In this week’s issue… 97Rock axes morning show – 20 years on, a return to normalcy in NYC – Remembering WINS’ Smith, WMTR’s Mitchell, WRGB’s Tetrault – Sale in Maine
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*A few short weeks ago, the Cumulus cluster in Buffalo seemed to be in solid shape: its three big FMs each staked out fairly dominant spots along the format spectrum, with classic hits on WHTT (104.1), classic rock on WGRF (96.9) and newer rock on WEDG (103.3), plus a new classic hip-hop offering on an AM/translator combo, WBBF (1120/98.9) and a CBS Sports Radio clearance on a second-tier AM, WHLD (1270).
Then, of course, came the racism-tinged morning show conversation March 24 that drew unwanted attention from advertisers and led to the immediate termination of “97 Rock” morning show veteran Rob Lederman and the suspension of his morning colleagues, Rich “Bull” Gaenzler and Chris Klein.
You’ve read – and we’ve written – enough of these stories over the years to know how they usually go: a few weeks go by, the rest of the show apologizes, advertisers come back and the show goes on. But not this time: on Wednesday, Cumulus announced that “upon further consideration following the racist incident that occurred on The Morning Bull Show, we decided to terminate the whole morning show in addition to the Program Director.”
That would be John Hager, a Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee whose 97 Rock tenure began back in 1983; he’d been programming the station since 1988, when it flipped back to the rock format after a few misguided years as an AC format.
His involuntary exit, along with the ouster of Gaenzler and Klein after each had spent nearly a quarter-century with the cluster, raises lots of questions that, as yet, have few answers: to what extent did Cumulus determine that the offending segment comparing celebrity skin tones to shades of toast had been pre-planned, and why didn’t saner heads prevail in pulling it before it hit the air? In the wake of budget and job cuts elsewhere in the company, was the incident an opportunity for Cumulus to get some unexpected cost savings in Buffalo?
And, of course, what now for the venerable 97 Rock? No new PD or morning show has been named yet, and there don’t appear to be that many voices left on the station now, though it’s hard to tell since the website has been scrubbed of staff bios. We know that other air talents on WGRF were working double duty – afternoon jock Carl Russo is also a station engineer, while middayer DJ Jickster also runs promotions.
33 years after the 97 Rock format was resurrected, could more changes be ahead; for instance, a move of the other big personality morning show, WEDG’s Shredd and Ragan, down the dial from the Edge to 97 Rock? And what of the ousted talent – in an era of corporate caution over controversial personalities and a reluctance to spend on big salaries, is there anywhere else in town that would take a risk on Gaenzler and Klein to get attention? (The most obvious spot, Townsquare’s relatively new rock format on WBUF, is a non-starter; the company is heavily committed to the syndicated “Free Beer and Hot Wings” show it runs there, and there’s nothing that fits their format at Audacy, the other big cluster in town.)
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