It seemed like a sick joke.
No, we wouldn't have to worry anymore about unnecessary AM and FM duplication of NPR programming on Buffalo airwaves – WBFO-FM and WNED-AM. Why? WNED-AM is being sold for $875,000 to Colorado's Crawford Broadcasting, a self-proclaimed Christian radio company.
Go to the Crawford Radio website and you find this description of the origin of editorials called "The Stand" regularly featured on 19 Crawford Stations: "In 1992, when liberal voices were becoming loud and shrill, Donald Crawford, president of the Crawford Broadcasting Company, decided it was time for his company to express its conservative values."
I seem to remember being alive and well and reasonably attentive in 1992. Other than the presidential victory of Democratic knee-jerk centrist Bill Clinton, I don't remember much in the way of liberal volume, let alone all those "loud and shrill" liberals supposedly yammering into the American ear. But then I tend not to be a devoted seeker of the loud and the shrill, so it's understandable if I missed them.
Anyway, in response, Crawford concocted its editorials called "The Stand." But then the website immediately assures us that the new owners of WNED-AM invited "responsible spokespersons from all walks of life to express views of every persuasion."
The toughest thing, of course, about being an actual, dictionary-definition liberal (as well as simultaneously a dictionary definition conservative, which is more than possible) is that one is inclined to be generous (not to mention fair and balanced) with "views of every persuasion." And in the real world, such generosity and fairness often become the surest way to invite a custard pie to the face.
And that's what WNED just administered to the entire community by selling an NPR outlet to an avowed conservative Christian broadcaster. (If it gets to the point when some of the complainers create a petition entreating the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the whole mess, I'll be happy to sign it.)
It goes without saying, of course, that it wouldn't likely do much good. That's sadly not how the world works. In matters of broadcasting business, mere citizens, viewers and listeners get used to custard pies in the puss.
A short while ago, I sat in WNED's offices with my colleague Jane Kwiatkowski and listened to WNED's uberhoncho Donald K. Boswell limn the brave new world that could come from his station's purchase of WBFO (a dreary shadow of its former UB self, other than its broadcast of NPR, blues and the occasional canny and co-opting interviews with my estimable colleagues).
This week's custard pie is final proof that the state university's unloading of WBFO wasn't a mere turn of Buffalo broadcasting toward increased sterility and cynicism but, in fact, a tragedy for Buffalo broadcasting.
Obviously, the computer and the Internet are dynamiting American media with shell-shocking regularity. Among the more frightening developments is the velocity with which age, experience and knowledge itself are being pitched into history's dust bins – and not the recyclable kind, either.
Which is why I make no apology for what I know and have lived through – especially when there are so many people under 40 who have almost no context for understanding exactly how revolting a development this is.
WNED's AM arm at 970 on the dial was once WEBR, which began farther up on the dial at 1340. Back then, its station manager was a fellow named Fran Striker, who wrote radio fantasies about a masked man called "The Lone Ranger."
When I was growing up in the '50s and '60s, a lovable WEBR personality named Bob Wells had a teen dance show at the Dellwood Ballroom that was one of the national precedents for what Dick Clark, in Philadelphia, did on TV to turn American culture upside down on "American Bandstand."
Those under a certain age have no notion of exactly how felonious has been the neglect and progressive abandonment of a kind of music programming that was, for a long time, one of the great glories of Buffalo radio and Buffalo culture – jazz.
On the old WEBR, the legendary Joe Rico and Carroll Hardy presided over the greatest jazz radio this city will ever hear. On WEBR, in its public broadcast era, Al Wallack's "Jazz in the Nightime" and other shows combined with the late WBFO music director John Hunt's magnificently designed programming to help make Buffalo radio in the '70s and '80s one of the wonders of the East. An old friend at Buffalo State College – Professor Chuck Mancuso – once told me that when he had a panel of some of America's greatest jazz critics at the school (all New York residents), they were flabbergasted by the jazz they heard on his car radio as he drove them around town.
After Hunt's death, WBFO slowly and excruciatingly abandoned everything Hunt had done. Even though WBFO's jazz programming was being progressively watered down, WNED's management used WBFO's jazz identity to get its station at 970 on the AM dial out of the jazz radio business entirely.
WNED's purchase of WBFO earlier this year in turn ended jazz almost completely on ordinary Buffalo radio. This is where we are now: In cities north and east – Toronto and Rochester – they still have excellent jazz radio stations. As a consequence, both cities still have wonderful jazz festivals and regular jazz musicians visiting.
The jazz concerts and festivals here are, to put it mildly, fewer and much thinner.
Buffalo was once a major American jazz destination. It is now an also-ran city dependent on a few dedicated people with long memories and blessedly high ideals.
All that is irrevocably of the past. I'm not indulging in maudlin nostalgia here. I'm talking about a continuing community deprivation, albeit one intermittently interrupted.
And now, in a city that is already "served" by its most prominent AM station, WBEN, being a long-standing conservative bastion of no small "loudness and shrillness," we have "conservative values" from Colorado on the way.
We dictionary-definition liberals never know, of course. Crawford could have decided it might be dandy to have huge programming blocks of the greatest in black American gospel music. Just imagine hour after hour of music by Mahalia Jackson, Marion Williams, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Dorothy Lee Coates, the Soul Stirrers, Thomas A. Dorsey and the Original Blind Boys of Alabama. I'd be happy to sit still for many more custard pies in the face to hear that.
But according to the incoming owners, the plan right now is to simulcast religious programming of WDCX-FM, its sister station in Buffalo.
Undoubtedly this particular custard pie to the community is riotously funny somewhere.
For the moment, though, to most people who don't consider "thinking" and "overthinking" to be synonyms, this particular joke just feels like a community humiliation.