Legendary New Orleans TV and radio host steps away from the microphone

NEW ORLEANS — He still calls himself “a boy from the swamps with little education,” but he became one of the most recognizable television and radio hosts in the history of New Orleans broadcasting.

Garland Robinette has announced his retirement.

Robinette has been the host of  WWL Radio’s midday talk show, “The Think Tank,” for the past twelve years.  But many locals remember him from his days as the main anchorman at WWL TV.

Robinette was the newsman with the movie-star good looks, who started at the TV station in 1970.  He was later joined on the set by his equally famous and lovely co-anchor, Angela Hill.  Viewers watched a romance develop between the two stars, who later got married – and divorced, all while continuing to lead WWL’s evening newscast, taking  the station to number one in the ratings.  Watching “Garland and Angela” was “must-see TV.”

Robinette left the TV station in  1990,  but returned to the airwaves on WWL Radio in 2005, just two months before Hurricane Katrina.  His radio broadcasts in the crippled city became a lifeline for displaced locals– and a way for public officials to vent their frustration about the slow pace of the city’s recovery.  One of Robinette’s most memorable interviews was with former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who infamously complained on-air about lack of help from the federal government.

“Get off your asses and do something,” fumed Nagin, “let’s fix the biggest goddam crisis in the history of this country.”  With Nagin, and many others over the years, Robinette’s steady and impartial prodding got his interviewees to open up in ways they might not have intended.

Now, Robinette says he’s stepping away from broadcasting– for good.  He’s “putting down the microphone,” he says, “and picking up the paint brushes.” Robinette has been an artist from a young age, working first in pencil and later in paint.  His first commissioned work would have seemed daunting for any artist: a portrait of Pope John Paul II for the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, in honor of the Pope’s visit to the city in 1987.

Robinette has been doing commissions for public events and private individuals ever since.  He painted the official poster- a collector’s item- for the 2011 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  (You can see more of his work at robinettestudios.com.)

In announcing his retirement from the radio station, Robinette calls painting his first “passion,”  but he will be sorely missed by his former colleagues in broadcasting.

“It’s a tough decision for Garland; a sad one for us” said Chris Claus, the radio station’s General Manager.  Program Director, Diane Newman, said she “will always be grateful for Garland’s intellect, integrity and true love of the game.  He gave it all every day.”

Robinette still marvels at the career he began as a Vietnam veteran, with no formal training in broadcasting.

“Never did I think a boy from the swamps with little education could travel the world, meet presidents, kings, movie stars and see places I had only read and dreamed about,” Robinette writes.

“If we do come back to this world for multiple lifetimes, I think I’m in trouble because I’ve used up all my luck in this one.”