The owner of 97 Rock said late Wednesday that it had fired "Morning Bull" host Rob Lederman following an on-air exchange in which he compared toaster settings to the tone of Black women’s skin.
The conversation drew swift condemnation and led Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center to cancel its advertising with the station.
A statement from Cumulus Media late Wednesday said Lederman's comments were in direct violation of the company's programming principles and that "the remainder of the show's on-air talent" had been suspended. The other two people involved in the conversation were lead host Rich "Bull" Gaenzler and co-host Chris Klein.
"We apologize, and deeply regret the incident," the company's statement said.
Lederman, meanwhile, told The Buffalo News that he was “horrified” by his words after he listened to a recording.
“I could easily see how someone could be offended by that. I get that,” said Lederman, who added, “It sounds terrible, and it is terrible.”
In a 45-second audio clip shared on Twitter by Marcel Louis-Jacques, a Buffalo Bills beat reporter for ESPN NFL Nation, the conversation appeared to initially be focused on the morning ritual of making toast. Gaenzler noted how high he likes his toaster setting. Lederman followed up by saying, “I may get into trouble for this,” and then described how he likens his toaster settings to women “I find to be attractive.”
Lederman then cited the names of two famous Black women, and at one point answered a question from Klein about a third woman. The only audible response from Gaenzler in the short clip circulating on social media is a single word: “OK.”
Reaction online was far more voluminous.
Louis-Jacques tweeted the audio clip Wednesday afternoon, and within hours it had 100,000 plays and hundreds of retweets and comments.
“There’s already an unfortunate and undeserved stigma attached to dark skin – so for Rob to take something undesirable like burnt toast and compare it to the skin color of any person is reprehensible and feeds into that stigma,” Louis-Jacques said in a tweet.
Another influential media voice, former WKBW-TV investigative reporter Madison Carter, tweeted, “This made my stomach physically turn.”
Carter, who recently moved from Buffalo, called on the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists to address the issue. (Carter is ending her term as president of the organization.) The BABJ, in turn, tweeted, “We are extremely disappointed and disgusted. Station leadership @97RockBuffalo can expect a follow up from our board.”
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, whose fundraising logo is visible at the top of the audio clip graphic, canceled its advertising and released this statement Wednesday afternoon: “Immediately upon learning about this exchange, Roswell Park, the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation and the Ride for Roswell pulled all ads and marketing from this station. The comments this morning conflict with our values and culture. We embrace actions that respect the dignity and equity of all people, and forcefully reject any and all forms of racism.”
Meanwhile, Pegula Sports & Entertainment fired Gaenzler from his role as the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits’ arena host.
In a statement early Wednesday evening, PSE said: “All organizations across the Pegula Sports & Entertainment umbrella strongly condemn racism in all forms. We are deeply disturbed by the comments made this morning by a co-host on Rich Gaenzler’s radio show. They were unacceptable, inappropriate, and there is no place for them in our community. The Sabres and Bandits therefore have made the decision to terminate him from his duties as our in-arena host.”
The University at Buffalo, meanwhile, released a statement announcing that the school will not bring Gaenzler back as its public address announcer: “The University at Buffalo Division of Athletics is committed to sustaining a culture of diversity and inclusion and strongly denounces racism in all forms. Rich Gaenzler is not currently under contract with UB Athletics. We will move forward with selection of another public address announcer for UB football games next season.”
Reached Wednesday evening by The News, Lederman, who is also a longtime stand-up comic and owner of Rob’s Comedy Playhouse in Williamsville, said his words were guilty of “ignorance as opposed to malicious intent. Was it stupid? Yes. Was it funny? No, it was embarrassing once I heard it.”
Lederman's firing ends a lengthy and high-profile career at 97 Rock. The Amherst native was a nationally touring comic in the 1980s before joining the radio station in 1991. Working for 24 years alongside Buffalo broadcasting legend Larry Norton, he became a fixture on the radio and active with charities both in his work as a businessman and broadcaster.
In his conversation with The News, Lederman noted the work he has done in the community over his three decades as a broadcaster, comic and club owner.
“I never saw myself as anything close to even thinking a racist thought,” he said. “It's just not who I am. So when I heard that, and heard how it sounded, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that sounds terrible.’ Now, can I take back those words? No. If you listen to them, were they meant to be hurtful? Absolutely not.”
Lederman said he wants to "learn from this,” and apologized “to anybody that would be hurt” by his words.
Attention on the situation kept growing deep into Wednesday evening. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown's office released a statement that read, "The racist commentary made on 'The Morning Bull' show on 97 Rock is outrageous and intolerable. There is no place in our society for these statements or beliefs. I strongly condemn what these individuals said on the radio this morning."
Brown's criticism echoed that of other elected officials, including State Sen. Tim Kennedy, who tweeted, "Where do we begin with the number of things wrong with this disgusting exchange? Racist and disrespectful comments like this have no place on our airwaves – or anywhere."
Meanwhile, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said in a tweet: "I know our community is better than this. We must be better than this. None of this is funny. It is reprehensible, unacceptable and cannot be tolerated."