TORONTO, ONTARIO - Other talk show hosts from Larry King (leaving his daily CNN show on 16-December) to Dr. Laura Schlessinger (leaving her daily syndicated show for satellite radio at the end of December) have received more publicity for their retirements this year, but the most significant announcement may have come yesterday. Dr. Dean Edell, the long-time medical advice talk show host, has stated that he will be retiring at about the end of the year.
While I first encountered Dr. Dean Edell when he appeared on KVI in Seattle as a weekend tape-delayed show along with Rush Limbaugh, he didn't really become significant to me until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. There, he has aired live at 1 pm (or noon, for some years) on his flagship station that gave him one of his first big breaks in broadcasting, KGO Newstalk 810 in San Francisco. Edell's show has been a fixture on KGO since 1978. Whenever I didn't have class or work as an undergraduate, Dr. Edell would be my after-lunch education and entertainment, and always seemed worthwhile. Generally, my class schedule allowed me to hear at least one day of the broadcast a week.
Yet, Edell's significance is not so much as an early doctor on the radio or even as a long-term host on one of the premier talk radio stations in the world, but as a pioneer in syndication. In the late 1970's, local content was considered essential in radio, and there was great resistance to airing the same program in multiple markets. While network programming (including at the time Larry King) did air in multiple markets, that was a different, centralized model intended to air on all stations in a network. Syndication was about providing a program that individual stations could independently choose to air or not. Edell's medical show and his handling of callers was so unique and compelling that it broke through. It was syndication that brought him to WGY in Schenectady, New York--the station on which I used to hear Dr. Edell on Sunday afternoons when I lived in Boston. It was in fact the syndicated network founded by Edell that started to distribute Rush Limbaugh and created the conservative talk radio revolution in the 1990's.
After making his announcement on Wednesday's program, Edell discussed some of his broadcasting and syndication history. However, his impact on people's lives soon came front and center. Former producer Daphne Brogdon (who was Edell's producer during my undergraduate years and until 1999; successor Heather Hamann is largely credited with Edell's high ratings in recent years) called in and emphasized this point. Edell's scientific method-based and often leading-edge opinions on topics like homosexuality, circumcision, vaccination, and over-prescription of medication have pushed his audience and attracted the most educated listeners amongst syndicated hosts in the United States.
The relation between KGO's recent scheduling changes which were moving Edell's show to tape delay and Edell's retirement is not clear--the host mainly cited a desire to be a more active grandparent. While Edell announced plans to find a successor host during the Wednesday show, those listeners all across the United States will still inevitably find a big hole even if a syndicated medical advice show in the current time slot continues. No longer we will be greeted with "Hello Friends" and told to "Be Well" each weekday.
With the retirement of Dr. Dean Edell, the radio world is losing not just an old, comforting friend. It's losing one of the most significant figures of his generation.