and a stroke, at least his second, since July. On Nov. 7 he returned to South Florida, where he maintained a home in Plantation Acres, to continue treatments and to be near friends.
From his first days on the air in the mid 1970s, Rogers courted controversy. Born Jewish, he said he was an atheist in a heavily Jewish region. He mocked all organized religion and infuriated Catholics with his attacks on the pope. He derided senior citizens as people who steal Sweet ‘N Low packages from restaurants and called South Florida “an outdoor funeral home.” During the Mariel immigration, Rogers was outspokenly against the waves of refugees sent to South Florida.
Rogers, who studied broadcasting at Michigan State University but dropped out before earning a degree, got his first radio job in Canandaigua, N.Y. He came to South Florida for a short-lived gig at WJNO. When he was let go there, he was en route to Yuma, Ariz., for a new job when his mother called to tell him WKAT in Miami Beach was interested in him. He turned his car around and came back.
In 1977, barely a year after being hired at WKAT, he tempted fate by coming out as gay during the charged era when singer Anita Bryant was championing an anti-homosexual ordinance in Dade County.
Craig Worthing, a colleague at the time, said he remembered warning Rogers just before he came out, “Don’t do it. It will kill your career.” Rogers was adamant about wanting to make a strong personal statement against bigotry, Worthing said.
Bryant’s ordinance passed but Rogers’ career took off.
Worthing remembers kidding Rogers that when the two of them were at WKAT, “I was making $400 and he was making $250. It was the only time I was ever making more than him.” At his peak, Rogers made as much as $1.5 million annually. He was the first South Florida radio personality known to make more than a million dollars a year.
Although Rogers turned down opportunities to go national, he had a national profile, said Tom Taylor, a veteran radio analyst for Radio-Info.com, an industry marketplace. “Everybody in talk knew about Neil. What was amazing was the place he held in the life of the local media. If you were in media, you had to listen to Neil. I’m not aware of anyone in radio who had that kind of hold on local media.”
Some of this imperative was to see what Neil was saying about you. He was brutal to many icons, such as the late Ann Bishop, Rick Sanchez and Larry King. He reminded listeners of Larry King’s problematic financial history at every opportunity, repeatedly playing a tape of King saying, “Loan me $50.”
He also had on a loop, “Tom Jicha, he’s bald and stupid.”
Hank Goldberg, who worked with Rogers at WIOD and WQAM, was often the brunt of Rogers’ put-downs. Rogers called him “Fat Hank” and “The Humper.” Goldberg said he never took it personally, and they had a cordial relationship to the end. When Goldberg was in Toronto to cover a horse race for ESPN, he and Rogers would go out to dinner.
“I talked to him a couple of weeks ago,” Goldberg said. It was right after Rogers had suffered a stroke but he still had his wicked sense of humor, Goldberg said. “He told me he wasn’t going to die until Joe Bell died.” Bell was Rogers’ final boss, the WQAM general manager who orchestrated the June 2009 buyout that sent Rogers into retirement.
“Neil was a giant,” Goldberg said. “There’s a lot of talk now with the University of Miami looking for a football coach that they want someone with a ‘wow!’ factor. Neil was a wow.”
Rogers openly warred with Steve Kane when they were colleagues at WIOD, then after they went their separate ways to different stations. Kane never took it personally and remains an unabashed admirer. “He was the king of the whole area during the salad days of radio. We used to go back and forth but I thought it was great.”
Kane visited Rogers in the hospital. They had a pleasant visit, reminiscing about old times, Kane said.
This was typical. Away from the microphone, the caustic on-air personality would avoid confrontation at almost any cost.
He was also the consummate professional. His barbs at station management over technical issues were part of his show but these were serious. He wanted and demanded that those around him put forth the same total commitment to the program that he did.
As a mentor, he helped to launch the careers of Al Rantel and Randi Rhodes. And he made an on-air personality of his longtime producer, Jorge Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who now runs the website sofloradio.com, was a board operator at WIOD when he was assigned to Rogers’ program. “I was scared to death of him,” Rodriguez said. “I was so nervous I didn’t do anything right. I invented new mistakes, but Neil just made a joke of it and went on with the show.”
Instead of typing messages on a computer during a show, Rogers told him to open the microphone and talk to him on the air.
When Rogers moved to WQAM in 1999, Rodriguez was part of the deal. Almost immediately, Rogers insisted that Rodriguez be his permanent substitute host. “I wound up doing about a third of the shows when Neil began to take summers off in addition to his vacation and other absences. He gave me an identity in the community.”
Rogers’ halo effect boosted the ratings of anyone who followed him, from Phil Hendrie to Stan Major to Rick & Suds to Kane, whose audiences were never bigger than when they followed Rogers.
The low point of his career came in 1992, when he was arrested at a Miami Beach adult theater. The police alleged he was seen masturbating, but the charges were dropped.
Rogers’ wrangling with his bosses led him to move from station to station despite being the most popular personality at each of them. As soon as his star rose, he left WKAT for WNWS and helped make it the leading talk station in the market. From there he jumped to WINZ, which eventually moved him to its sister FM Zeta. WIOD was next, then WQAM, where he spent the final 12 years of his career.
Whether it was in morning drive on Zeta, in midday at WIOD and WQAM, or in evenings at WINZ, whether he was talking serious political and cultural issues or doing absurd stream-of-consciousness riffs and playing comedy bits, he was always No. 1.
“His audience has never been duplicated,” Goldberg said, “and it never will be.”
Then the second hour we have Mr Robert Hellyer
About my book, let me tell you about it….. It is called “My Spiritual Journey” which is all about “Understanding Life”.
This book I know will inspire you! I have no doubt about it after so many times receiving phone calls, emails and visits from people who sometimes travel very great distances just to come and meet me and receive healings from myself. This makes it all worth giving you this book for nothing and not asking anything in return and even saying to you, to share it, upload it anywhere and let others download it. Let them be able to experience what people who read this book are saying.
I have read Bob’s book. My thoughts are at first it is written with complete honesty. At no time have I thought otherwise. I loved the depth and also the lighter moments of this book. It had me intrigued as to what the next chapter had in store. Bob has had a lot of lows in his life. But as you can see in this book, he has come out a stronger and better man. What he has seen and done Spiritually just amazes me. Good on you Bob, well done.
Narelle Cresser (Brisbane)
What an amazing journey you have had. Thank you for sharing it. The messages and the way you look at life is certainly very inspiring and I am now working on changing my mindset. Thank you Bob you are a breath of fresh air.
Nigel (Brisbane Australia)
Great read Bob. It will help many people I’m sure. Love the poetry. I hope or wish I was as positive as you are after all that you have experienced. I just loved it Bob. Thank you for sharing it with me.
|Date:||Sunday, December 26, 2010|
|Time:||10PM until Monday, December 27, 2010 at 1AM EST|
|Show:||Tha Jackals Head|