James Dobson's goodbye -- and why Focus on the Family doesn't see him as competition

On Friday, Dr. James Dobson delivered his final broadcast for Focus on the Family. But Focus spokesman Gary Schneeberger waited until today to comment to the public at large about Dobson's long-in-the-works departure from the Colorado Springs-based organization he founded. "We considered it family time," Schneeberger says from the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville. "We wanted to focus on that, not on media opportunities."

Of course, Focus has done quite well with the latter thanks to its creation of a Super Bowl ad featuring Florida QB Tim Tebow, which wound up thrilling the likes of Rush Limbaugh even as it caught critics off-guard.

Now, however, Schneeberger's got a new message: Despite suggestions in some quarters that Dobson -- who'll be launching a new show, Family Talk with James Dobson, on May 3 -- is now competing with his old shop, nothing could be further from the truth.

"Dr. Dobson and Ryan Dobson" -- his son and Family Talk co-host -- "are here talking about their new show," Schneeberger points out. "And we had a breakfast yesterday morning for about 200 people, and Dr. Dobson came by and spoke a little bit about his great love for Focus and for Jim" -- that being Jim Daly, FOTF's current boss. "And tonight, Dr. Dobson is having a reception for his Family Talk show, and Jim is going to make an appearance there.

"Some of the media have suggested that this is a competition, and I would point out that Dr. Dobson and Jim are meeting together, showing up at each other's events -- and I think that speaks volumes about the ongoing relationship between Dr. Dobson and Focus. He's said he wants to focus on doing radio, and Focus on the Family is a lot bigger than that. And he's also indicated that as folks connect with his radio program, they may need resources and help that his new organization might not have the capacity to handle. And he doesn't want to rebuild Focus on the Family. He wants to do a radio program. So he's far from competition."

Moreover, Dobson plans to occasionally guest on Focus's radio program, which will often feature Daly, plus regulars Dr. Julie Slattery and John Fuller. Today, for instance, it's pointed out that Dobson will be back in a few weeks to talk about "bringing up girls."

Nevertheless, north of a thousand folks bid Dobson farewell on Friday during an event at what Schneeberger refers to as "the chapel-teria. It's a cafeteria area, but every month, we have chapel there. It's a big room with a stage, so we held February's chapel service in that room, on the Focus campus."

At that time, individuals from nearly every FOTF department paid tribute to Dobson and his wife, and film clips were shown over the course of the years. Schneeberger says many of them were touching -- he cites one in which controversial figure Oliver North credited a Dobson book with helping him recommit to his marriage -- while others were humorous. He offers an example of the latter:

"We had a 25th anniversary event at the Pepsi Center, and Mrs. Dobson was presented with a really nice bouquet of roses -- Dr. Dobson gave them to her. And Mrs. Dobson surprised everybody by saying, 'Jim, are these from you, or are they from Focus on the Family?' You could just see the playfulness in their marriage; they're like Burns and Allen with each other. And he said, 'What difference does it make?' She said, 'Ladies, we all know it makes a huge difference.' And he said, 'Well, they're from me.' And she said, 'That's really touching, Jim.' And then he waited for just the right comedic beat, and then said, 'Because I'm going to reimburse Focus on the Family.'"

Regarding FOTF's commitment to radio, a medium that seems to be struggling these days, Schneeberger says the outfit looks upon its continuing program as "kind of radio-plus. Here at the NRB convention, we did a live webcast featuring Jim, Julie and John, where Jim talked about his vision for Focus and took questions from the audience. So we're doing webcasts as well as radio content. You can only fit so much into a half-hour radio program, so we often pull a guest off and get more in-depth and personal for the webcast. And we're obviously podcasting and doing a lot of things that have been up and running for a while. And we'll continue with those. So there's a lot of good energy for what the future holds."

Wherever Dobson winds up on the dial.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts