It had to happen eventually. As Neal Boortz entered his 60's and then mid-60's, observers were wondering when he would finally hang up the headphones. More than that, they wondered what WSB would do to replace him.
The answer came last week. Boortz, 67, will step down on Inauguration Day, and his considerable shoes will be filled by Herman Cain, 66. What will be the fallout?
Atlantans--and WSB in particular--have been fortunate. Star talk show hosts are difficult to develop or find. Yet two unique and talented talkers, Neal Boortz and Clark Howard, were already in the market.
Former WSB General Manager Marc Morgan might not have had the vision of past WGST Program Director Eric Seidel, but he did have access to the Cox checkbook. Morgan lured Boortz and Howard to lead WSB's renaissance.
Neal Boortz is a compelling talent. On the air, he espouses individualism and advocates that people are a product of the choices they have made. He does not tow the standard conservative line.
I long ago gave up trying to figure out what talk-show hosts really believe. But, I know this. Boortz understands that he is an entertainer, and that his job is to get ratings. He knows how to push the right buttons to evoke emotion in listeners. He will not easily be replaced.
Boortz is not perfect. At times, I find him trying to take a mundane occurrence and turn it into controversy. And sometimes, he is unduly insulting to callers whom he feels are ignorant. But his success speaks for itself, and he has been a tremendous part of the Atlanta radio landscape.
When Herman Cain left his evening show on WSB to run for president, few gave him a chance of doing more than selling some books. But the initial refusal of many Republicans to rally around Mitt Romney resulted in unexpected exposure for Cain. And when the accusations hit, the previously little-known Cain became a household word.
After Cain suspended his campaign, WSB brought him back to do commentaries. From the promotion that WSB gave his return, you would have thought he had won American Idol. The station realized it had a star on its hands. But, his presidential spotlight will a short-lived phenomenon.
Will Cain, who is also taking over the Boortz syndication, be able to hold Neal's audience? I think that's unlikely.
When WSB conducted research recently, Cain's name recognition was virtually 100%. That's great, but after the novelty wears off, his broadcast ability will make or break the show.
Cain is smart; his career of leading companies proves that. But he is not like Boortz, who makes tuning out a difficult proposition. He does not have the talent to elicit feelings and keep people on the edge of their seat.
We of course will monitor how things develop. I do not expect Cain to work out long term, but frankly, finding someone who could follow Boortz without a ratings blip would be daunting, to say the least.
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Link to Rodney Ho's AJC Radio & TV blog: http://blogs.ajc.com/radio-tv-talk/