When Talking is Too Much Trouble.....it's goodbye (The story of my evolution and the reasons for it)
This title came from a song by one of my favorite classic rock groups, the Climax Blues Band, and as I listened to the lyrics and hummed along, I realized suddenly how true this is.
The hook in this tune is about two people falling out of love…but, because I’m in love with America and American values, I immediately, automatically, applied it to where we are as a country and society. It made perfect sense. Hear me out.
How I miss the days of growing up in the seventies and watching my kids grow up in the eighties and nineties. Life and love of both family and country, right down to the community we lived it, was easy and done without even being consciously aware of it. It just WAS.
To say we were living in paradise would be a stretch…but we were happy and comfortable and, like most other middle class Americans we, by all accounts, accepted our stations in life and, without thought, took everything we had for granted, for lack of a better way to put it.
By saying that, I certainly don’t mean we weren’t appreciative of what we were blessed with. It was just “normal,” and is the way we had planned, even with all the unexpected emergencies and pitfalls. Those are something we didn’t dwell on but knew that, at some point, something unexpected was bound to happen. A sick child, a broken bone, an automobile accident, family fights. That’s part of the human condition.
I noticed, personally, it all changed after the attacks on September 11th, 2001.
The attack was fast…what you might call a “one and done” event, aside from the fact that we ended up in the middle east for 20 years fighting a war against evil.
I need to tell you my perspective before I explain how I “knew” a change was afoot.
I have been in public life since I was 17. That’s when I stared a lifelong journey in broadcasting, an industry I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for many years. It’s mostly love, though. I can’t get it out of my blood. I’ve tried and failed. So here I am today. What I do today as a conservative talk show host with Legacy 1160, WSKW and Right America Media is, by far, my favorite and most fulfilling destination on the journey to date.
So, now that you have a basic view of where I come from, I’ll continue with my observations.
The morning of 9/11/2001, I sat in front of the tv watching CNN, seeing the attacks on New York City play out in real time. I got a call from Mac Dickson, my program director at 92 Moose…a pop music station where I spent a, mostly fun, 25+ years as lead of the morning show.
I’ll never forget the time and place. It was an absolutely gorgeous Tuesday morning. Marie Anne, my wife, was out mowing the lawn and I was on vacation, planning a trip to Rockwood, Maine (on Moosehead Lake) with my friend, a musician named Steve Pratt, to do some guitar playing, singing and drinking in a cabin at The Birches Resort, a lovely place in the center of the state. Longtime friend and owner, John Willard, would often come and hang out with us when we were there and have a couple of drinks and talk about business (at the time, he owned the resort, a Millinocket based rafting company and a Caribbean property).
When the call from Mac came in, I could tell by his serious and sullen tone that there was a reason, other than to wish me safe travels, that he had called.
“Jon….I hate to ask you this,” he began. “I’m not sure if you’ve been watching what’s going on….” I interrupted, “I sure have…unbelievable. We’re under attack.”
Mind you, at that point, with two kids, both in school, I had already decided that this wouldn’t be the day Steve and I headed north.
Mac continued, “yeah….we have no idea what’s going on. Everybody’s calling the station wanting to help and scared. Could you come in tomorrow and just be there as a friendly and familiar voice for our listeners. Everybody is going to need some comfort.”
First, I never considered myself a “friendly and familiar voice that instilled comfort.” I was just a hit-playing, joke-telling goofball on the radio. But I was moved by what he said and, from that point on, I think, I realized the importance of “heritage” as a public voice.
“Of course,” I said, without hesitation.
After we hung up, I called Steve who, not surprisingly, had been going to call me as well. We decided to put off our trip, at least until Thursday, depending on what happened.
Marie Anne and I went and got our kids from school. We stood outside and listened to the roaring silence of the world around us. Everybody was home with those they loved…there was no air traffic. Silence.
The next morning, I was on the air with my “forever” co-host, Renee Nelson, beginning at 5am. We opened the phones to just let people talk. For the first and last time in my music radio career, this was no time for music. And we didn’t play any. All. Morning. Long.
Call after call came in….I wish I could remember them all. They are ALL important. Every single one. Many had tearful moms afraid for their children and their families. A few were even waiting to hear from loved ones in New York or Washington DC.
