Brian Meyer didn’t want the job.
But a year after being named the news director of public radio station WBFO-FM, the 56-year-old Meyer and the station appear to be a perfect marriage.
The staff recently was nominated for 13 Associated Press Awards, the most of any radio station in New York State.
Eileen Buckley, Jay Moran, Cheryl Hagen, Omar Fetouh and Chris Caya received nominations and the entire staff was nominated for the station’s coverage of the November storm and the Buffalo Bills sale.
Needless to say, Meyer is now glad he was talked into the job by John Grant, the chief programming officer for the local public broadcaster.
“When he called,” explained Meyer, “I told him ‘To be honest with you, I’m not really interested. I’m very flattered.’ ”
Grant convinced him to have a meeting.
“He is a phenomenal salesman,” explained Meyer. “His pitch was ‘This is a new time here.’ ”
Grant pointed out that the substantial investment in purchasing WBFO would be a game-changer now that it is the only public radio broadcaster here after the sale of WNED-AM.
Channel 2 reporter Dave McKinley, Meyer’s intern at WBEN in 1984, just laughed at his mentor for accepting the job in June, three months before he came aboard full time.
“When Brian was the WBEN street reporter, the king of all reporters in town, he used to chide Teresa Beaton at the public station WEBR,” recalled McKinley. “He’d look at her new tape deck and say, ‘My tax dollars paid for that. I have to fund my competition.’ So when I heard he was going to public radio, I kind of laughed.”
McKinley understood why WBFO hired Meyer.
“You can’t find a better guy,” said McKinley. “He is so well-versed in the history of this town, knows where all the bodies are buried and knows intimately who all the players are. He demanded a lot out of his interns. He is going to demand a lot out of his employees. The quality he expected in his work can only be reflected on all the others. That’s a huge, huge move for them.”
Donald K. Boswell, president and chief executive officer of local public broadcasting, said he tells Meyer every time he sees him that he is doing a great job.
“He has brought a strategy, focus and spirit that have encouraged everybody to work and develop a skill set and work as a team,” said Boswell.
McKinley is one of several well-known Western New York media members who interned with Meyer at WBEN. The impressive media list includes Claudine Ewing, Lisa Flynn, Susan Rose, Mylous Hairston, Mary Murray, Dave Debo, Randy Bushover, Mary Beth Wrobel, Mike McKay, Brenda Alesii and T.J. Pignataro.
“Everything I learned from Brian, I still hold dear to me,” said Ewing. “I wasn’t about being the face or the voice; I wanted to be the journalist. Those are the skills you learn from him. I have friends in the business who interned with him and they all feel the same way.”
“I kind of owe my career to him,” said McKinley. “He showed me how to be a reporter basically. … I’d like to think I’ve become a fairly good reporter, but I don’t think I could touch him on my best day. I don’t know what the hell the guy eats. He can outwork anybody, he can work faster than anybody. He is just an amazing mentor.”
Meyer said the legend of his influence “is like a Paul Bunyon story.” “The stories become more and more spectacular,” said Meyer. “’The reputation I have is much more lofty than the reality.”
McKinley remembers Meyer similarly questioning whether he deserved to be inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2010.
“I finally said ‘Halls of Fame are for people who simply are the best of what they did and ‘Brian, nobody ever did what you did better than you did,’ ” McKinley explained.
McKinley had bigger praise for Meyer in 1995 when the Channel 2 reporter decided to marry. “I called Brian and said, ‘I need a best man and you are the best man I know.’ How could he say no?”
You could say that broadcasting and journalism are literally in Meyer’s blood. He started a neighborhood newspaper, the Elmwood Courier, at age 12. He was editor of the St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute newspaper. He sold plasma twice a week to help pay for his college education as a journalism major at Marquette University, where he was the news director and co-general manager of the radio station.
Married when he was a college junior, Meyer divorced 12 years later. Since then, he essentially has been married to his jobs.
When told he is the King of All Local Media, Meyer gave one of his trademark cackle laughs at the thought of being the Buffalo version of Howard Stern.
But it fits, except for their different styles. Besides working in radio, Meyer spent 16 years at The Buffalo News, has a book publishing business, invented some local trivia games and has taught journalism courses at three local colleges.
Of course, radio news has changed significantly since Meyer got a call in 1982 several months after graduating from Marquette from his mentor, the late Jim McLaughlin, to join WBEN.
Meyer was at WBEN for almost 16 years, at first competing with seven other stations in town covering news. WBFO is the primary news radio game in town now, with nine full-time news staffers, six part-timers and several contributors, including former Channel 2 anchor Rich Kellman.
The diplomatic Meyer is hesitant to criticize the changes at his former station.
“I owe most of my career to WBEN,” said Meyer. “It still has some great people there, including some of my former interns. It is the industry that has changed. If you look at all the news departments that have shut down, WBEN at least has a news department. Frankly, it is the consolidation issue… It is definitely not the same radio station that I was working at.”
He couldn’t be happier that Grant persuaded him to go back to his radio roots.
“You could strap me to a polygraph and I would pass,” said Meyer. “If the first nine months is any indicator, it really is the best job I’ve ever had. And that’s saying a lot because I’ve loved every other job.”