Rob Ford has been a lightning rod for controversy and high political drama since his rise to Toronto mayor in 2010. It’s only appropriate that Ford’s accent to the top came shortly after the arrival of Jerry Agar, talk radio’s own lightning rod for high political drama.
Agar spent a few years in Chicago, primarily as a midday host at WLS-AM 890 from Dec. 2006 to Oct. 2008. After WLS management made the foolish decision to remove Agar in favor of Erich “Mancow” Muller, he spent the better part of a year as a weekend and occasional weekday fill-in host at WGN-AM 720. Since Feb. 2010, he’s been hosting the late morning midday show on CFRB-AM/NewsTalk 1010 in Toronto.
Considering his familiarity with the political shenanigans that Illinois is known for, I asked Agar how covering Mayor Ford and the Toronto political scene compares to his time in Chicago:
Nothing compares to covering Rob Ford. That is for two reasons. One is the man himself. He is a walking headline. He is bomb ready to go off on a daily basis. I lost count of how many days there have been when I had a whole show planned and it went out the window because of the mayor and the need to talk about him — and I go on the air at 9 a.m. (ET). The other reason is that there are people [in] the media here, particularly the Toronto Star that have a visceral hatred for him. They spend all of their time it seems trying to bring him down. They claim righteous credit now, but they were after him before he got elected, so their practice of hounding his mother, hiding in the bushes at the family cottage and misreporting some stories on him is shameful.
Agar is a vocal and passionate talker who can easily rile up listeners who disagree with his conservative and libertarian views. Known for his sometimes lack of patience and tendency to raise his voice, it’s easy to assume that Agar is always angry. It didn’t take long for Agar’s brand of conservatism to get under the skin of some Torontonians.
What is fascinating is that he has actually accomplished some of the things he went to city hall to do. He reigned in spending, contracted out garbage collection to a private operator (for savings and fewer complaints about service) and pushed through a subway plan no one else could get done. He also got a contract done with the unions with no strikes, which is something his lefty predecessors could not do.
Certainly, such opinions are what his liberal listeners would take exception to on a daily basis.
For the record, I should state that having talked to a handful of people who have previously worked with Agar, he is typically known as a sincerely nice guy who is genuinely passionate about his political beliefs and that he truly believes in what he says on the air. A news anchor having worked with him in Chicago described Agar as a “real riot” while prepping for his show.
It was Agar’s high level of discussion and his ability to eloquently state an opinion that drew me to his WLS and WGN shows — even if I often found myself in disagreement with him. It’s that same level of discussion and passion that continues to draw me to his NewsTalk 1010 show in Toronto. Even though I’ve never been to Toronto, nor do I have any ties with Canada, I can tune into an Agar show, having no familiarity with the issue being discussed, and instantly get pulled. I’ve found myself tuning into Agar the following day or listening to other NewsTalk 1010 hosts to see how an issue has progressed.
NewsTalk 1010 is the news/talk station that I wish we had in Chicago — a live and local station featuring a mix of conservative and liberal hosts that discuss the relevant news of the day. While the station excels on air, their web presence surpasses just about every other radio station in the United States. While their website design is decent and the navigation is very simple to operate, it is their high level of original content that greatly compliments the on air product. The website features an abundance of daily blogs and video features from station personalities, as well as a full archive of show podcasts.
While Chicago is lucky to WGN, which has gone back to playing up to its all live and all local strengths, it has become extremely soft by adopting a less controversial tone of conversation in exchange for a more friendly and general type of talk. I am not taking away from what WGN is doing today though — the station has assembled a variety of hosts, with different styles and credentials. The fact WGN falls short in the category of serious news/talk is purely strategic.
WLS, meanwhile, continues to make a half-assed effort. Asides from the “Roe & Roeper” show, the rest of their local lineup doesn’t come anywhere close to the level that Agar and the late Don Wade (with his wife Roma) brought each day. In addition, the absurd level of commercials and the continued “Traffic and Weather, First on the Five’s” routine makes it very hard to hear enough of Roe’s afternoon show to make it worth the effort. I wish WLS’s ownership, Cumulus, would try more of an outside the box approach, similar to what NewsTalk 1010 does, as opposed to the same cookie cutter, local conservative programming mixed in with syndicated conservative programming. In the case of WLS, they are lucky to have three live and local shows, compared to smaller markets which may only have one, if that.
Agar seems to be doing well in Toronto. In addition to his radio show, he is a columnist at the Toronto Sun and appears regularly on television via Sun News. While I often wish he was still in Chicago, I’m happy for his success in Toronto.
Agar can be heard live each weekday from 8 to 11 a.m. CT via the NewsTalk 1010 website or on mobile via the TuneIn app. I typically listen to his podcasts via the station’s website. To learn more about Agar and how he dissects doing talk radio in Canada versus the United States, I recommend his 2010 interview with the “Radiogirl” Margaret Larkin.