Though I was always cognizant of my audience, I often spoke what I was thinking. I’ve always lived my life publicly and hold very little back, though I tried not to venture into politics on a regular basis, unless it was something that most EVERYBODY could agree on. I always had good instinct for that sort of thing.
On that morning, probably about mid way through the four or five hours of talk, I was musing with a lady about what was going to happen next. What would we do? What would the terrorists do?
Without even a second though, I said something to the effect of, “this might be a good time to revisit Ronald Reagan’s vision of a Star Wars satellite missile defense system.”
She concurred. We ended the chat and I reiterated what I had said about Star Wars and, simply moved on to the next caller.
To be honest, given the predictable fear and sadness and longing to help that every call had been to that point, the next one shook me a bit.
“Hello, you’re on 92 Moose, what’s on your mind?” “Why would you talk about something like that?” came a, seemingly put out, voice. “What do you mean?” I asked. I was pretty sure I knew by the tone where she was going. “Star Wars! Why are you using your position as a public voice to scare kids?” I was being scolded. I got a little defensive.
“I’m not! We were just talking. We need to look at different things. I just threw that out as something we could look at,” I said, probably more sternly than I remember. I was a little pissed by her tone. She hung up on me. I’ll never forgot it.
I was shaken and shaking a bit. Renee picked it up and talked about some fundraisers and blood drives that had already been planned and when she handed it back to me, I took the next call.
“Who pee’d in her Cheerios,” the caller asked. “Renee’s?” I asked?
All three of us got a little chuckle out of that. A little levity was good and welcome at that point, although I worried it would seem out of place on such a solemn morning. In retrospect, it wasn’t .
The rest of the morning went as planned but that call stuck with me and, perhaps, helped me create a bit of a different mindset when it comes to discussing controversial things of a political nature.
To that point I was use to getting calls after offending people with a (non-political) line about something of a sexual or sexist nature. Back when neither of those things was considered “political.”
All I remember from that point forward is having to be cautious, to a fault, about criticizing “Islamic” terrorists or making positive, public statements about our bombing of terrorists in Afghanistan. After all, they’re ALL human beings.
So now, I have to be careful about praising our own troops for killing our enemy combatants. What’s going on?
We had a nationally syndicated comedy service called The American Comedy Network (ACN) that supplied us with “interactive” phone calls with the President.
The George W. Bush impressionist was amazing! You would have thought it was really GWB himself.
A script was provided and the voice of “the President.” I merely had to insert my voice into the recording and, voila, a chat with the White House.
Mind you, this was a “comedy” service. The Bush interactives (once a week) were usually hysterical….ANYONE could laugh at them. People on either side of the political spectrum. You would think.
More than once, conservatives would call up and accuse me of being a “leftist” making fun of George W. Bush. Back then, I had to be apolitical….I couldn’t tell the listeners, “no, I’m actually probably more conservative than you…it’s just for fun.”
I did tell them it was just for fun and not meant to make a political statement, but callers would never accept that. They’d leave angry and, often times, call the boss and complain. The boss, a great longtime Boston (WBCN) radio guy, Al Perry, would laugh it off and say, “don’t worry about it.” As an aside, I’ve got to tell you how much I love and respect Al Perry.
Turns out, Al is very liberal, very much the opposite of me. We eventually found that out when I became an outspoken voice in the gun world. But you know what? Al NEVER cared where I stood politically. He became one of my best friends in the business and supported everything I ever did on the air, regardless of whether or not somebody was offended. Didn’t matter if it angered somebody on the left or right. He stood strong for me and there’s nobody I’ve ever worked for who I respect more. We remain good friends to this day and always end our calls by saying, “I love you, friend.”
During the Obama administration, it got worse. We had the same deal with a GREAT Obama impression from ACN. When we spoke with “President Obama,” I’d frequently get calls accusing me of being a “right wing nut” or “a racist.” I’m not gonna lie, that hurt at the time because “racist” was not used for just about everything back then.
What was worse, I had gone from being a good judge of what was funny as a conservative under Bush to what was funny as a conservative under Obama.
