Six nights a week, four hours per night, a Republican brought nighttime talk radio back in one of the strongest Democrat areas of the “Bluest” of states. Southeastern Massachusetts is populated with a disproportionate number of working class people whose families came there to work in the cotton mills. The real measure of a textile producing area is the number of cotton spindles. At one time there were more cotton spindles in Fall River alone than any other city in the world. When combined, Fall River and New Bedford (about fifteen miles to the east) had more spindles than any area of the world. New Bedford is also famous as the preeminent fishing port in the United States and once boasted being the heart of the whaling industry.
Taunton, with its past in silverware manufacturing (about fifteen miles to the north), along with Fall River and New Bedford, forms one of the most lopsided Democrat majorities anywhere.
How could a conservative Republican (as deceased friend and colleague David Brudnoy said I like to say small “c” conservative and small “l” libertarian) establish a strong following?
That was simple. Most of the Democrats there were and are Truman/JFK types philosophically. Ronald Reagan nearly became the first Republican to carry Fall River since Roosevelt, Teddy that is. They share strong conservative values of God, Family and Country. The work ethic is strong and handouts are not accepted easily.
Even today there is a strong sense of commitment to church, prayer in school, opposition to abortion, rights of gun owners, severe punishment of law breakers, personal charity, and pride in one’s ethnic background.
The ethnic mix is Portuguese émigrés mostly from the Azores in Fall River and Taunton and Cape Verde in New Bedford. French-Canadian, Irish, and Italian compose the balance of people with immigrant backgrounds in the area. In addition a strong Puerto Rican population exists in New Bedford. Couple that ethnic mix with a Yankee heritage which descends to before revolutionary times and you have a melting pot which accepted me on the basis of issues.
Today there is a wave of Cambodians making their home in Fall River.
It was in this atmosphere where a middle-aged conservative talk host could discuss issues which resonated with the listeners.
This book begins with an early morning call from a friend. Among the characters we meet along the way was a visit to the broadcast studio by one of the world’s all time funny men and how he happened to wind up there. We had a visit from an admiral who later became a vice presidential candidate who became the victim of scorn and ridicule by people who couldn’t carry his medals.
Then there was the murder of three prostitutes in Fall River. My interviews with some of the hookers and pimps in the area were frightening and sad. The trials surrounding the grizzliest murders since Lizzy Borden took an ax to her Mom and Dad’s heads nearly one hundred years earlier were overwhelming.
Then there was the night I got drunk on air. Wait until you hear about that and what the Massachusetts State Police did about it.
Many authors visited the tiny studios of WSAR located in Somerset, Massachusetts including an Australian who wrote one of the most telling books on the Holocaust. Another was one of the authors of a biography of a man who went on a mission to Switzerland during World War II with the sole purpose of killing Germany’s top scientist on the development of an atomic bomb if the Germans appeared to be close to completing the Atomic project.
Add to those guests a very conservative Democrat political anachronism who dated back to the days of James Michael Curley, the Mayor of Boston best known for machine politics and helping the poor. Throw in local politics and for more than three years Fall River was buzzing.
All that occurred before the hot stuff of Providence, Rhode Island and Boston, the political Mecca of the United States erupted.
My radio career was to come to an end on Friday, June 10, 1983 at midnight. A decision had been made by old Norman Night of Night Quality Broadcasting, then the owner of WSAR, that he could earn more money by converting the station to satellite music. June 11 was to be the initial date to go on stream with the satellite. This was brand new technology then. All programming could be operated by one man and at times there was no need to have anyone in the studio. The station was doing well at night but it was difficult to sell advertisement time to the remainder of the day parts. And without ads a station would simply go belly up so something drastic needed to be done.
During the first week of June no one on the broadcast side had any idea about what was to happen. We were informed by the general manager of the station’s plans to “go satellite” and we all received a pat on the head and “attaboys” instead of severance pay. I was asked to remain in the office when the others were leaving. Considering what we did for a living we were a speechless lot.
The general manager at WSAR was from Boston and was familiar with a program director at a powerful talk station, WRKO. He asked if I would want to work there and my heart nearly jumped from my chest. The events which unfolded during the next seventy-two hours were like a roller-coaster ride. Somehow, this event became what can only be called a miracle, a journey which has lasted nearly twenty-three years. During that time I spent more than a dozen years in Providence on WHJJ, a station which was as good as any talker anywhere.
There has not been a peaceful period since then. Battles with Red China (wait until you hear about that), the head of the state police, daily skirmishes with a fine man who could have been a great governor, stopping the building of a prison in a small town, taking part in the anti-mandatory seat belt ballot question, stopping a congressional pay raise, interviews with presidential candidates, conducting the “biggest” Zucchini contest ever, exposing a scandal of enormous proportions of a multi-murderer being treated like royalty, and a host of other wonderful and not so wonderful times on air. I even learned the difference between just plain manure and composted manure. No not my experience on a gardening show but a real manure problem in the City of Boston. No, no, no, this was not political.
Broadcasting from the deck of the aircraft carrier JFK and getting seasick in the process to having a tug of war with a ten year old brat over my microphone.
It’s all here.
Over the years I collected all sorts of experiences and some unbelievable anecdotes that have passed my way.
Actually, I thought I had finished a couple of months ago but memories keep popping up in my head.
[Now, in the mid-fall of 2009 I begin again to edit, add, correct and otherwise relive this incredible experience.]