Can you imagine nowadays? The governor hosting a live weekly call-in radio show? Taking all calls? Not screening any? Hearing out all callers and responding?  No professional host. Answering the phone himself or herself. Just the governor. The Wild West of radio.

Think of a cross between Paul Finebaum and Gov. Kay Ivey.

It probably couldn't be done now — for a variety of reasons.

But in 1995, it was done. Gov. Fob James hosted his own weekly radio show on about 30 radio stations — from Huntsville to Mobile. From the Shoals to the Wiregrass.

“Fob James Live” had started with candidate Fob James in 1994.  A former governor running to win back his old office.  Trailing badly to incumbent Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr. (D-Cullman), who had risen from lieutenant governor upon the conviction of Gov. Guy Hunt by a Montgomery County jury.

James needed a difference-making way to catch up quickly and overtake Folsom. His political guru DeLoss Walker of Memphis came up with one. An every-Monday-night radio show. He lined up about 30 local stations, some one-horse stations but others with quite large audiences. Plus, Walker figured news reporters would listen in and generate free news stories from the dialogue.  They did, but it was the only thing free about the show. It was all a paid political ad, paid for by the James for Governor campaign.

I’m going to stop calling him “James” and call him “Fob.” Just Fob. That’s what almost everybody called him except for Yankee reporters who just couldn’t understand and called him “Bob.”

Fob had a few ground rules for the show—very few. He said to get the caller’s name and where they are from. And nothing else. There was no hint of what they wanted to talk about. There was no screening of personal agendas, anti-Fobs, inarticulate callers, nuts, or repeat callers.

Can you imagine?

Understand that Fob served as the host of the show. We are used to politicians going on to talk shows as the guest, with a professional host running the show. The host asks the questions and basically controls the show.  The politician/guest gives the answers. This was different. Fob hosted the show, and the callers were the guests.

Were there some rough moments with connecting and hearing the callers? Yes. Did it all run smoothly? Heck, no.  That was part of the attraction. The show was real. 

“Fob James Live” was a 1990s Alabama radio version of a New England town hall. A Roosevelt fireside chat. A Huey Long radiothon. A Winston Churchill BBC radio broadcast.

Candidate Fob did come from way behind and win the November 1994 general election in a huge upset. Few saw it coming.  Polls showed incumbent Folsom ahead of Fob by about 10%. Election day results were far different. 

How much did the radio show have to do with the turnaround and Fob’s victory? No one knows. Fob rode the wave of the national Republican sweep. There was a strong voter reaction against the first two years of the Bill Clinton administration, particularly here in Alabama. There was a strong reaction against the Clinton healthcare plan that ultimately failed. 

There was House Speaker Newt Gingrich nationalizing the election with his ‘Contract with America.’

Some Alabama news media had painted a picture of some aides in the Folsom administration using their offices for personal gain.

Some Folsom supporters were over-confident and did not take Fob seriously.

You add all those factors, and maybe the Fob radio show didn’t make that much of a difference. But, and it is a big but, the election results were close. Very close. Fob wound up ahead by less than 11,000 votes. 

So, former governor and present radio talk host Fob James became governor again in January 1995.  What to do about the radio show and the statewide network of stations?

Why, keep on. So long as Fob’s campaign fund paid the costs of the show (and it did) let the show go on.

On Monday nights, anybody in Alabama could tune in and listen or call in and talk. Talk to the governor of Alabama. Ask whatever was on your mind. 

If you think about it, that access is unusual.  Nowadays, we think of governors as being largely inaccessible. Behind closed doors. Accompanied by a security guard and an entourage. Wisked in and out quickly for a public appearance. A scripted speech. Briefed by aides.

The Fob radio show raised some issues and produced some interesting moments.  It told a lot about Fob and a lot about the people of Alabama.

The removed cross in Baldwin County

It was caller number 10.  He was upset because a large cross that stood on state right of way along a highway in Gulf Shores had been taken down, he said under a federal court order.  The caller wanted to know how to get permission to put it back up. Now, Fob had a lawyer right there in the radio studio to advise on pesky issues like church-state questions, but he didn't ask his lawyer. He just leaned into the mic and issued marching orders: "Get your cross, just like the one that was there, go on back there, and put it back up. I'll tell 'em you're on your way."

That was Fob. Be bold. Take initiative. Don’t ask anybody about it. Just do it.

Attempt to remove Ten Commandments from Judge Roy Moore’s courtroom

Circuit Court Judge Roy Moore in Gadsden has whittled and carved a wooden Ten Commandments. He put it in his courtroom at the Etowah County Courthouse. He also opened each session of court with prayer.

Naturally, these actions came to the attention of the ACLU. They sued. Court orders were issued.

You would imagine that this controversy was brought up by callers on the governor’s radio show. It was.

Here is Gov. Fob’s reply to a caller:

“I am sworn to uphold the United States Constitution and I will.... Judge Price's order stripping Judge Moore's courtroom of the Ten Commandments clearly prohibits the exercise of religion. I would use all legal means at my disposal, which includes the National Guard and the state troopers, to prevent the removal of the Ten Commandments from Judge Moore's courtroom."

The disgraceful abandoned cemetery

A repeat caller would ask Governor Fob about the same problem each week. There was a shameful run-down cemetery in Montgomery. The caller wanted the governor to have it cleaned up. After several weeks of calls, Fob had heard enough. He told his aides to get the cemetery cleaned up. They quickly found a seldom-used provision in the law (maybe never used?) that allowed the state government to do so. Gov. Fob contacted prison system officials and told them to use convict laborers and clean up that cemetery. They did. Problem solved.

Ironically, the cemetery was next to a TV station. Their news department noticed the cemetery clean-up and inquired. They produced a news story about the state cleanup, and the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper then picked up on it. Soon, it was state news, and many neglected cemeteries across the state were calling Gov. Fob’s office wanting their own cemetery cleaned up by the state.

The law of unintended consequences.

There was a downside to the radio show—the cost paid by Fob’s campaign fund. He drained the fund dry. When it came time for him to run for re-election in 1998, he had no funds left and had to raise them from zero. His opponent, Lt. Governor Don Siegelman (D), was a good fundraiser and retail campaigner. Fob lost the 1998 race. He left the governor’s office in January 1999. He has not run for office since.

The name of the radio show was “Fob James Live.” While the show has been dead for 25 years, Fob himself is still alive at age 89.

“Behind this judicial wall of separation there is a tyranny of lies that will fall... I say to you, my friends, let it fall!”  — Gov. Fob James

Jim ‘Zig’ Zeigler writes about Alabama’s people, places, events, groups and prominent deaths.  He is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at

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