Dave Mason has been carrying around some baggage since 1982, when such popular songs as "I Love Rock and Roll," "Eye of the Tiger" and "I'm So Excited" were playing on radio. AM radio. It was so long ago, it was before FM became more popular.
He works in San Diego now, but his thoughts returned to Buffalo when he read recently about William Ostrander, aka Buddy Shula, buying WECK and hiring such radio legends as John Zach, Harv Moore, Jon Summers and Danny Neaverth for on-air roles.
But the name that kept coming back to Mason was a different radio legend: Stan Roberts, whom he fired as one of his first acts as program director at WGR Radio, a fact he initially denied to me at the time.
Mason said he apologized to Roberts many times over the years, but had never told him the whole story – until now.
Over 35 years, I've learned that it isn't always easy to get at the truth when interviewing people in the TV and radio business. But it was nice to hear that someone can feel remorse about lying to me. I was, to borrow a phrase from The Pointer Sisters, "so excited to read it."
Here is an edited version of Mason's note sent from San Diego, where he worked for the last 17 years.
This email may have no relevance to you in 2017, but I've been meaning to write it for a long time. You'll fully remember the Stan Roberts firing from WGR during my days as program director. … His tenure at 'GR unceremoniously ended with a story that you broke first – and I (wrongfully) denied.
Truth be known – the whole change came with a phone call with a big shot at Taft radio headquarters. … When I joined the station I had no idea that Stan wasn't one of this person's favorites. Stan and I had been friends – spent some decent social time together and the station was doing well.
During that call, the Taft executive mentioned that George Hamberger was looking to get out of Toronto, and it would be a good move to replace Stan with George. This was maybe a week after John Soller had come in from Taft's flagship stations in Cincinnati to be the new GM. … We thought it would be a good move as those in higher positions were good with it ... and at this point we wanted to impress those people.
Working out our deal with George was relatively easy, except we forgot one thing. That was to get his confidence until we could break the news to Stan. He apparently told the receptionist who (understandably) had friends in Buffalo, and eventually the story got to you.
Your first call to me was a shock. Soller was out of town, in the process of relocating to Buffalo. Getting the job at 'GR was a real feather in my cap and we wanted the station to be a fun place. I had never fired anyone in my programming career up to that point … and not having our GM to consult with my first reaction was to deny anything. I didn't know 'on the record' or 'off the record' – the Taft Broadcasting manual had no suggestions on how to deal with the print media.
We eventually told Stan what was going on, we had a ton of negative publicity, and Stan relocated … to WBUF. You had reported that he felt vindicated by his ratings growth at WBUF, and it was rightfully so. He wasn't let go because of ratings. Someone upstairs felt his act wasn't right for the 1980s. That was it. A rookie PD … didn't know how to get the word out when he was 'stranded', and looking back on it 35 years later it doesn't mean much now except for those who were affected by it.
So why am I writing this now? It gives me the chance to apologize to you for my ignorance in helping you get the story together back in the day. I loved my time in Buffalo – and we did good things both with WGR and WBUF, and that proves the beauty of radio. You can muck things up and eventually it won't matter.
So I hope you'll accept my apology after all these years, and actually my thanks for the lesson in dealing with the media. Had to get this off of my chest …
Apology accepted. To be honest, I didn't remember the story. But no relevance today? Hardly.
I called Roberts, who lives in Florida with his wife, Nancy, and rents in Western New York over the summer. He proceeded to give some radio history. Roberts wrote:
I was astounded at receiving an apology 35 years later. As it turns out my career was more successful than ever (financially) after WGR unceremoniously let me go. Buffalo was still a radio market dominated by AM stations. WBUF FM was virtually unknown. I’m in the business and had never heard of it.
A management person who had also been shown the door said they were the best-kept secret in town and had a new format. I went to them saying the time was ripe for a full service FM station to do well. They hired me to sell advertising and do their morning show. Accent on sales.
They offered me 30 percent commission since it was a hard sell. In one year we went from unknown to No. 1. Over the first two years I was earning over $100,000 a year, really big money in 1982. So WGR did me a favor, although I was pretty low for about five months.
As to Dave Mason’s apology, I told him I understood that it was an upper-management decision that caught him by surprise. … This is all damn water … under the dam. My career went great, and I’m still working part time, selling advertising for Entercom Radio.
(On the night he was fired) I had committed to guesting with John Otto on "Desperate and Dateless." Here I was, "Desperate and Jobless." I had also committed to a 100-plus mile bike event for charity that weekend. I convinced the station that I would do both without mentioning that I had been given notice. They proved to be good mental and physical outlets. Oh, and yes, I accepted Dave’s apology. Although he had to remind me for what."
I suspect – that like me – Stan will always remember the apology.