WEVD: The Little Station that Couldn’t

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By Scott Pellegrino

Anyone who’s interested in talk radio has frequently posed the following question to himself: “How many radio execs did this guy have to blow to get on the air?” You’re tuned into WABC and you hear Rush Limbaugh singing Strom Thurmond’s praises. “He’s not encumbered by being politically correct… If you want to know what America used to be–and a lot of people wish it still were–then you listen to Strom  Thurmond.” True enough. Thurmond’s campaign slogan for his 1948 presidential run was “Segregation Forever.”

Next day you’re listening to WOR. John Gambling III is holding forth. You haven’t lit up in months, but you can’t for the life of you recall anything he says 30 seconds after he says it. If you were being paid, you could conceivably remember, but who would pay for that? That name sticks with you though…always does. Even if he hides the iii behind an initial, you know he’s proof that cloning can occur across generations. That III will marinate in your brain till death or Alzheimer’s, seared into your absurdity lobe. III. Three generations. Three John Gamblings, all meticulously calibrated to numb listeners’ minds for 25 years each. George Bush Jr. may be the nepotism poster boy for the
rest of the country, but you’re in New York where three generations of “John Gamblings” have owned one of the country’s most sought-after radio slots. Three anti-talented yutzes who can expertly introduce “traffic and weather together,” but have never managed to spark a thought for the 75 years they’ve been on the air. (WOR finally tired of III last year; he was immediately pooper-scooped up by WABC.)

So how many execs did Limbaugh and the Gambling 3 have to fellate for their shows? Probably none, because they both possess the two vital traits needed to make it in the New York talk radio world: they’re white and they have nothing relevant to say about anything.

Which brings us to WEVD. Named after Eugene Victor Debs, WEVD was founded by socialists in 1927. Four years later it was purchased by the Forward Foundation, an offshoot of the Yiddish Forward newspaper (now the Jewish Forward). For 58 years it broadcast ethnic programming for, among others, the Yiddish, Greek and Polish communities. It was transformed in 1989 to an infomercial/”newstalk” format.

At midnight on Aug. 31, WEVD will be swallowed by the monstrous Disney corporation and become the 181st station to syndicate its ESPN Radio, in a two-year leasing deal with a $78 million buying option. Some argue that WEVD is the last liberal/progressive counterweight to the right-wing racist-friendly stations like WOR and WABC (dubbed “WKKK” by ex-host Joy Behar, before she got herself lobotomized for The View). Not quite.

I produced at WEVD from ’97 to ’00. When I got there, roughly 60 percent of the programming was infomercials and bought-time/vanity shows, and 40 percent “legitimate” shows. The former consisted of hair-growth miracles, myriad colon irrigation schemes and financial “advice” shows where the hosts are being paid to promote certain stocks. My favorite info-moment took place about two days after JFK Jr.’s plane went down. On the Roex Health Hour, a live infomercial that seemed to find new things for Roex to cure on a daily basis, host Rod Burreson explained that as a tribute to the late JFK Jr. and his wife, all Roex orders of $100 or more would get free postage and handling that day.

At the time I started there, new employees were given the impression that the station would be jettisoning the infocrap for all “real” shows in the “near future.” The primary cheerleader for that mantra was station manager Tom Bird, a charmless version of WKRP’s Mr. Carlson. It soon became apparent, hough, that the “legit” shows were there to prop up the infomercials, not the other way around.

Let’s examine the liberal status of the four “legit” shows that are still on the air till the end of the month. Morning man Bill Mazer’s main passion is Israel, a subject he delves into about as objectively as Sony critic David Manning delves into Adam Sandler flicks. Ed Koch, who’s on 4 to 5, is pro-death penalty, anti-affirmative action and his past endorsements include D’Amato and Giuliani. The next two hosts were recently described by bubble-brained Newsday columnist Ellis Henican as being “firmly on the left.” Two months before the last election, drive-time host Sam Greenfield (one of my former produce-ees) demanded not to be shown any negative Al Gore stories. Six days before the election, in a sleazy attempt to scare New York Jews, Sam went on the air and accused Ralph Nader of being an anti-Semite without offering a single shred of evidence. When asked numerous times to back up his claim, he offered nothing.

Then there’s Alan Colmes. By default and by grading on a horseshoed curve, Alan comes closest to doing a semi-respectable show. But “firmly left”? He voted for Giuliani!

Is WEVD better than most of the talk competition? Dead air beats the competition. But if WEVD isn’t a hate-fest like WABC and WOR (though New York’s Palestinian community might want to weigh in on that), it harbored no compunctions about selling airtime to a viciously racist wildebeest like Beth Gilinsky of the Jewish Action Alliance, aka the Jewish Asshole Alliance. No compunctions in my harbor either, but they would never sell that time to a black or Palestinian version of Gilinsky.

Esthetically, WOR and WABC are definitely more entertaining car accidents than WEVD. Excepting small doses of Ed Koch’s inadvertent psycho shtick, everything on WEVD is boring as spit.

Is it good that the evil Disney corporation is controlling yet another slice of the talk radio pie? Of course not. But anyone dumb enough to shed a tear for liberal WEVD should ponder the station’s true legacy. Not once in its 75-year history did WEVD hire a black host. To his great credit, WEVD’s final program director, Alan Eisenson, tried to change that, but management refused. I tried to change that by getting black guest hosts on the air who were much better than the regular “talent,” but make no mistake: as far as blacks are concerned, the New York talk radio world might as well be run by the Klan. Not only won’t WOR allow any kind of opposition to hoodless wonder Bob Grant,
but the closest they ever came to hiring a black host was Geoffrey Holder, who supposedly was an “announcer” there for a very brief period in the late 70s. WABC has no black hosts on its weekday lineup, but they do occasionally brush some weekend hour scraps off the table and onto one of their trio of freakazoid House Toms: James Golden (ex-Rush Limbaugh flunky), Armstrong Williams (the most gay-hating talk host I’ve ever heard, mentored by Strom Thurmond!) and Niger Innis (representative of CORE, the once-great civil rights organization his daddy Roy took over and destroyed. Roy also made Idi Amin a lifetime member of CORE).

I once asked WABC program director (and Promisekeeper shitbag) Phil Boyce why he never gives hosting shots to blacks who represent any portion of the 90 percent of black people who aren’t enamored of creatures like Thurmond. His bone-chilling answer: “Why should I?”