Remembering “The Honz”

I was saddened to learn about the death of Fred Honsberger, a Pittsburgh institution who pioneered conservative talk-radio at KDKA-AM, and who was the local forerunner to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the other horses in the conservative stable who today dominate the airwaves. He died this week at age 58.

The first radio talk-show that I did was Fred’s show. That was almost 20 years ago. I was extremely nervous, especially given Fred’s brash no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners persona. My timidity showed on the air, but Fred was gentle with me. I appreciated that.

Since then, I’ve done talk-radio thousands of times, and don’t get nervous anymore. Fred gave me my first shot. I would go on to do his show dozens of times thereafter, on both radio and television (the Pittsburgh-based PCNC).

Most enjoyable was sitting back and watching Fred eviscerate a rude caller, shouting at some faceless voice hovering in the air around us. I say “shouting,” but, in truth, Fred could shout in a way that normally was fun, friendly, immensely entertaining, and rarely with rage, though most certainly with righteous, channeled indignation. He argued very well, always with logic and facts at his side.

The last time I saw Fred was when I sat next to him to do his TV show. I hadn’t seen him in months. He looked great. He had lost a tremendous amount of weight. I asked how his radio show was going, knowing he was competing against a top-five name at the mighty new FM-talker in Pittsburgh, 104.7. I didn’t tell him the whole story: That I didn’t know how his show was doing because I had quit listening to it, because it had been ruined by constant news breaks, weather and traffic reports, and commercials, leaving precious little time for Fred. It really wasn’t Fred’s show anymore. “Ahhh,” he groaned. “It’s crazy. They fill it up with junk! Then they wonder why I’m losing listeners!”

I nodded. As usual, Fred was right.

May Fred Honsberger rest in peace, alas at home in a place with no shouting, no arguing, and no junk.