Shepherd exhibited antagonism toward his engineers, sponsors, radio administrators, but he was not alone in expressing such antagonisms in public. Fred Allen took vigorous jabs at his station executives with unabashed hostility. Radio humorist Henry Morgan, among his many snipes at his sponsors, once ironically criticized Life Savers for cheating the public by putting a hole in its product. One might remember television showman Arthur Godfrey once commenting about Lipton, his sponsor, that no one could find pieces of chicken in their powdered chicken soup.
“Television is a medium because
anything well done is rare.”
“Good evening, anybody.”
“I claimed that if the manufacturer would give me
all those [Life Saver] centers,
I would market them as Morgan’s Mint Middles….”
[Personal eb anecdote–When Morgan was on TV with his own live show
(black and white, probably in the late 50s when I was in my late teens/early 20s),
he frequently complained that before/after his show,
an announcer would make a statement to the effect:
“The comments made on this program are not necessarily
those of this station or any of its sponsors.”
Morgan said that it annoyed him that the station was so timid that it had to
apologize for everything he said or would say.
I sent him a suggested retort, which, within a week or so, he read on the air:
“The comments made on all the other programs on this station
are not necessarily those of myself or any of my friends.”
He laughed, and on came the commercials.]
“Where’s the chicken?”
These were funny lines that could obviously hurt the sponsor. Here’s a comment Shepherd made a year before he left radio, when commercials were beginning to seriously overwhelm the program—it was said near the end of a broadcast, not so much in a hostile tone as with a sense of relief:
Is that it?! Am I through with all my commercials? Oh wow! (April 6, 1976)
It seems as though he’d lost his patience and was just fed up with the whole damn thing. Considering his resentment over the years, it’s surprising that this comment sounded as though it were made with amused amazement–not disgust.
Yes, many people over the years have expressed hostility toward the hands that fed them or toward those who controlled their shows. Most of this is mere kidding around, even if, to some extent, it represented true feelings and was done with some frequency. What made Shepherd’s negative comments different and especially hurtful is that no one else that I know of denigrated others with the persistence and intentional hostility that he communicated on the air for decades.
Regarding sponsors, in public talks he gave in the 1970s, Shepherd claimed that he had contractual rights to accept or reject any commercials and that his estimated listenership was between 800,000 and 1,900,000. Another figure sometimes given is 60,000. If these high figures were close to the truth, maybe it’s why he felt comfortable lambasting the enemy. (What the heck was his listenership, anyway? It seems that nobody knows.) Recently heard is an audio with this comment, after he’d asked for a phone call responding to whether anyone was listening to him. He refers to his boss, Bob Leder, the general manager who had fired and re-hired him during the “less talk, more music” and Sweetheart Soap altercations nearly a decade before.
Mr. Leder’s on the phone, you said? I’m not talking to Mr. Leder
‘cause he never talks to me by the water cooler. I’m not interested. (January 1964?)