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WBEN to bring local talk to the weeknight airwaves

Ron Dobson returns to Buffalo radio in January and he won't have to face any professional wrestlers to get the job.

Ten years ago, Dobson applied for a talk show at WGR-AM 550 radio and a guy named Jesse "The Body" Ventura was after the same job.

Dobson was hired and Ventura, a former pro wrestler, went on to become governor of Minnesota. "I wonder if history might have been different if I hired Jesse," said Jim Pastrick, then WGR's program director.

History wasn't kind for Dobson. He didn't last long at WGR, moved to Philadelphia and has been lacking a full-time talk radio gig for about five years.

Now, though, Dobson is back in big way. He will start a weeknight talk show on Jan. 2, from 7 until 10, at WBEN-AM 930.

It's a major commitment to local programming by the station, which is currently running Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a nationally-syndicated show in that time slot.

Buffalo has lacked a regular, local news/talk presence at night for years, since the late Clip Smith filled that role at WBEN. It's an aching void in a community buzzing with hot talk radio topics such as the Eric County budget crisis, a downtown casino and a new mayor named Byron W. Brown.

"I think we're moving to the next generation at WBEN and local programming is clearly important," said Tim Wenger, the station's program director. "There are so many news topics out there and people want to talk about them. I'm not bad mouthing Dr. Laura, but we want to focus on local issues and Ron will do that."

Dobson knows this community. He has been living in Amherst for the past few years, acting as a househusband and part-time radio announcer. Dobson and his wife, Bea, have two children: Annie, 6, and Ronnie, 4.

"I've been taking care of the kids," Dobson said.

He will now have to take care of a large, vocal audience at the area's only commercial news/talk station. WBEN is known for it's right-wing, conservative hosts but Dobson doesn't fit the profile.

He writes on his Web site, that "conservatives seem to want less government, but a much more intrusive government. They have trouble separating church from state. Where business is concerned, they want few or no regulations. Profit and money reign supreme at the cost of whoever or whatever."

He adds conservatives have "successfully deluded many a redneck" into believing they are on their side. Dobson also believes marijuana is "harmless" and "should only have the same restrictions as tobacco."

That's the kind of talk you don't hear on WBEN.

"I'm not partisan," said Dobson, who has also skewed liberals. "I'm not at the station to teach social studies; I'm there to entertain. I have no agenda."

Dobson can be outrageous. His old boss, Jim Pastrick, once called him "thought provoking" and said Dobson challenges both Republicans and Democrats.

"Sometimes, I can be absurd and over the top, but I hope I make people think," Dobson said. "I've been called a big-mouth conservative and bleeding-heat liberal -- sometimes during the same show. It's all part of the job."

One thing about Dobson's new show is certain: it's going to be about Western New York.

"We're going to emphasize local topics in a heavy way," he said. "I think I'm a relatively normal person. I want to talk about the things other people are talking about."

Dobson has been filling in at WBEN for the past year, and also listens to the station. He enjoys the banter with listeners.

"One thing about the people here -- they're not wimpy. They get upset; let you know how they feel and will speak out."

That is the essence of talk radio but sometimes opinions can be controversial. Consider Dobson's remarks about Buffalo on his Web site. He has worked in such cities as Sacramento, Portland, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Detroit.

Dobson rated Buffalo a "5" on a scale of 10, and wrote that its, "too damn snowy and cold."

He's sticking by those remarks.

"It would hurt my credibility if I didn't (stand by what he wrote)," Dobson said. "I live here and I'm excited to be working here."

e-mail: aviolanti@buffnews.com

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