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Burning Up the Air: Jerry Williams, Talk Radio, and the Life in Between [Hardcover]

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Item description for Burning Up the Air: Jerry Williams, Talk Radio, and the Life in Between by Steve Elman & Alan Tolz...

At the peak of his influence on WRKO Radio in Boston in the mid-1980s, when he helped repeal a seatbelt law and ran a one man wrecking crew against Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign, Jerry Williams was dubbed "The Dean of Talk Radio." What few knew was that Jerry wasn't merely the Dean, he was also arguably the Inventor. It was in 1957 that the Brooklyn-born talk show host first put listeners on the air at the old WMEX in Boston--after primitive time-delay technology made it possible to bleep callers' naughty words. From then on, while guys named King and Limbaugh were cutting their teeth at the microphone, Williams set standards for the form. He stood up for civil rights when such talk could get you killed, questioned Vietnam long before Walter Cronkite, savaged Richard Nixon while forty-nine state were reelecting him, and put frank talk about sex on the air when Howard Stern was still a DJ.

Authors Elman and Tolz, who produced Williams's shows at high points in his career, had total access to the Dean's files and memories. The result is an enlightening biography that gives readers an inside view of the glories of radio and the pitfalls of fame.

"Jerry Williams changed American broadcasting with the force of his personality . . . He showed me what one man and a microphone can do." --Phil Donahue

"Whether I agreed with Jerry Williams or not, I always considered him a force to be reckoned with, and radio isn't the same without him." --Michael Dukakis

"Night after night, with an equal measure of intelligence and strength and perseverance, Jerry Williams took talk radio to a level that's rarely been achieved." --Roger Ebert

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Item Specifications...

Pages   352
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 10.4" Width: 7.2" Height: 1.4"
Weight:   1.55 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Mar 5, 2008
Publisher   Commonwealth Editions
ISBN  1933212519  
ISBN13  9781933212517  

Availability  0 units.

More About Steve Elman & Alan Tolz

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Steve Elman began producing "The Jerry Williams Show" for WBZ in Boston in 1972. He worked with Williams through the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. He lives in Brighton, Massachusetts.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Arts & Literature > Entertainers
2Books > Subjects > Entertainment > Radio > History & Criticism

Reviews - What do customers think about Burning Up the Air: Jerry Williams, Talk Radio, and the Life in Between?

A Great Read  Apr 18, 2008
For anyone that has ever heard Jerry Williams on the air and wondered what he was like off the air, this book will make you feel like you've followed Jerry around for forty years. It's an intimate and objective portrait of both the public persona and the private man. The authors clearly admire Jerry's radio skills, and their personal bond with him comes across in the writing, but they also pull no punches when it comes to Jerry's character flaws. The result is an interesting and candid portrait of the man. The book has the added benefit of giving one an inside view of the radio business. Even if you never heard of Jerry Williams, there's a breezy down to earth honesty in the writing that makes it a great read.
To the authors  Apr 18, 2008
What a great book... you captured the parts of Jerry that I knew, and illuminated the parts I didn't. Made it easy to love and respect a flawed man (and since I'm a flawed man... gave me hope).

I just finished a 40 year career... essentially on the road all over the US. Could never have made it without the company and education provided by Jerry Williams and those who followed him.

I heard Boortz when he was doing WRNG in Atlanta, and the whole WWDB gang in PHL. Bob Grant at WOR and WABC, and Rush Limbaugh before he was Rush Limbaugh.. You brought back so many fine memories.

Thank you for telling the story, and telling it so artfully. Literally could not put it down. You guys were him.

And thank you, and all the other guys behind the scenes who made it possible. My life has been made so much better by your work.
Not a bad guy  Apr 5, 2008
I reviewed this for the Sturbridge Times Magazine (also on the web at [...]). I started listening to Jerry Williams around 1957-58 as a kid. He was great fun and he lasted just into the new millenium. He has as much right as anyone to claim to have invented the genre of talk radio.

The Elman and Tolz book is as good a bio as you will find and it includes a lot of local history as well. You won't put it down.

