Friends, radio listeners, fellow party types…
I come here to bury Walt Bodine, not to praise him. The evil that men do – especially media types – lives on long after them, while the good is often obfuscated.
So I won’t bore you with yet another rehash of the deceased broadcaster’s life story or try and make it sound as if Bodine spent the last 30 years on public radio station KCUR FM kicking butt and taking names.
Clearly he did not.
Bodine’s broadcasting accomplishments – among them helping shape the views and opinions of Baby Boomers on WHB‘s “Night Beat” show in the 1960s – are legendary…at least to a small slice of Kansas Citians of a certain age.
Clearly Walt covered a lot of ground for a lot of years and a lot of locals were the better off for that.
But when the Kansas City Star‘s Darryl Levings cocked back and exalted Bodine for hosting a talk show on KCUR “for almost 30 years,” he disingenuously mislead readers by not making any mention whatsoever that for the better part of the last 16 of those years Bodine had no business being on the air.
And everybody who listened to Walt’s show – including Levings likely – knew that.
Take this Star headline in July of 1996:
Now you hear him; now you don’t…. KCUR-FM calls a quick ending for the dean of KC broadcasting’s radio show
“It is in the best interest of the future direction of KCUR radio,” general manager Patricia Cahill told the newspaper.
What followed the next week was ugly. Very ugly.
Lead by the Star, practically the entire Kansas City news media piled on Cahill, turning her into a one-woman scapegoat and all but causing her to have a nervous breakdown.
“The venom that I hear on the answering machine from the messages that we’ve got at the station – it scares me, it’s so mean,” Cahill told me at the time. “And people are so quick to judge without knowing all of the details. And that scares me in a way, too. ”
Yet buried in writer Brian McTavish‘s front page story covering Bodine’s axing was this all-important money graph:
“Several sources close to Bodine and the station, who declined to be identified, said the quality of his show had declined in recent years. He was often ill-prepared to interview high-profile guests, one said, and another added that his light style was incompatible with the hard-hitting, topical news programs the station wants to develop.”
Several sources. Quality of the show had declined. Ill-prepared to interview guests.
How out of control did it get for Cahill? More than almost imaginable.
Thanks in no small part to the Star.
“When I saw the editorial in the paper where it said I could get sensitivity training from Marge Schott, I tried to call a good friend of mine who manages the (NPR) station in Cleveland who’s gone through difficulties,” Cahill told me. “But I tried to use the TV remote control to call her.
“Once I realized that I wasn’t even in control of myself enough to figure out there wasn’t any place to talk into it, I decided that I was in shock and it was like major surgery and I couldn’t make any decisions. So the biggest decision I made that day was to wear a slip underneath my dress because you could see through it otherwise…
“Frankly, when people ask me how I am right now, I say, ‘I’m not dead. ‘ And I’m not. That’s how I am – I’m not dead. ”
As of Saturday Walt Bodine is dead, and thanks to the Star his show on KCUR died a pathetic death last year rather than a dignified one in 1996.
If Cahill and other KCUR staffers thought Bodine was out of it 16 years ago, they hadn’t seen anything yet. The final years of Bodine’s show were equal parts sad and ridiculous.
People need to know when to hang it up – just like athletes and rock stars – but few seem to. That is, until management or the general public give them a shove.
In the case of Bodine, no way was Cahill about to pull the plug on his broadcasting career again, no matter how bad the show had become.
So to this day – on the record – you won’t hear anything out of Cahill’s mouth about Walt other than that he was like everybody’s uncle, comfortable, familiar, etc. etc.
Cahill knew Bodine had no biz being on the air.
Everybody in broadcasting did.
I remember talking back then to KCFX FM main man Bill Newman about Cahill’s public lynching.
And he told me he’d been speaking with then Channel 9 head Dino Dinovitz about the situation at KCUR.
Bodine was doing commentaries and restaurant reviews on KMBC at the time, but no effing way would Dinovitz ever dare risk canning him. Not after seeing what happened to Cahill.
Mercifully, Walt agreed to cut the cord with KMBC five years later.
Making Bodine how old then?
“I’m not saying,” Bodine chuckled at the time. “I’m over 40. You can say that. I wouldn’t if I were you, but you can say it.”
Look, let’s not take anything away from Bodine’s career and the good that he accomplished. But let’s also not pretend that a career that might have ended on a high note long ago, instead ended on a low one last April.