Two fake armies met on the battlefield. Conservatism won big time! That’s admittedly a strange way to begin remembering my friend and radio colleague Bob Grant, who died New Year’s Eve at the age of 84. I’ll clarify.
There was a period when directors, writers and actors from Hungary earned a lot of top jobs and honors for themselves in the film capital. A naughty “graffiti artist” tacked an anonymous sign on the wall of the cafeteria of one of the major studios that said, tersely, “It’s not enough being Hungarian!” Somebody should post a similar sign inside every talk-radio station that says, “It’s not enough being conservative!” Because it’s not! You’ve got to be articulate, intelligent, funny and, if you want to build an audience worth having, fair. And Bob Grant was all of those and much more.
Our friendship was built on strange turf. We had the major qualification to be enemies: namely, rivalry. We both had long and long-running radio shows on powerful stations in New York. That’s all you need to be big and bitter enemies for life. But Bob and I both realized that we had established a significant conservative beachhead in the tough liberal media of New York City, and the liberals were constantly provoking us to spring for each other’s throat. Although we were subject to the normal human impulses, something told us not to ruin things by yielding to such narrow personal provocations. We felt it important to stay united. We appeared on each other’s radio shows as guests and worked together on assignments in Europe and Asia.
Suddenly, what felt in some ways like a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades struck our little conservative “beachhead.” In 1978, just before the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks fight, a listener called Bob’s show and asked if he were going to pay to watch the fight. “I wouldn’t give you a nickel to see those two baboons fight,” snorted Bob. Both Spinks and Ali are black. Black fighters. Baboons. Get it?
There was no great public outcry at Bob’s remark, but a “fake” general of a “fake” army wrote a letter to the general manager of WOR Radio, where Bob worked, demanding he be fired immediately for such inexcusable, overt racism. And so he was!
Why did a powerful station like WOR cave instantly to an unheard of, totally unknown, fake organization when the remark itself failed to stir up even a light breeze? The “fake” army had a Harlem address. And, true, nobody had even heard of these so-called “civil rights leaders” demanding Bob’s scalp. But what the media never picked up on was that WOR’s owner at the time, the General Tire and Rubber Company, was having major legal problems with the feds who had the power to revoke their broadcast license. With a license, that station was worth dozens of millions of dollars. Without that license, it was worth a few thousand dollars in used studio equipment, tape machines and the like. WOR’s surrender was quicker than Japan’s after the second atomic bomb.
Bob told me there was zero racism in his comment. “If they’d been two white fighters, or one white and one black,” protested Bob, “I’d have still made the ‘baboon’ remark.” I believed him.
One fake army deserves another.
I made four phone calls. That was enough. My question was the same to the first three, namely, “Will you let us use your name in our ‘Ad Hoc Committee to Get Bob Grant Back on the Air’”? All three replied in the affirmative. They were, on the left, Nat Hentoff (fellow pundit now for WND and at the time an iconic byliner in the Village Voice and heroic defender of the First Amendment!). As our centrist we had Mario Cuomo and, on the right, the late Roy Cohn. The fourth call was to the influential Page Six of the New York Post, which ran a short report on our new “committee” to bring Bob Grant back.
Here’s the magic. When the media world of New York saw WOR abruptly fire Bob Grant, they figured something big and dark was involved, and they all ran. Nobody would touch him. But then that one little news blurb about our “committee”, naming Nat Hentoff, Mario Cuomo and Roy Cohn united behind the campaign to get Bob back on the air, was like a gigantic blacksmith’s bellows blowing the dark cloud around Bob’s head clear and clean away, thereby “purifying” him. He was back instantaneously.
I know where Bob is waiting for me now. One day we’ll laugh at the performance of our “army.”
As a child I don’t remember ever telling another kid on the playground, “My dad can lick your dad.”
As an adult, however, it’s so satisfying to bellow now to those race-baiters who tried to assassinate Bob’s career, “Guess what! Our fake army beat your fake army!”
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