In this week’s issue… 97 Rock morning team suspended – Rick Azar remembered – WBEN’s post-Rush plans – Sinclair goes local(ish) at WUTV – NJ PBS funding may resume – CRTC considers Toronto renewal
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s rare indeed for so much of one week’s NERW column to be all about just one of the many markets we cover, and even more so when that market isn’t one of the three huge markets in NERW-land.
But for whatever reason, this past week wasn’t so much about New York City or Philadelphia or Boston as it was about our neighbors just to the west in Buffalo. In the space of just five days, the Queen City launched a new DTV broadcast standard, said goodbye to one of its iconic TV personalities, added a new TV newsroom, learned what’s next up on the schedule at its top talk station – and, oh yeah, Buffalo also made national news when one of its morning shows just plain stepped in it.
That was Cumulus’ WGRF (97 Rock), and it was Wednesday morning when “Morning Bull” cast member Rob Lederman launched into a conversational bit where he compared the skin tones of several famous Black women to toast shades, commented on whether he’d date them depending on the shade of their skin, and – let’s just say that Lederman noted on the air that “I may get in trouble for this” before making the remarks, and he did.
It wasn’t immediate – the bit even made it into the show’s daily podcast before it got noticed by an ESPN reporter, Marcel Louis-Jacques, and it was his tweet that sparked an outcry later Wednesday. A prominent sponsor, the Roswell Park Cancer Center, responded by pulling its ad dollars from the station, and by Wednesday night Lederman lost his job and the rest of the “Morning Bull” team, host Rich “The Bull” Gaenzler and Chris Klein, were suspended. Gaenzler also lost his side gigs as the arena host for Sabres hockey and Bandits lacrosse and as announcer for University at Buffalo football.
While it didn’t say much about the incident on the air – the morning show was just music and liners the day after the show was suspended – Cumulus quickly put out a statement saying the segment was in violation of the company’s programming principles. Lederman, who started at 97 Rock back in 1991 alongside former morning host Larry Norton, talked to the Buffalo News‘ Alan Pergament, saying he was ignorant but had no malicious intent.
“It’s just not who I am,” he told the newspaper. “So when I heard that, and heard how it sounded, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that sounds terrible.’ Now, can I take back those words? No. If you listen to them, were they meant to be hurtful? Absolutely not.”
What next? That’s still unclear. While Lederman told the News he “wants to learn,” his words drew wide condemnation, including criticism from local political leaders and the head of the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists. Away from his now-former radio job, Lederman is a prominent comic who’s toured nationally and who owns a local comedy club. We don’t know what will become of that business, or how quickly Cumulus might try to put Gaenzler and Klein back on the air on what had been one of Buffalo radio’s most popular morning shows.
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