I’m still not 100% convinced because Ron Bennington is the world’s greatest carny (not to mention broadcaster), but on April 1st, it was announced that Fez Marie Whatley will be retiring from radio on Friday April 3rd. If true, it will mark the end to the last remaining of the radio shows I either grew up with or became a huge fan of. What hurts the most is Ron and Fez was my favorite show og them all.
I first heard Ron and Fez when they moved to WJFK here in DC back in 2002. Talk radio had been my best friend and working partner ever since I started driving trucks in DC. Happened to be caught in traffic one night so instead of being done at around 6pm (when Don and Mike were still on), didn’t get finished until close to 9pm that night. Those few hours in traffic flew by though. From first listen was completely enamored by this odd show. Ron with his heavy Philly accent, quick wit, perfect delivery, and genius timing would have been enough to make me a fan, but once I heard Fez was hooked. Never has there been such an eccentric, insane, yet charismatic radio host in history. Will never forget the time he came on to Don and Mike and professed his feelings for Buzz Burbank (or the first absinthe show for that matter). Here he was making every gay innuendo possible at Mr. Burbank yet all the while professing he was straight and engaged to a woman in Niagara Falls. It was mesmerizing. The sad part to all of this is I got into the show just as Fez started to melt down…. Then in 2005 the worst kept secret in radio took place and they left for XM with Opie and Anthony. It was a hard decision, but at the time couldn’t afford XM so I lost my favorite show for a little over 4 years, but would catch them anytime I could when I was riding with someone who did have satellite radio.
In 2009 WJFK switched to an all sports format. It was the final straw for me, all my favorite shows were canned (Big O and Dukes, The Mike O’Meara show), and simply could not stomach listening to the new format 6-8 hours a day (especially since they brought in LaVar Arrington, a never was LB, and even worse radio host). The same day they announced the change, ordered an XM unit. Was reunited with O&A and of course Ron and Fez.
The show was different though from the JFK days. Ron was funnier than ever. Not having any language or content restraints allowed him to show just how brutally funny he is. Fez on the other hand was almost non-existent. I had heard about the heart attacks, the panic attacks, and all the mental issues he was dealing with, but it wasn’t until listening every day again that I fully comprehended just how bad it had gotten. East Side Dave was the real co-host at the time, who was and still is completely insane. While it was different, was even more intrigued by the new version of the show. It was completely dysfunctional and yet that made it all the more enticing. Even on their worst days the show was the equivalent to a radio train wreck. You couldn’t turn it off despite the carnage and dead bodies strewn across the tracks.
Things would change again in 2010. ESD got fed up with Sirius over them denying him a raise and left the show. The first two weeks after his departure was rough, Fez was completely uncomfortable, and I could tell Mr. Bennington was frustrated. Chris “Pepper” Hicks Stanley though stepped it up. He had the unique ability to step in when Fez couldn’t, and back off when Fez could. He brought a blunt sense of humor that would go so far over the line you couldn’t help but laugh at him. The Pepper Hicks brand pepper spray bit still brings me to tears no matter how many times I’ve listened to it. As weird as it may sound to some fans this became my favorite version of the Ron and Fez show…
Show would take a new turn in 2012, on Feb. 24th to be exact. Fez came out as gay. It would be that moment that would change much of the dynamics of the show. Fez didn’t just come out, he went from being a flamboyant scathing innuendo filled “gay” character to a social justice warrior for the homosexual community. He was on a channel and a show that were the pillar of free speech on the radio and preached censorship. The wheels were coming off… At the end of 2013 he would have some of his worst melt downs as the show was leaving the O&A channel and going to Raw Dog comedy. The Mrs. Fields commercial best summed up just how insane the show had gotten. It was no longer a train wreck you couldn’t look away from, it was now just depressing and for the first time ever found myself changing the station from time to time. Ron hinted no one’s job was safe, and in the end Fez said his contract was no longer tied to Ron’s but now on a 6 month basis. He had to put up to keep his job.
A month ago Chris Stanley stopped talking on air. Every fan knew something was up. What, no one could tell because as stated earlier Ron is the master carny. The popular opinion was that they were keeping him off air to see just how Fez would do without him as a crutch. The excuse given on the show was Chris was going corporate. Fez had some great shows, and he also had some really horrible ones. Shelby would come in when Fez was completely locked up to pick up the slack, but for the most part the onus was on Fez to talk. April 1st they made the announcement, Fez would be retiring on Friday, Chris was looking into options because he was loyal to the Ron and Fez show, Shelby’s fate would be decided by Chris, and Ron had no concrete plans…
I’m not sure what to feel on it as of right now. On one hand this is the same show who one year on April Fool’s did a best-of show that wasn’t. They did it live and made it seem like a best-of where they made uncanny accurate predictions. They fired East Side Dave at one point, only to have him return the following Monday as The Midnight Rider. You walk the midway when listening. On the other would Ron truly be evil enough to pull this elaborate of a hoax on everyone. The only way anyone will really know is when they return from their Easter vacation on the 13th of April. Fez could be retiring to Florida, and Todd Hillier (his real name) could be doing the show with Ron that afternoon. If it is the end I’m going to miss Fez but hope he can find happiness off the airways because that is way more important than him doing the show. It will sound weird to some, but if he really is leaving, will feel like I’ve lost a long time friend. That’s the beauty of radio, it’s the most intimate form of entertainment. You truly do develop a relationship with the voices speaking to you every day for 3-4 hours. I just can’t fully commit to him actually being gone. Can’t go full rube.
It’s strange. With Don and Mike it wasn’t completely unexpected. Don Geronimo had hinted for quite a bit on the show he was ready to leave long before his departure was officially announced. Big O and Dukes wasn’t as much of a shock either because the writing was on the wall many months beforehand that CBS was changing the format of JFK. Had already switched all their other “hot talk” stations to sports, they were just the last to fall. Was far more surprised that Dukes couldn’t return the favor Oscar did for him years ago, and decided to stay on with LaVar Arrington (something I can never really forgive). Opie and Anthony’s end wasn’t shocking either, just that they both weren’t fired. It was always the whole show in the past, not just one member. If this turns out to be true will be shocked by it. Ron has been there for Fez through it all (and Fez was there for him back when Ron was in his using phase), and never thought it would be Fez to call it quits. Figured Ron would one day get fed up and quit and the show would end that way. I’m looking forward and yet not to the show on the 13th. Either this was a ruse and we’re all made to look like the slack jawed yokels we are, or Fez has gone to find happiness. Something he’s needed and lacked for the past 10 years….