Hearne: The Sad, Awful Truth About Broadcaster Walt Bodine

WaltBodineFriends, 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

cahill“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.”

Get that?

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.

Unfortunately.

 

 

 

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51 Responses to Hearne: The Sad, Awful Truth About Broadcaster Walt Bodine

  1. smartman says:

    The irony is that so many people that were critical of Cahill in ’96 probably hadn’t listened to Walt in twenty years. How any of his friends or family members allowed him to stay on the air when he was clearly out of it is beyond me.

    I heard all the stories at the that time that Walt would literally die without his show. His problem, not mine.
    As a media personality, regardless of appearance or idealogy, you have an OBLIGATION to be relevant and entertaining. Walt hadn’t been either for quite some time which is a burden of shame his family and friends can carry for the rest of their lives.

  2. Orphan of the Road says:

    I moved to Philadelphia shortly after WCAU-TV and John (NFL’s THE VOICE OF GOD) Facenda stepped down when management wanted to gain audience when a rival station debuted ACTION NEWS format.

    Today you will still hear people express their disbelief in Facenda’s removal. Mostly from folks who never saw him anchor a newscast.

    Of course Facenda’s end came when he was still viable. Walt had indeed long passed the point of being viable in his job.

    Of course those of us of a certain age didn’t like Walt & Night Beat. We wanted more of the Devil’s music rather than some programing in the public interest (as required by the FCC).

    A lesson that is TV News 101, don’t mess with a legend.

    Similarly there was a saying in the business world, no one was ever fired for buying IBM equipment.

  3. the dude says:

    How dare some WOMAN try to stop the greatness of a once great local talent even though he had no business being on the air. Phuh.

    Man, listening to him mumble and umm and ahh the last couple of years was just too much. Mercy killing was in terrible need there.

  4. Jahk says:

    May he rest in peace!

  5. Not an idiot like Hearne says:

    So you have more than a year to write this column, but you choose to wait until Walt dies to write this column? I guess nobody is surprised by the fact you did this. But maybe it’s time for you to hang up the keyboard, since your days as any sort of decent journalist are clearly behind you. I mean, do young people in Kansas City even know who you and your lightly read blog are? Does anyone even care?

  6. Mark says:

    Hearne,

    Dancing on graves does not become you. This piece would have fine when he finally stepped down. This isn’t really news to anyone and comes off as exceedingly crass.

    To be honest, you know better.

  7. Vernon Justice says:

    Hearne, I’m guessing here, but were you not released from The Star? Could this be part of your problem in reporting the passing of Walt? If Walt were to be let go, should he not have been given a way to exit the stage gracefully, rather than the rude push he got off the air? Those of us who listened faithfully may have noticed his sometimes confused reporting. I recall once, he confused Bill Clinton to John Kennedy, but we over looked that gaff. He was not bad at his job as you imply. Old, yes, somewhat distracted at times, but not so badly that we, the audiance coud not over look it.

    The Star reported his firing, they wrote a nice piece on his career, but this did not cause me to rush to judgement. Cahill brought this down on herself. She was no innocent victim. If she had wanted Walt out, she could have engineereed a more graceful exit than she did.

    • admin says:

      Waited Walt out? Are you kidding?

      She’d have signed on for 16 more years of really bad radio and not many people in a position to evaluate and then hire and fire talent, get to where they got by “waiting things out.”

      Cahill was the vicitim of a media hit job that nearly took her out and she caved. She knew all along, as did anybody in the biz and most listeners that putting Bodine out to pasture in 1996 was the exact right thing to do.

      So saying that she brought this down on herself implies that she did something wrong and paid the price.

      Not true.

      She did something right and paid the price.

  8. neurodawg says:

    hey “Not an idiot”- are you one of those people who clearly used Mr. Bodine to try to further your career on those pathetic Friday shows- with the same tired reviewers from the same fading meida outlets? Maybe you need to know when to step down too.

  9. Vernon Justice says:

    I’m glad to see there are others who are just as critical of you as you have been of Walt. You are still living, and the slings and arrows of misfortune can and will hurt you. A badly misquoted line from Shakesphere.”

  10. admin says:

    A paraphrased line, not a quoted line.

    Look, this about that history is being recorded here and history is not composed by assembling glossed over facts and leaving out the prickly details. That’s why the Star charges people for obituaries – so friends and family members can gloss things over to their heart’s content.

