It's gone, vanished from my radio dial with a whimper and a moment of blank air space. Neal Conan won't be riding along with me as I come back from Pilates or drive over to G'ma or run out to pick up the kids at early dismissal. Just as Diane Rehm greets me in the mornings, I've come to associate Neal Conan with "what am I having for lunch today?"
He will be missed.
Ted Koppel was the final guest for the final hour; the conversation covered hopes and fears for the world to come. It was hard for the host to stay impersonal. Leaving an employer who'd signed your paychecks for the past 36 years isn't easy. Young people, innovation, the internet, civic engagement... most of the callers were positive and forward looking. Only Neal was holding back the tide.
Did his words really slow down as the final few minutes approached, or was that my imagination dragging it out for as long as I possibly could? I know that he was reluctant to say goodbye; he told me so in his closing comments. He mentioned tech staff and production staff and interns near and far as he ran through the obligatory thanks. There was no mention of the network.
Talk of the Nation was among the top ten radio talk shows in the country, I was told this morning. There was a significant pause after Neal Conan mentioned that fact. What kind of management is running NPR, anyway? There's a franchise with a following and they're turning it into dust.
Listening to Neal Conan was like listening to a really smart neighbor. He knew he had to get along with you for the long haul, so there was never anything derogatory or inflammatory in his responses. If your question went on too long, or you lost your train of thought while you were on the air, Neal Conan could be counted on to throw a life life... and not hit you on the head with it, either.
When he read emailed comments aloud, there was a subtle change in his voice, a more intimate timbre, the writer's style inherent in his tone. He was as interested in the question as he was in the answer he'd extract from his guests. It was conversation at its finest.
And now, NPR is telling its listeners that the stations are telling them that news magazines are what is wanted, that talk radio is over done and over due for an over haul. There's nothing wrong with a news magazine, in a bland and non-controversial kind of way. But tussling over the tough issues is not something that can be done in that format. You need the give and take of questions and answers, guided by a person who respects both the content and the structure in which it is presented.
My local station, 89.1, will be running WBUR's Here and Now in place of TOTN. That means that there is no way for me to talk to the station any more. Diane Rehm's call-in show is pre-recorded; unless I get up and listen on the web, I have no options. I'm feeling vaguely disenfranchised; no one wants to hear me on the radio anymore?
One of my comments was broadcast as the question of the day on the "Ask an economist a question" segment in 2006. An email on Brother's lawn furniture made out of grass seed and chicken wire was read aloud in 2004 on a DIY segment. There was a time, when I was driving carpool at the same time every day, when I could recite the production staff along with Neal Conan at the end of each broadcast. They were family, and now they are gone.
Neal, if you and Ted Koppel create that radio station he was talking about, please let me know. I'll be waiting to hear your voice again. You will be missed.... sorely missed.... indeed.