"His loyalty is immense," says former East St. Louis mayor Carl Officer, a friend of 30 years and a morning host on WQQX.

Back in the Chevy, Romanik tries to explain his roughshod approach to local politics.

"I'm politically insane. I'm a political mercenary," he says, ripping around turns. "Everybody doesn't deserve fifteen minutes of fame. They deserve fifteen minutes of recognition. That's what I want to give everybody."

Rick Sealock

He flies down the highway toward six spindly looking towers in the sky — the towers sending out KQQZ — then fiddles the radio dial to an FM station.

"That's a big country station," he says, then flips over to 1190 AM. "That's mine."

The old country songs resound through the car clear as a bell.

In the middle of a cornfield, Romanik jumps out of the car, followed by the two handymen who've been trailing in a pickup. The trio wades through waist-high weeds toward a tower in a need of a new fence as the radio bleats, "Don't give me no plastic saddle/Let me feel that leather when I ride."

Romanik phones Riverfront Times early on a July morning — Friday the 13 — about a half hour before he's due on the air. He is livid.

"I thought you were a decent reporter," he seethes. "I don't wanna play no more. Today's my last day on the air. I can't help these people. I'm not going to waste my time, my money, my effort."

He's angry that Riverfront Times contacted his friends. ("That's harassment," he declares.) But he won't explain why he's canceling the show.

"I may come out of retirement for this," he says, meaning this story. "All I'm saying is, if you're going to do it, do it right, and if I'm not happy about it, you'll hear about it....We might have a week with an exposé on the Riverfront Times, on its employees."

It's an odd threat coming from the "First Amendment Station" host, who constantly admonishes his listening audience to fact-check his claims. Then again, the broadcast on July 13 makes it clear that something has happened to Romanik — perhaps some kind of political disappointment. And because he never answers another Riverfront Times message, whatever it was remains a mystery.

On his final broadcast are no graveyard theatrics, just Romanik's voice, quiet and almost sad.

I've tried to help you people. I've tried to help you understand. I don't want to be a big shot. I just wanted to be part of the team that made a difference. But apparently nobody cares.

So let these politicians come after you. Let them do what they're going to do. They're going to screw you. They're not going to screw me, 'cause if and when they try, I'll screw back. But apparently they know you guys are easy targets.

There's a slight pause.

So just be careful. It's been a good run. I got better things to do than beat my dumb-ass, ugly face against the wall.

This is Bob Ro-manik. Signing off. The best of luck to you and yours.

Instead of the crashing thunder, there's a low rumble, like a storm departing on the heels of a cold wind.

But then, it's true what they say: There's no getting around death. Last week the "Grim Reaper of Radio" once again returned to the airwaves with little explanation of his self-imposed exile.

Romanik's show has undergone a few programming tweaks — he's playing Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up," before commercial breaks and makes a solemn promise to no longer call Senator Clayborne a "boy." "Plantation Negro," however, will stay.

Here, when he'd normally sign off, Romanik races on, the thunder rumbling in the background.

I'm fired up! I hope you're fired up. And we're gonna continue to expose this corruption to this — to the — to expose this no-good, no-account, rotten political shenanigans, that we're not going to take anymore! We're going to expose them, hopefully drag them and politically bury them...on the dark side.

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