Tom Bauerle was responsible for the vilest single thing I’ve ever heard on Buffalo radio. And no, I don’t mean that moment of national disgrace for Buffalo broadcasting when Bauerle, in the throes of conspiratorial bravado, asked Hillary Clinton if there was anything more we ought to know about the suicide of Clinton family friend Vince Foster.
But then my judgment of such things ought to come with an asterisk. I’ve never been a fan of talk radio. Even when I first started listening to radio of my own volition – when then-WBNY first brought “Top 40” radio to Buffalo – all I wanted “Daffy” Dan Neaverth (as he was then called) and his WBNY cronies to do was just announce the records and get off the air. All of their stunts and antics sounded entertaining when I was told about them by the precious few people I knew who paid attention to them but never enough to search them out myself.
So when I tell you that Bauerle provided the ugliest moment I’ve ever heard on Buffalo radio, a footnote needs to tell you “this judgment is being made by an experienced but neglectful and extremely talk-averse radio listener.”
What I still loathe so much involved Jim Pitts (who was a member of the Buffalo Common Council at the time; it happened that long ago). Pitts was one of the most well-spoken men ever to hold public office in this city – especially in an era where thugs of all sorts could be located on every floor of City Hall.
In the middle of some Bauerle ideological blubber, he did a mock impression of Pitts talking. It came out as a vicious parody of an ungrammatical black American voice that didn’t even rise up to the primitive standards of Amos and Andy.
He had gone too far. Not just one step too far but three or four. It was racism pure and simple. He’d crossed the line that separates “bad boy” from “jackass.” And, worst of all, it didn’t have the sound of someone’s own genuine race hatred but rather the coarseness and crassness of someone hoping to inflame the racial hatred of others. It was vile racist demagoguery. I had, quite literally, never imagined that I would ever hear anything nearly that disgusting out of a Buffalo radio speaker.
Because I knew the family that paid his salary at the time, I hoped he’d be fired forthwith and dispatched forever to whatever Tower of Babble is reserved for perpetrators of broadcast degeneracy. But I also knew one should never underestimate the cynicism of American radio’s ownership classes, who are so often ready to wink at demagoguery, if Arbitron says they should.
So no such luck. He not only stayed on the AM dial but moved elsewhere, kept on saying revolting things and, after WBEN-AM’s change of ownership to giant Entercom, became a morning talk mainstay at the station that, when run by Buffalo News editor Alfred H. Kirchofer, had, in the morning, the most popular radio personality of his era, Clint Buehlman, “your A.M. M.C.”
I have had, then, decades to come to terms with Bauerle – to consider his talents calmly and at length. My email box regularly receives expressions of horror and outrage from this or that listener about this or that bit of listener-bullying or tendentious drool or dribble coming out of his mouth (most recently his crusade against gun laws).
He is, I’ve long-since concluded, a very gifted broadcaster in his hair-raisingly unprincipled way. His voice is huge; his ability to grip listeners, even with the most patent nonsense, weirdness or hysteria, is large; and his ability to talk articulately is exceptional – except in those moments when he’s pretending to be in sclerotic, screaming political transport or when no calls are coming in and he’s forced to tap dance with inanities about the studio or the underlings who are paid to pay attention to him.
He is, for all his articulation and glibness, the very opposite of a class act in every conceivable way. But he was always smart enough to know that radio is the place where an audience for that very thing – a “bad boy” – will always congregate. And an audience he’s always had on WBEN from 9 a.m. to noon.
Beginning Monday, he’ll have to bring those listeners with him from 3 to 7 p.m. – Arbitron’s traditional afternoon drive time. He and Sandy Beach are switching time slots (with Bauerle getting one more hour to fill than Beach had to). Beach – who had been on from 3 to 6 p.m., right after Rush Limbaugh – will now take over Bauerle’s 9 a.m. to noon slot. Beach’s movie show with Bob Stilson will now be heard at 11 a.m. Fridays.
WBEN has always split up traditional “morning drive” hours between news from John Zach and Susan Rose and the first hour of Bauerle.
Last Monday, both Bauerle and Beach talked about the change – Bauerle emphasizing how little it was his idea no matter how much he now welcomes it. He said he initially felt some resentment, in fact, at being moved after building a decent audience and a major presence in a time slot where neither was expected.
I spent a good part of last week emailing people and talking to them about the switch.
The only Bauerle partisan I could find is one who shares the conservative views Bauerle and Beach are known for. It’s important to say my personal dealings with Bauerle have always been congenial. He’s asked me to be on his show (I’ve respectfully declined) and sent gracious emails to me from time to time. I still only listen when I want to see where conservatives are coming down on some issues.
I found, in general, more than a little antipathy to Bauerle from others – especially among Buffalo radio vets and old-timers.
Beach, on the other hand, inspires affection even among those who deplore his stated politics (whose authenticity some have questioned: do they truly belong to him personally or rather to the role he filled as the WBEN talker following Rush Limbaugh?).
My own, oft-stated, feeling about Beach is that he may be the single most talented broadcaster ever heard on Buffalo radio. Certainly, he is the fastest radio wit. For proof, I submit you needn’t look any further than those moments he reunited in a radio studio with Joey Reynolds, Dan Neaverth and Stan Roberts. Beach was wittier, faster and more interesting than all the rest combined.
I find his politics repellent but, despite their frequent aura of unreality (i.e. the politics of professional role rather than of genuine belief), Beach, unlike Bauerle, never goes a step too far. He is a sophisticated, much-traveled broadcasting veteran and always seems cognizant of exactly how far the envelope can be pushed.
And that may be the crux of a problem resulting in the move.
Beach is old – not middle-aged but old as the AARP might define it (i.e. post-70). He has little role in social media, although he accepts Facebook queries on the air. Bauerle, on the other hand, is happy to tell Facebook when his studio underlings chastise him for treating them badly and encourage him to treat them better.
It doesn’t take a genius to see how a longtime consummate pro like Beach might relish mornings: the breaking morning news to bounce off, the traditional speed of morning radio giving him opportunities to be funny and brighten listener days with his high, loopy laugh. He can be a master of “light and bright,” even now, for those just settling into the day.
Nor does it take a genius to understand how Bauerle’s blunderbuss of pomp and oafish raunch is a weapon better deployed in the late afternoon after the most famous blunderbuss and pompous oaf of them all, Limbaugh.
That Bauerle seems ready to take on Limbaugh is, of course, a plus. Right-wing radio in general hasn’t flourished since President Obama’s last victory, and Limbaugh, in particular, has lost his old numbers along with sponsors. Too much “ditto” from Bauerle would be unhealthy.
One long-retired wiseman in Buffalo broadcasting quite sensibly offered the view that both Beach and Bauerle would benefit from whatever buzz the switch brought them both.
But in an era where conservative radio is often thought to be floundering a bit, it was a canny way to change things up while, in fact, doing absolutely nothing different at all.