May 2003 #1
Jerry Williams was and always will be
‘King of Talk Radio’
© by Barbara Anderson
The Salem News
Saturday May 3, 2003
Unlike a lot of my political friends, I didn’t grow up listening to Jerry Williams. I may have heard him on those occasional clear nights when we could pick up WBZ in western Pennsylvania, but I don’t remember.
When I moved to Massachusetts, he was on TV, doing a left/right thing with Avi Nelson. It was Avi from whom I picked up my attitude toward Massachusetts politics, and when I discovered talk radio I listened to him or David
Then I went to work at Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) and being a guest on talk radio became part of my job. But Jerry, having basically created the art form here, had left the Boston area. I didn’t meet him until he returned in the early '80s and I was invited to be on his new show to discuss taxes.
I was warned that, unlike most talk show hosts, he would be hostile to my point of view. He was wearing blue jeans and a denim shirt; I felt right at home and we got along fine. Looking back, I think this was because my own tax activism was more populist and libertarian than traditional conservative Republican.
As a populist, Jerry could relate to both taxpayer activists and Ralph
Nader; as a classic liberal, he took freedom and limited government very seriously, though he seemed to favor gun control and welfare.
With me he argued gently, during commercial breaks. With politicians like Ted Kennedy and Mike Dukakis, he was not so gentle.
In 1989 a hostile columnist wrote a sarcastic column about Jerry, Howie Carr and me, suggesting that if we were so smart we should be governor. Jerry immediately invited us onto his show to cut taxes, expose waste, and generally reform state government. This effort became a weekly gig called "The Governors." We had great fun with serious politics for a few years, though sometimes Jerry would lead us in a totally irrelevant direction, spending 45 minutes one day on a hilarious discussion of bagels.
Off the air he talked about his many non-political interests, among them big-band music, antiques and movies. He insisted I see "The Bear" and "My Cousin
Vinny," which were great, and "9+ Weeks", which was awful.
He and another frequent guest, Bob Katzen, made me memorize Jewish words like
"shiksa" and "meshugenah" so I would know them if I were ever called them.
Jerry indirectly introduced me to my present partner, Chip Ford, by urging him to run a petition drive against Gov. Dukakis’ mandatory seat belt law. Jerry promised Chip he would never have to do any public speaking, so naturally we met at one of the many issue forums that fall, where I was debating a state tax limit and Chip was debating the seat belt repeal while planning to strangle Jerry as soon as he found the time.
Preaching personal responsibility, they did temporarily stop the "nanny state" law, and with Dorothea
Vitrac, the proposed prison in New Braintree. "The Governors" helped elect Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci in 1990, turning the direction of the state to prosperity for almost a decade.
Jerry, Howie and I thought that if people had all the facts about Beacon Hill, they would be moved to action. For awhile that was true. Then knowledge led to disgust, and disgust to apathy.
As the Big Dig grew bigger, Jerry was heard to say, "There’s no hope," just before his retirement from
WRKO. Earlier this year he returned for one last show: Bob Katzen and I were his guests one last time.
Now as I write this we are preparing to attend his wake.
A Jewish wake? Why am I not surprised?
One evening, at Jerry’s insistence, he, Howie and I were riding in a big old limousine to the Cape Cod Mall for a live appearance of "The Governors." Jerry entertained us with the plans for his viewing.
Catholics, he said, did it almost right, with people gathered to eat, drink, tell stories about the deceased, and have a good time. But he objected to the fact that the coffin is usually set in a quiet corner.
At his wake, he told us, the coffin would be in the middle of the room. It would have a wide brim, with room for dishes of chips and veggies; and the onion dip would be stuffed in his mouth.
Maybe you had to have been there; I laughed till I cried. I’m sure the real wake will be more dignified. I also expect there will be stories about the deceased from all of us who knew and worked with the activist King of Talk Radio who was "not a bad guy" at all.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited
Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun;
bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.
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