In the end, Garth and Rosemary Harrington go out with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a buzz. It's the hubbub of fans and well-wishers chatting over free breakfast as the conservative radio talk show hosts do their farewell broadcast Friday morning at the Rogue Valley Country Club in Medford.
The popular talkers greet pals, make small talk and even try to raise some issues. From what he calls his "lulu file," Garth reads an op-ed piece from a March edition of the Mail Tribune. The writer, a resident of Evans Valley, recounted the purported problems of Gold Hill, which he called "Gilded Mountain," and concluded that, "People have that form of government they deserve."
Nobody jumps in on this, and Rosemary says, "Let's go to the phone."
A caller says he used to have trouble getting up at 6 a.m., but not since he started tuning into KCMX 880.
People chatter and drink coffee as Garth, wearing a white shirt and baseball cap, does a bank commercial about people doing business with people. As 7 a.m. comes and goes, lights twinkle out around the valley, and a frosty morning dawns. During commercials, people buttonhole the Harringtons, who are sitting at the end of the country club's main ballroom at a long table in front of a big Christmas wreath.
The Harringtons' swan song is a fundraiser for Medford nonprofits St. Vincent De Paul and Mobility Unlimited.
Radio Medford General Manager Joe Mussio says the Harringtons' retirement is a huge loss.
"They're local icons," he says. "They're so connected in the community."
Mussio says KCMX will replace them with Liz Irish, who has been on the show for the last six or seven weeks, and Casey Baker, Radio Medford's operations manager.
"The goal is to continue the show in the same direction," he says.
Back on the air, Garth displays an identification card he says illegal aliens in Oregon can get without proof of age, citizenship or anything else. It sounds vaguely provocative, but nobody jumps on this either, and Rosemary quickly switches to the ongoing Wall Street bailout.
Taking a break during commercials, Garth says his last day on the job isn't so different from most of the others.
"It's almost slow motion," he says.
He says the show has changed over the years since Rosemary started in radio in 1993 and moved to KCMX about a year later. It's become more listener-driven, he says. If there's one constant, it's that politicians, officials and governments never fail to provide plenty of fodder.
"It's the never-ending show," he says. "If you can't afford to go to the theater, just turn on the radio."
Back on the air, cowboy star Roy Rogers sings "Happy Trails to You" on an old recording, and Rosemary jokes, "We are so grateful we weren't fired."
Rep. Greg Walden calls to say an American flag just presented to Garth and Rosemary flew over the Capitol in their honor. Rosemary asks Walden if American automakers will in fact get a $17 billion bailout. Walden says they will, although he voted against it because the industry has "a broken business model."
Rosemary says she doesn't want long-time car dealer Alan DeBoer to suffer. DeBoer gets on the line and tells Walden auto sales are down drastically. Garth tells people to put their hands over their wallets, because that's where the bailout money will come from.
A barbershop quartet sings "Hello, Mary Lou." There are more commercials, more weather.
ABC News leads with the automakers story. There's a sound bite of President Bush saying the bailout will lead to "viable companies." Disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will fight to keep his job. Snowstorms have closed airports.
There are more commercials, more barbershop harmonies ("Wait 'til the Sun Shines, Nelly"), more people pressing flesh with the broadcasters. Lee Topham, who moved to Talent from the Bay Area three years ago, gives the couple a bottle of Crianza, a Spanish red wine from Calderona, and a copy of "Famous Pairs," a slightly naughty book by Jeannie Sprecher.
"They think like we do," says Lee's wife, Ann.
"All voices need to be heard," Lee says. "And they put some humor in it. They're iconoclasts."
Looking around the room, Garth and Rosemary acknowledge pals such as fellow conservative talker Roger Fredinburg, State Rep. Sal Esquivel, Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith, bowler Marshall Holman, Sheriff Mike Winters, restaurateur Jerry Evans, soon-to-be-judge Tim Barnack. A Garth item about a car wreck on a wintery morning segues into a pitch for an auto body shop. By 8:30 the room has filled with maybe 200 people.
"Boy, what a crowd," Rosemary says.
Smith reports on the condition of Commissioner Jack Walker, who had a liver transplant ("He sounds wonderful").
There's more weather — rain and show showers — and more commercials.
Rosemary says she used to be somewhat liberal, but, "It is amazing how conservative you become when you open your mouth and begin to talk."
"It's called the wallet syndrome," Garth deadpans.
There's talk of gun rights, property rights, punishment for criminals. Somebody plays "Take This Job and Shove It," but Rosemary demurs, saying her job has been "a pure joy."
She jokes that in retirement she'll call people early in the morning and rant. He says talk radio is "the last great hope for freedom in the world."
Then she whacks him on the head with a newspaper, he doffs his cap, she says "Bye, Mom," and dabs a tear, and after 15 years, it is over.
Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail email@example.com.