I would also suggest going to the website and listening to the clips. He knew how to use his voice. I had never thought that he had some voice training until I read the book. Knowing his instrument did not hurt his success.
Boston Radio and Beyond  Mar 30, 2008
Okay, this was written by a buddy of mine, and I worked in Boston radio for a number of years, years ago. And so I'm biased. But for anyone into talk radio, Boston radio, business history (Westinghouse Group W) and of course Jerry Williams, this is a must read. Nicely put into historic and personal context, the stories illustrate the times and the people, not necessarily in a nostalgic way, but in a way that brings the times alive once again. Nice job Steve! and the other guy...
Vic Wheatman ex-WBUR, WNTN, WBZ-FM
The real world is so much more interesting!  Mar 26, 2008
No doubt about it. Jerry Williams was the real deal. As a young broadcaster in the early 1950's Jerry Williams recognized the enormous potential of two-way talk radio. Rock & roll was great for young audiences but with the demise of network radio and the emergence of television what would radio have to offer adult listeners? Before just about anyone else, Jerry understood the fascinating dynamic at play between callers, the host and the audience. And for the better part of the next four decades Jerry Williams would play a major role in shaping and molding the format we now call talk radio. "Burning Up The Air" chronicles the life and times of this legendary radio icon.
My introduction to Jerry Williams came on July 29,1968 when the highly touted "Jerry Williams Show" debuted on WBZ-TV in Boston. I remember it like it was yesterday. Although that television show would be short-lived, the host sure made one hell of an impression on this 17 year old. Within a matter of weeks I found "The Spirit of New England" WBZ--1030 on my AM radio dial and I quickly became hooked on Jerry's nightly radio program. By this time, Jerry Williams had already spent more than 15 years in the business. He was a master at his craft. One of the co-authors of "Burning Up The Air" is Steve Elman. Steve had the distinct privilege of producing "The Jerry Williams Show" for a time during the programs eight year run on WBZ radio from 8:00 P.M. to midnight. This was appointment listening for sure. What made the "Jerry Williams Show" so compelling during those troubled times was that WBZ's booming 50000 watt signal reached 38 states at night. This was in effect a national issues-oriented radio talk show, most likely the first of its kind anywhere. "Burning Up The Air" recalls all of the hot-button issues that were being discussed on the program during those tumultuous years. From the Vietnam war and the anti-war activists to Dita Beard and the ITT scandal and on to Tricky Dicky and Watergate, Jerry Williams covered it all! In fact, he was even a proud member of Richard Nixon's "Enemy's List". More than three decades later I would have to point to those shows as the best talk radio I ever heard! Sadly, in 1976 WBZ chose not to renew Jerry's contract. For the next five years Jerry Williams was in radio limbo searching for just the right situation to get back on top. It was one of the most difficult periods of his life.
The worm would finally turn for Jerry in the summer of 1981. WRKO radio in Boston was dumping music in favor of a new all-talk format and they wanted to feature Jerry Williams in the afternoon drive slot from 2:00 to 6:00. This was a time slot that Jerry had always coveted. He jumped at the opportunity to return to the Hub and within a matter of months Jerry was on top of the heap once again. But in this incarnation of his program the focus was radically different. Jerry would primarily discuss local issues. In those days his primary targets were Boston mayor Kevin White and Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. Of course when circumstances dictated Jerry was still quite capable of discussing topics of national concern. The other co-author of "Burning Up The Air" is Alan Tolz. Like Steve Elman before him, Alan would produce the "Jerry Williams Show" during a good portion of its highly successful run on WRKO. You will learn just what issues made the show tick during the 1980's. There was the attempt to make wearing seatbelts mandatory in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the proposal to build a maximum security prison facility in the rural community of New Braintree. Once again, this was compelling radio that reached a huge audience. The program would continue to be a ratings success until late in the 1980's when Jerry's increasingly acerbic style began to wear on listeners. Within a few years Jerry was consigned to weekends only on WRKO and his run on The Talk Station would finally come to an end in October 1998.
While most of the focus of "Burning Up The Air" is on Jerry's radio career, the authors chose to spend a fair amount of time discussing his personal life. I was quite surprised and extremely disappointed to learn that in many ways it was a mess. It would appear that Jerry always put his work and career ahead of the interests of his wife Teri and his three daughters. He was simply never there for them. Likewise, he seemed to have no qualms about cheating on his wife and even on his live-in girlfriend of many years. It was a side of him that I knew nothing about. It also appears that Jerry was very tight with a buck. But one must try to seperate the private life from the public persona. As a lifelong fan of the man I greatly appreciated the work that Steve Elman and Alan Tolz put into this book. For them, writing "Burning Up The Air" appears to have been a labor of love. For both of these men had the distinct honor of working with one of talk radio's true pioneers. Jerry Williams was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in the fall of 1996. There will never be another quite like him. I found this to be an extremely well written book that I enjoyed from cover to cover. It belongs on the shelves of every public library in the Bay State! Very highly recommended!

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