    However, this was front page news in the Kansas City Star in 1996 and it’s piss poor journalism to leave it out when writing such a detailed account as today’s front page effort.

    By the way, the reporter who wrote the 1996 story pointed this out to me today.

    You can’t write about Nixon going to China and leave out Watergate.

    Well, I guess you can. The Star sure did today

  11. Lee says:

    This article was spot on. I rarely listened to him 20+ years ago. He never seemed to listen to the answer his guest gave but just went on to his next question with no follow up. It was just as if he were reading from a script with no consideration given to what his guest just said. Just poor interviewing skills and poor journalism. Cahill was right to can him. It is possible he was great in his early years but either old age and/or laziness made him unlistenable years ago.

  12. Randy says:

    Watching a gossip columnist try to tear down a man with an actual background in journalism (regardless of the man’s eventual slide into irrelevance) is absolutely hysterical. If anyone spends this much time summarizing Hearne’s career when he passes, I’ll be surprised.

  13. mark smith says:

    I think what walts critics and hearne might be overlooking are the listeners who grew old with Walt. A lesson Cahill won’t likely forget, it’s called loyalty. I’ll wager more than a few bucks come to our local public radio from older folks who had listened to Walt. Was his show short of ground breaking? Sure. But what Walt may have lacked in sharpness in his declining years was ovelooked out of a sense of respect and loyalty. Familiarity clearly breeds contempt as evidenced by hearnes piece and some of the comments. Familiarity also gives a sense of comfort to people, in this case the elderly who just don’t get the jubilani lefalls or hearne christophers.I listened to Walt, less for his shows content and more for the familiar tone of his voice. He left his profession on his own terms, he earned that much.

    • admin says:

      Fair enough.

      But I’ll wager a lot more people listened to KCUR who didn’t have a clue as to why the station left him on all this time.

      Check out these two comments from one of my Facebook pages:

      From Liz Dimmick Ticer: “Not born in KC. Under 40. Yeah. Had no idea that any of this had happened. I just thought the station didn’t know what it was doing having him on the air.”

      From Joanne Schiller: “THANK GOD & great RELIEF for this story as I came to KC in ’08 & swore at the radio every morn as I had to find something/anything coherent and better to listen to than Bodine. Couldn’t fathom why on earth he was on, NOW I understand, sorta. All that wasted airtime, ridiculous.”

      • Randy says:

        “All that wasted airtime” could easily apply to ANY talk radio program.

        Also, were these people forced at gunpoint to listen to Bodine’s show? Sheesh.

        • admin says:

          I don’t think that “gunpoint” is the issue.

          KCUR management made the decision that Bodine was no longer capable of hosting the show and cut him loose.

          A handful of local media lead by the Star and listeners lead in part – as I recall – by Loy Edge, mounted a call in campaign that nearly drove Cahill off the deep end. Thus they managed to lobby Walt back on the air.

          He was all but, if not, totally out of it on an increasing basis and many public radio listeners were left to wonder why the station would field a show that bad.

          So yes, they had the choice of turning it off, but that doesn’t render their opinions meaningless.

  14. MrBrown says:

    Hearnes Future obit

    I can’t say anything yet but look for the details soon at Tony’s Kansas City

  15. chuck says:

    Neither Walt nor his show in later years was ambulatory.

    The show rarely hit on all cylinders at time went by, but I listened to it if I liked the guest because, like Mark said, I had listened to him for a long time and didn’t mind at all the lapses in pace and lacunas in programing.

    It really did remind me of picking up my Granny when she was still around to take her somewhere. You gotta plan. Weather, timing, bathrooms, food, personell, logistics etc etc. When Walt went off of the rails I kinda liked it when the lady (Forgot her name.) would gently guide Walt back to the subject and us all back to heart and hearth in remembrances of old folks we knew and loved years ago.

    I have enjoyed talking to old folks (I AM one now.) my entire life and like Mark said, I listened to him on the radio off and on for decades.

    Hearne is accurate in his description of the technical shortcomings of the show and Mark is correct in why old fogies like me still liked the guy.

    I liked it when he would get lost and then say, “Oh yeah, ok, hmmm, well…, that’s sure interesting.”

    You know your Grandpa and Grandma did the same thing all the time.

    It wasn’t so bad.