Renee was left of me (who wasn’t?) so I would bounce it off her sometimes…but not often, because I wanted her to react to it naturally (laughing) when she heard it for the first time on the air. It was a quandary I learned to live with. After the fact, if I did get a complaint, Renee would always come in and stand up for the show saying to the caller that it’s meant to be funny not political.
I dealt with this off and on throughout the Obama years, leaving 92 Moose in early 2016 to spend time with my ailing dad.
My dear father passed in August of 2016 and I was lost, working from home and seeing nobody. I was still the “imaging voice” for 92 Moose but, that same month, Townsquare Media (the corporation that owned 92 Moose) decided they wanted a “younger sounding” imaging voice so they cut me loose. I lost a small stipend but gained the freedom to accept a job for Mix Maine Media, which had courted me for several years. I resisted a move because I was happy where I was. Now was the time.
My first job with the company was the oldies station, WCTB (Cruisin’ 93.5). I was over oldies but, because I got to team with my all time radio idol, Bruce Stevens (WABK, WIP, WTIC, WBZ, WKRC, WTMJ and others), I was eager to come aboard.
I took the place of Maine radio legend, Don Brown, who was ailing at the time and passed a few months later.
I had cut my radio teeth with Don (after having grown up with him) and now was replacing my old friend. Talk about full circle! Because Don had given his blessing to his departure and me as the replacement, I felt good.
I had so much fun with Bruce but we were not without controversy. Or should I say, I was not without controversy.
As hard as I tried to stay away from politics, I couldn’t. Whether we were having a conversation where I said something nice about Trump or told a joke that was politically based, I’d get regular calls accusing me of being a “Trumper” or a lefty.
As these criticisms from the public became more frequent with less effort on my part, I realized something was really changing, but I still didn’t fully realize what was going on until mid way through Donald Trump’s term. That’s when the oldies station would flip to country and I was bound for 107.9, The Mix (WFMX) to play “classic hits (rock) and the best of today (pop).” I really dug the format as I was very familiar with both genres of music but the jokes were getting me in just as much trouble.
I’ve always been one to push the envelope. I realize I only have ONE shot at this and I’m not going to make a career that’s forgotten as soon as I leave the industry so I took chances…and they paid off. Mostly.
The turning point was the week that Nike stopped the sale of the Betsy Ross Flag sneakers because Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL star (loser), said that the flag was racist.
To say I was pissed would be huge understatement. I did what I’ve always done. I was myself.
So here I was, on a classic rock/pop station, afternoon drive at 3 in the afternoon, knowing people were listening for music. I couldn’t stop myself and, no, I don’t regret what came next. For what turned out to be eight to ten minutes, I raged at Nike, Kaepernick and the whole, woke, idiotic scenario that was the impetus for my tirade. I called Kaepernick a low-life, moron and even an un-American sorry ass loser.
The response came quickly.
First came a call from a client who had advertised on the sister station, Cruisin’. He was thankful and called my rant “amazing,” saying he was going to start advertising on The Mix, as well as our oldies station. I was happy!
I got a few more calls and felt pretty good about what I had done…but I knew that there was more to come that wasn’t as flattering. I was right.
The owner, Jay Hanson and Frank Silvia, a former manager, both great people, came in and we talked. It wasn’t a heated discussion at all. But the point was succinct. This wasn’t the time or place for this kind of rant…in a major daypart on a popular music radio station. I told the men, both friends, that I agreed but was not sorry. They understood and showed me, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I had, again, landed at a radio group that was all about supporting those who worked for it.
Frank suggested that I might want to do a once a week shift on WSKW, the soon to be “Legacy 1160.” That way I could have the best of both worlds, as that station would feature conservative talk from 6-9 with my old friend and Portland talk legend, Mike Violette. I was on board with that. In addition to the impromptu meeting with my superiors the day it happened, predictably, left-wing progressives (I assume) were calling for my firing. I even had a woman call and Facebook me threatening to come to the station with a group and protest….calling for a boycott. I talked about this on my show and told the group, “bring it. I’ll even supply the sharpies and poster board.”
Like most leftist threats, it never came to fruition. I would have, honestly, helped them make signs. If for no other reason, so they’d spell “Jon” correctly, without an “h.”
