Editorial » Commentary

My Time in Maxland

By Bill Colrus| Jan. 9, 2011, 8 a.m. Comment

In late 2004, Max Hackett took over Jay “Jammer” Scott’s afternoon slot on WGOW. Back then, I was the editor of the Chattanooga Pulse, and a few days before Christmas, Max, who at that time was not a fan of the paper, made a comment on-air that the Pulse would best be used to line a litter box. In our typically snarky fashion, we agreed. Co-publisher Michael Kull drove down to the station and presented Max with a litter box. The gag caught him off guard and won him over. And with that, a burgeoning (yet brief) partnership was formed.

For the first few months of 2005, Aaron Mesh, John Bailes, myself and other folks from the pages of the Pulse were regular guests on Max’s show. Aaron talked about movies and local news, John talked politics, and I talked about anything and everything in between.

While it was instantly obvious that Max and I probably didn’t agree much on the issues, it was also instantly obvious that our differing opinions weren’t going to get in the way of us getting along. Max would see to that. Despite being the man who essentially launched talk radio in Chattanooga more than a decade earlier, Max was not your typical shock jock. He argued in the academic sense of the word and was just as passionate about telling — or hearing — a good story as he was about making a good point. All guests were welcome and welcomed, and callers became more than just callers. They were contributors. They were collaborators. As Max explained in an interview conducted just a couple of months before his death, his goal as a radio host was to “create a comfortable atmosphere for guests and callers to express themselves … and to have some fun.” I think I can safely speak for my fellow former-Pulse staffers when I say that we did, indeed, have fun on his show. Sadly, the fun didn’t last very long.

In the weeks before he was let go by WGOW in the spring of 2005, you could sense that being a talk radio host was no longer fun for Max Hackett. Something was missing. Often, it was Max himself. Guest hosts appeared more frequently. And even when Max was there, it sounded like he wished he was somewhere else. Eventually, Max’s brief stint would fade from memory, overshadowed by the Robert T. Nash era.

I’m not sure what happened. I never asked. After Max left the airwaves, I lost track of him. I heard rumors about this and rumors about that, but I never looked into any of them. Eventually, Max returned to the local airwaves this past October as part of WPLZ’s morning news crew. After a bit of a bumpy start, he seemed to be settling in nicely.

Our last interaction took place in November on his Facebook page. He posted about his desire to be reunited with his son, Jacob, who he claimed his estranged wife had kidnapped and taken to Hawaii. I joked that he could perhaps enlist the help of another resident of Hawaii, Dog the Bounty Hunter, in his efforts to track him down.

Thank you, Bill,” he replied. “I needed a good laugh.”

I told him that I hoped and prayed that everything worked out for the best for all of them. He told me that it was “going to be a long road” and that he had been dealing with it quietly, but was “slammed by the reality of it right now.”

On the morning of Jan. 3, Chattanooga was slammed by the reality of the news that Max had been found dead in his apartment. He died of natural causes. He was 53.

Among the many sad and sobering thoughts I had upon hearing the news was the thought that the reunion he so desperately wanted with his son was never going to take place.

When I got home from work that night, I hugged my son a little bit tighter.

You are missed, Max.

Bill Colrus served as editor of the Chattanooga Pulse from 2003 to 2007. You can reach him at billcolrus@gmail.com.

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