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CLT&G Update
Friday, October 9, 1998

"The Dean of Talk Radio," Jerry Williams, Departs WRKO

I talked with Jerry Williams yesterday and it's true, the father of talk radio is off the air. WRKO just told him not to report on the weekend, and he will not have a chance to say good-bye to that station's listeners.

There is nothing that anyone can do with 'RKO, which is now owned by people who don't know Jerry, don't know us, and don't care about the wonderful old-time talk radio that served us taxpayers so well in the '80's. Jerry has other offers and I'll let you know what he'll be doing.

Meanwhile, I've asked him to talk with Essex County at least on my November 20th WESX show.

Barbara Anderson

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The Boston Herald
Friday, October 9, 1998

Radio legend steps down from young man's game
by Howie Carr

In his day, Jerry Williams wasn't just Boston radio.

He was talk radio, period. Larry King used to call him for career advice. When Howard Stern was an undergrad at BU, he listened to Jerry on 'BZ. The late Paul Tsongas, who first heard him on WMEX in the '50s, used to speak of the former Gerald Jacoby with awe in his voice. Even Jerry's arch-nemesis, Pee Wee Dukakis, was a listener going all the way back to his college days at Swarthmore. That was "back in 1953," the Duke once told the Dean, mostly, I suspect, to give Jerry the needle about something that's been bothering him for quite some time now. His age.

So now, at 75 -- are you grimacing, Jerry? -- the dean is wrapping it up at WRKO and attention must be paid, as Arthur Miller would say. Jerry and I have had our ups and downs over the years, mostly downs lately. As a matter of fact, I don't think he's speaking to me now, but I could be mistaken.

But he did give me my start in the biz, back at the Democratic convention in Atlanta in '88. Peachtree Street was crawling with payroll patriots from Boston, many more than could be listed in a week's worth of columns. So every afternoon, Jerry would have me on the show for a while, reciting names and salaries of the Hotlanta Hackerama. And I thought nothing more of it until I got back to Boston and was approached by a young Dukakoid delegate and Mike Connolly coatholder named Marty Meehan - yes, that Marty Meehan.

"Thanks a lot," he said, "for mentioning me and my salary."

Marty, I said, you got left on the cutting-room floor. You didn't even make the column. "The column?" he said. "I'm talking about the radio."

So who cares, Marty?

"Who cares? Don't you understand? Everybody in Lowell listens to Jerry Williams!" Not just Lowell either. Remember Jerry doing nights on 'BZ during Vietnam and Watergate? The hardhat brigade of 1970? That clear-channel 50,000-watt signal went into 38 states, at a time when people still listened to AM radio at night. Back in the final days of the 1972 Watergate campaign, when you heard on the network news that George McGovern was playing tapes of a weeping Vietnam vet that he'd been given by "a Boston radio talk-show host," you didn't think Larry Glick or Guy Mainella. A decade ago, when Jerry was grinding Dukakis into the dust (with a little help from Barbara Anderson and me), he was so big that the Globe even ran a series -- not a story, but a series -- about him. It was a very objective look at the talk-radio phenomenon, as you could tell from its title.

Poisoned Politics.

In the next few days, some sanctimonious gasbag will blame Jerry's decline and fall on the sex survey he did every June at the end of the spring ratings book. But hey, it's all about entertainment. That's the nature of the medium.

And the reality is, it's a young man's game. Jerry used to say a four-hour talk shift was a physical chore, and he's right. It's like being a starting pitcher in baseball. Some days you have stuff and some days you don't, and most of the time you don't know until you step onto the mound.

Jerry was the radio equivalent of Cy Young. On 'MEX, he used to get calls from James Michael Curley. He had Malcolm X on all the time. Not bad for a guy who started out just after World War II in Bristol, Va., playing Kitty Wells' new 45 -- "Dust on the Bible."

Yeah, the act wore thin the last few years. It's hard to be Vox Populi when you're trying to call in markers from Bob Crane and Joe Malone. And how many times can you hear Ralph Nader, Famous Amos and Grace, Queen of the Cockamamies? It's been a long goodbye, from PM drive to middays to weekends. You have to hope he doesn't now descend into a Bill Marlowe-like twilight, moving to ever weaker signals in ever more obscure time slots.

What else can I say, Jerry, except that you were a great teacher, and as for all the tricks you showed me, well, I'm sure as hell not passing them on to the next generation, certainly not to some ambitious young kid, lest they come back to be thrown back in my face someday, if you get my drift.

He's getting out of the business.

Jerry Williams, not a bad guy.

Carr's radio show airs weekdays on WRKO-AM 680, WNNZ-AM 640 and WXTK-FM 95.1. You can reach Howie Carr by email at:


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