January 6, 2014
By Mike Caccioppoli
This is a tough one. On New Year’s Eve Bob Grant died at the age of 84. I met Bob at WABC in 1990 when I was working there as an intern in the sports department. I had listened to him from time to time as a teenager growing up on Staten Island in New York. I never agreed with a word he said and figured he would be another right wing blow hard. The Bob Grant I met was much different than the one I had listened to on the radio. Sure he was still a right winger, who claimed I was just a “callow youth” who would grow more conservative as I grew older (he was wrong) but he was also a real person..funny..genuine and smart. Those who listened to Bob on a regular basis, at least the ones that “got it” knew that he was extremely funny, oh and did I mention talented? Still they didn’t know him personally the way I did.
As it turned out I was hired by WABC in 1991 to work with Jay Diamond on his morning show as a call screener. It wasn’t long before I was doing the same job for Bob Grant. It was a big deal to screen calls for Bob because he was the afternoon drive guy and the anchor of the station. I never would have guessed it at the time but for the next five years I would work with him, the guy who I would scream at when I listened to the radio as a teenager.
To this day working with Bob was the most fun I’ve ever had. Fans of my blog are probably perplexed at how I could say that when I write frequently about my hatred for right wingers. I understand your confusion. Let me try to explain as best as possible why working with Bob was such a pleasure.
First and foremost he was a consummate professional. If you wanted to learn the radio biz there was no better person to work with. While so many talk show hosts need tons of preparation and need to be coddled by the people who work with them, Bob was such a pro that he could handle anything. He would tell me “just put the calls through Mike”, meaning he didn’t want ME doing a fucking interview with the caller..that was HIS job. If someone disagreed with him and wanted to chew him out, he wanted those calls first. He didn’t need his ass kissed by the callers. He also as so many of those who listened to him know, didn’t like to be asked by the callers “How ya doin’ Bob?” “How am I doin’? How am I doin? Is this what you really called about pal!?”
So of course it was always a hoot when someone asked him how he was doing. “How about I give you my home phone number and we can have a nice long chat pal!” Bob would always crack up those of us “on the other side of the glass” usually when he was laying into a caller. “How about I punch your dumb nose down your stupid throat!”, or “Why don’t you put your teeth in backwards and chew yourself to death!”
Now my quotes don’t do the real man much justice and many who never listened to him might think he was cruel but Bob understood it was about ENTERTAINMENT. He never took himself so seriously so it was hard to not laugh. Unlike just about every other right wing talk host these days who are humorless and think their shit doesn’t stink. Also unlike guys like Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, there were no “talking points” with Bob. He said what he wanted to when he wanted to, and I can tell you that if a Karl Rove or anyone else told him what he should be saying, he would tell them to go to hell.
Yes, that unedited, spontaneous way of speaking got him in trouble at times. But let’s not be hypocrites my fellow liberals. We have all been outraged at the firing of Martin Bashir on MSNBC for “offending” Sarah Palin. Therefore we should be equally outraged that Bob was fired for saying he was “pessimistic” in thinking that former Clinton Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown, may have survived a plane crash. That was in 1996 and unfortunately, John Mainelli, the Program Director for WABC (who would defend his hosts) had just left and the new Program Director, Phil Boyce fired Bob.
Things would never be the same. Under the command of Mainelli and anchored by Grant, WABC was the number two station in all of NYC and the number one AM station. After Bob’s firing things went steadily downhill rating wise.
These facts you won’t read in any article written about Bob Grant. You will read about Bob’s more inflammatory remarks because it’s all these writers know about him, David Hinckley of the N.Y. Daily News has the best article I have seen with quotes from Mainelli.
However few knew Bob better than myself and Jay Diamond (who often did skits with Bob on the air), and we often imitate him and talk about our fond memories of working with him. Bob was always easy to joke with off air and even though he wielded a lot of power at WABC he never used it to hurt people or get people fired. The same can’t be said of many people with power in this world.
Yes there are more “popular” people in radio. The ones with national shows who bore us to death with the same humorless right wing mantra. None of them have a sliver of the talent that Bob had. His show was uniquely “local” and when I worked with him in the 90’s race was a major issue in NYC. Sometimes he would say things that could very understandably be considered racist by those that listened to him and worked with him. Once a producer put together a promo that described Bob as someone who was loved and hated by the same people. That described him well. If I were writing about someone I didn’t know I would probably, as a liberal, fall into the latter category but I knew Bob and so that changes things, it’s just the way life works.
Bob and I were always on opposite ends of the political spectrum (I loved wearing my Clinton/Gore pin to work to upset him) but I always appreciated that he spoke his mind no matter what the consequences. He knew this was the only way to do a show.
Bob Grant entertained and outraged in equal measure. He was a complex, real, unique person.
I think this is the way he would want to be remembered.