Fast forward a few weeks. The station hired Mac Dickson, my former 92 Moose boss, who had been let go without warning from that station and wanted back into radio. They thought if they could put him on the afternoon Mix shift, maybe I’d agree to do 9-noon on the talk station.
I, reluctantly, did agree.
I had told Jay that I thought Mac would be a good fit and that there is no harder working man in the business…which I meant and I was happy to see the new opportunity for my old friend and was eager to try something I had very little experience in…talk radio.
Honestly, I believe I had probably become a pariah for The Mix and mainstream radio in general. This provided a win/win. A way to get Mac in and me on a station that more suited me. Turns out, this was the best move, for the most part, that I’ve ever made.
Honestly, while I loved playing music, I wanted to be able to be “Jon James….the guy who really has opinions and stands for something.” Not “the funny guy who plays great music.”
I was tired of being the dressing for the music. I had an opinion and strong feelings about what’s right and what’s wrong and I wanted to be the main attraction….not because I’m egocentric (I’m far from that) but because I want to persuade people into being a proactive member of American exceptionalism.
In my 40+ years in radio, I’ve gone from saying whatever I wanted without question (so long as it’s FCC compliant) to questioning everything I say.
To say this is liberating is the understatement of the century.
On my show, Freedom’s Pep Rally, I say what I mean and mean what I say. No limits…not parameters…no apologies.
The station is still part of the Mix Maine family and I also partner with Juan Gaud’s fledgling network, Right America Media , which is also an amazing pool of great people and talent. I am truly blessed.
Check this great network out at https://www.rightamericamedia.com
Now, I’ve explained the evolution of, what I see as, the landscape from a radio broadcaster’s perspective. Maybe one of the best perspectives as we are the most interactive (with fans) medium on the planet. So let’s get into the meaning of the title of this piece…if you even remember what it is :-)
When Talking is Too Much Trouble (It’s Goodbye). Here’s a link to the Climax Blues Band song: I admit I have chinks in my armor. I’ll never lie about that nor will I try to pretend I’m right all the time. I know I’m not.
One of my major weaknesses is my ability to listen to people trash what I know is right and, emphatically, tell me I’m wrong and close minded. Not in a constructive but, rather, destructive, condescending and angry manner.
Like my father, my first reaction is equal and opposite. I want to fight with reckless abandon. Often times, I have.
I get especially angry when people commence to take me and my beliefs apart, including calling me, sometimes vulgar, names, on my own Facebook page. Those are the very few people I delete and block…after I screenshot their post and re-post it and highlight it for the world to see.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many hundreds of people have “unfriended” me because of my beliefs and assertions.
It use to bother me. It doesn’t now.
Here’s my criteria for being friends with ANYBODY.
I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Independent, gay, straight, trans….. does not matter to me. Nor do I care your color, ethnicity, native language or cheese preferences. In a nutshell: I LIKE NICE PEOPLE
Sadly, I have been “deleted,” thrown away like yesterday’s trash, for my political beliefs by REAL LIFE FRIENDS! All, I would consider to be, far left.
By making this assertion, I’m not being combative…I’m only telling the truth. So here’s the bottom line…the point of this whole piece.
I want to have conversations with people. I want to know what people believe and why they believe it and then I want to be able to ask them questions. This should go both ways.
In my experiences, and I’ve outlined a few, the “other side” just wants to take a, what they feel is, a righteous position and rage against and cancel those who disagree. I understand where that gets us…that’s why I’m writing this. It gets us nowhere.
Here’s a synopsis of what I believe: America is going off a cliff. The FAR left, by and large, is dragging us there. Many, who I consider to be “sheep,” are dragging us to the slaughter…and I don’t think many, if not most, of them even realize it.
Stop….breathe….talk to someone you slightly or completely disagree with. Not just for a minute, but for a good amount of time. You may be surprised at the common ground you find if you ask questions and answer honestly. That, my friend, is a foundation. You can build on it. It is the starting point….not the rage-filled end.
If everyone of different opinions could talk like my dear friend Al Perry and me, we would make an enormous difference
As the title states….when talking is too much trouble, it’s goodbye. To freedom. To liberty. To peace. To security. To America.
God bless you and God Bless the United States.