Cover Stories

Jim Reith in Retirement: No TV Before 4 PM

He once dominated the radio talk show landscape in Syracuse, with four hours on the air each weekday. Today he is content gardening, watching the Yankees, reselling things on eBay and mulling over writing a book

By Margaret McCormick

Jim Reith at his home garden in the Bayberry section of Liverpool where he lives. Among other things, he plants three varieties of tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, banana peppers and zucchini.

When Jim Reith left his work life behind to join the ranks of the retired, a longtime friend gave him some advice. Stay hydrated all day, his friend said, and don’t turn on the TV before 4 p.m.

“It’s great advice and I stick to that,’’ Reith says. “I could easily turn on Turner Classic Movies and watch all day.’’

Reith has established a retirement routine, a very laid back one. The former public information officer and talk show host, well known for his time as host of the “Jim Reith Show’’ on NewsRadio 570 (WSYR), sets a goal or two for each day: Weed the vegetable garden. Run errands. Take a spin through Thrifty Shopper or Goodwill in search of merchandise for his clothing resale business on eBay. The thrill of the hunt for higher-end men’s clothes and footwear (and some women’s fashions) keeps him going. (Find his shop here:

Take time to relax? Absolutely.

“I kind of like being retired,’’ says Reith, 65, who left his position as a public information officer for the Onondaga County Department of Water Environment Protection earlier this year. “Actually, I love being retired. I like not having to be somewhere at a certain time and having the ability to do whatever I want to do.’’

That includes meeting old friends for lunch, organizing, photographing, and listing on eBay the thrift store finds he has stockpiled in his basement, exploring the possibility of writing a book based on his early years in Central New York, and watching the Yankees.

How did his garden grow? He planted three varieties of tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, banana peppers and zucchini, among other things, and loved seeing his efforts come to fruition throughout the growing season. He’s already planning a larger garden for 2024, with an expanded area dedicated to growing sugar baby watermelons.

Reith lives in the Bayberry section of Liverpool with his partner, Shalene Albanese. He has two adult children from a marriage that ended in divorce. His daughter graduated from college this year and his son lives in Chicago.

The former talk show host grew up in Baldwinsville, just outside the village in the peaceful neighborhood known as the Comstock Tract. A development with hundreds of homes, townhouses and apartments has been proposed for the area. He graduated from C.W. Baker High School in 1976 and spent a few years in the Navy. He later attended Onondaga Community College, where he earned an associate degree in TV and radio.

Reith began his career in radio as Jay Edwards on Magic 104.7 FM in Fulton and has fond memories of his days working in live local radio. He joined WSYR Radio as a reporter anchor covering local government, including the administration, corruption trial, sentencing and imprisonment of the late Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander. He worked at the station for 27 years and briefly served as news director before beginning his 12-year run as afternoon-evening talk show host.

Jim Reith in the basement of his home, surrounded by clothing he buys at Thrifty Shopper or Goodwill and re-sells on eBay.

In this era of streaming, satellite radio and podcasts it’s hard to imagine: What did he talk about every weekday? It’s more like what didn’t he talk about? Syracuse University basketball, Syracuse University football, Jim Boeheim, local politics, the governor, the weather, pizza, music, movies, his snack of the day — you name it. For four hours each weekday, 3 to 7 p.m.

“A lot of it was local issues, but if I found something interesting on a national level, I would have my producer get a hold of that person,’’ Reith recalls. “I spoke with the last living person to work with Thomas Edison. I interviewed over 100 celebrities.’’

It wasn’t unusual for Reith to speak with, say, former County Executive Nicholas Pirro on the pressing issues of the day during one segment and chat with an actor like Janet Leigh or an entertainer like Robert Goulet during another. In fact, Reith interviewed Goulet after an appearance in Central New York and later learned the singer died due to a heart attack on a flight from Syracuse to Las Vegas.

Some listeners loved him, some listeners loathed him. Sometimes he hung the phone up on them.

“His show was all about what’s going on in Central New York, the good, the bad, the ugly,” A. Randall (Randy) Wenner, an instructor of broadcast journalism at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, told The Post-Standard at the time of Reith’s removal from the WSYR lineup in 2011. “It was, ‘Let’s bring in all sides and debate the issues and decide for ourselves what’s best for Central New York.’”

Dave Bullard, who served as news director at WSYR during Reith’s tenure, says the cancellation of his friend’s open-format talk show left a void in the community, “a great, big smoking hole,’’ that exists to this day. (Bullard recently retired from the New York State Fair and now serves as a public relations and marketing consultant.)

“When I think of Jim’s show, I think of two things,’’ Bullard says. “I think of his extreme focus on local issues and local events. If it was happening around town, he was talking about it and to a sizable audience every night. Then I think of the fun he brought to that show: the snack of the day, the song of the day, pulling his producers into the show, his goofy suggestions for getting people to call in… There’s still a need for that outlet for people and for information sharing.’’

Reith says he couldn’t do the show today. “People are so angry, and politics is so divisive,’’ he explains. “And I can’t stand Donald Trump.’’

What would he talk about if he was still on the air? Hyper-local issues like the debate surrounding the removal of the Columbus monument in downtown Syracuse, the tear down of Interstate 81 and its community grid replacement, the retirement of Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim, the arrival of Micron and what it means for the region, the Onondaga Lake Parkway bridge, and the county’s plan to build an aquarium in Syracuse’s Inner Harbor area.

He has given passing thought to podcasting and sometimes raises hot-button topics that get people talking on Facebook and Twitter. But he’s more likely to tell followers about an excellent Indian restaurant he visited or seek input on where to get a great burger within 50 miles of Syracuse.

When Reith left the public ear, he was hired by then County Executive Joanie Mahoney to promote the Save the Rain program, a project of the Department of Water Environment Protection. He later worked as a public information officer for the Department of Social Services, handling internal and external communications.

“It was fascinating to see the inside of that department and how that works,’’ Reith says. “Those people are so overworked and understaffed. Most people do their job during the day and go home. At social services, you never finish.’’

In 2015, he was diagnosed with throat cancer — an ironic development for a former radio host whose career depended on his voice. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation and is now cancer free. He says the experience left him with an attitude of gratitude for each day and a desire to live life “in the moment.’’

Reith says it’s true what people say about retirement: You no longer need to set an alarm clock. And every day feels like Saturday. “But it’s also important to do something every day,’’ he adds.