In this week’s issue… Rochester hosts fired (again) – Station owner recovering from shooting – Fewer live voices in Syracuse – New FM in Philly – Montreal AM silenced
By SCOTT FYBUSH
Oh, yeah – May 26, 2014, when we reported on the dismissal of a controversial pair of talk hosts here in Rochester: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a remarkable thing. It protects my rights – and yours, on this Memorial Day – to stand on our front lawns, or in the town square, or here on the Internet, and proclaim our opinions as loudly as we’d like about just about anything. But what it doesn’t do – and has never done – is to guarantee us the right to use a soapbox we don’t own to express an opinion without backlash and consequences. Over the years, we’ve chronicled the misfortunes of plenty of broadcasters who’ve forgotten that distinction, and last week it hit home again right here in this column’s hometown of Rochester, NEW YORK, where Kimberly Ray and Barry Beck are now the former morning hosts at Entercom’s WBZA (98.9 the Buzz).
Four months later, “Kimberly and Beck” were back on the Rochester airwaves as the new afternoon hosts across town at what was then Clear Channel. And six years later, the duo are once again former hosts, quickly dropped from what’s now iHeart’s WAIO (95.1 Honeoye Falls) after once again moving from their usual spot just barely on the safe side of the line between “edgy” and “about to prompt massive listener and advertiser backlash.”
The specifics almost aren’t worth the recounting – after years of using their platform to incite division, Ray and Beck stepped over the line Tuesday with a discussion of one of the more troubling videos from the protests that had gripped the city the previous weekend. The actual “n-word” never made it on the air, not that it ended up mattering. The clip of their comments rocketed around social media within just a few hours, and by late Tuesday night iHeart regional management had already made the decision to fire the hosts.
While some of the trades described WAIO as a “classic rock” station, that’s not accurate; as NERW readers know, iHeart had built “Radio 95.1” in recent years into perhaps the last of the new hot talk FMs. The station was built around Rochester veteran Brother Wease, who was never quiet about his displeasure sharing the frequency with Kimberly and Beck in the afternoon. But it was Wease’s news anchor, Deanna King, who was loudest about her loathing of the Tuesday comments, tweeting late that night that she’d refuse to go on the air the next morning unless the duo were fired.
The Wease show ended up running a best-of Wednesday, while midday hosts John DiTullio and Bill Moran avoided discussing the issue. The DiTullio/Moran show has been temporarily extended all the way from 11 AM to 6 PM, running a mix of new segments and best-ofs. (When the Wease show returned to the air Thursday, there was still no discussion of Kimberly and Beck, apparently at corporate’s directive.)
It’s unlikely at best that there will be a third act in Rochester for Ray and Beck; if their first firing back in 2014 somehow didn’t make them too toxic for other stations to touch, this one certainly should be, especially in the (one hopes) more enlightened environment of 2020. And what happens to WAIO’s unique format now? There’s community pressure on iHeart to find more diverse hosts to fill the vacancy – but at a time when the company has continued to cut back on local content, it’s also entirely possible the talk may give way to more generic music as the dust settles.
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
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