By: Spike Nesmith, Executive Producer, Coffee Anyone | Chief Editor, Your Buckhannon
Posted: March 29, 2020 | 12:12AM EST
It seems unfeasible that it was as long ago as seventeen years that Fred Rogers died. The news came in the early afternoon, right before Paul Higginbotham and I went on air for our PM drive talk radio show. Why that information is essential will become clear in a moment.....
I didn’t grow up watching Mr Rogers, it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s and had moved to the US that I saw his PBS show. With Rogers Mania in full effect thanks to the recent film, it would be easy to suggest that my experience with the Neighborhood was that of clips and snippets over the last six months, but no - it became a daily ritual to watch via a crappy signal through cheap rabbit ears. That was my Must See TV. I couldn’t miss the Neighborhood, it was a sweet, uncynical, calming half hour in the morning where nobody was shouting like on Judge Judy, nobody was talking rubbish about inconsequential nothings like on the Today show, it was a half hour in safe hands with someone who would become a good friend. See, I like kids’ TV. I think it’s about the most honest form of entertainment that you can make, so what Fred Rogers was doing appealed to me right from the start. The psychology of it all was fascinating.
As with any good friend, news of his death left me somewhat numb. I couldn’t believe it - I didn’t want to believe it. But, there was work to be done, even if it meant acknowledging the news to our savvy, pop culture-aware audience. An audience who undoubtedly spent their childhoods with their cardigan-wearing TV neighbor.
I think it was Paul who had the master stroke of suggesting we use Fred Rogers’ music as our bumpers that day, acknowledging at each break that Mr Rogers had passed and talking about how important he was to our lives. I remember him pointing out that it would have been too easy and too cheap to use clips out of context or clips that had been edited in a way that took the innocence out of them. And that, most importantly, Fred Rogers deserved better. “It’s You I Like”, “Tree Tree Tree”, “Many Ways To Say I Love You”, we played them for the whole show, taking time to let the songs play for a good amount of time, ending the broadcast with the signature “It’s Such A Good Feeling”.
Fred Rogers was a generous man - generous with his time, generous with his wisdom, and generous with his love. I’ll leave you with a quote from his speech, accepting a lifetime achievement award at the daytime Emmys. A speech so remarkable and selfless that it seems entirely out of place in such an atmosphere. But that was Mr Rogers, wasn’t it? They give him a lifetime achievement award, and he makes a speech about literally everyone but himself.
“Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.”
“Whomever you've been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they have made. You know, they're kind of people television does well to offer our world.”