    🙂

  16. Jean says:

    Wow … really aiming low these days. I listened to Walt Bodine on KCUR very regularly pretty much all the years he was there, and like so many others, I loved him.
    But really, Hearne, what exactly is your beef? He stayed past his prime? And just why is that such a crime? Because he failed to defer to Patty Cahill’s judgment 17 years ago … personally, I found many years of very good, absolutely worthwhile contributions from him during that time. Did he sabotage some younger contestants for the spot? Was there something illicit in his efforts to retain his job?
    I really fail to see why trashing someone within days of their death seems appropriate to you?

  17. balbonis moleskine says:

    As a generally unnecessary and mean-spirited individual myself, I found this to be unnecessary and mean-spirited.

  18. CG says:

    Walt was kinda more famous than me.

  19. Kerouac says:

    Knowing ‘when to say when’ is an exclusive club, indeed – even ‘the most interesting man in the world’ doesn’t know (or want to) appears… who then qualifies gracious or resigned acquiescence?

    Bo Jackson knew – Willie Mays did not; the latter stumbling around in CF for the Mets at age 42 (the diamond equivalent of Walt Bodine’s latter radio years, some’s opinion.)

    The Chiefs got old under Hank Stram… Hank couldn’t help himself or didn’t know, but Lamar Hunt did; nigh 40 years later, Chiefs have really never yet begun again.

    Johnny ‘The Charger’ Unitas – Joe ‘The Ram’ Namath – A spent Muhammad Ali – Dick Clark his not so Rockin New Year’s Eve – Larry King ‘Live’ (or is he Memorex?) – Elvis ‘arthritic pelvis’ Presley; Jagger and the Rolling Bones too. Big names, heroes to some… done.

    Vin Scully turns 86 this year & still broadcasts Dodgers games, though his mistakes are apparent now (I’ve listened to him since the early 1960’s – yet, some LA fans call you a heretic if you state the truth.)

    Johnny Carson was a rarity who went out on top (even his exit borrowed from a man who in some’s opinion was Carson’s better, Jack Paar (Paar’s obit in Time magazine – “His fans would remember him as the fellow who split talk show history into two eras: Before Paar and Below Paar.”

    So too Sandy Koufax & Jim Brown; few others come to mind… most of us stay too long at the fair and so (nod to Billy Joel), “only the good die young”.

    • Super Dave says:

      You just pissed off millions and I mean millions of Rolling Stones fans with that remark.

      See that’s the point, you think The Stones should stop doing concerts but millions of fans willing to spend even more millions of dollars say other wise.

      A persons opinion, as in Hearne’s about Walt, might not be shared with as many as they think. So when should a person quit doing what they like? Are you Kerouac going to quit doing what you like because a few tell you to, or are you going to do so when you are ready?

      • Kerouac says:

        “You just pissed off millions and I mean millions of Rolling Stones fans with that remark.”

        – I’m not only handsome but a powerful man (also am not/never was a fan of their ‘music’ as some call it; what millions think does not affect my opinions.)

        “See that’s the point, you think The Stones should stop doing concerts but millions of fans willing to spend even more millions of dollars say other wise.”

        – let them… ditto Tony Bennett, who I found more enjoyable to listen to (which doesn’t change the fact he too is but a shadow of his former self as a singer; me and my candor.)

        “A persons opinion, as in Hearne’s about Walt, might not be shared with as many as they think.”

        – ‘everyone has one’ as the old adage goes… some folks ‘are’, such beauty in the eye each beholder.

        “So when should a person quit doing what they like?”

        – preferably before they are made to…

        “Are you Kerouac going to quit doing what you like because a few tell you to, or are you going to do so when you are ready?”

        – I quit on my own terms, but did so long ago at age 46; perhaps I am the exception like some of the aforementioned, in my post.

        The old adage “better to trade a player (or a career, otherwise) a year too early than a year too late” comes to mind… I concur.

        • Kerouac says:

          Reply variously et al

          Regarding the of late Bodine, Rolling Bones, Frank ‘My Way’ (or the highway) Sinatra and the ‘left arm of God’ Koufax, my point as opinion is a general one: most stay past their prime whether gratis, paid or subsidized etc., latter beside the point and an argument otherwise; my comments stand.

          Popularity (to include consensus) neither validates nor gives value beyond subjective measure, entertainment field or any other, fandom $upport included (one man’s treasure being another’s garbage, opines yours, mine & every.) *note* I iterated that Koufax did ‘not’ play past his prime… re-read my original blog comment.

      • admin says:

        Hey, the Stones are still selling tickets, so that’s fair game. I remember Sinatra forgetting the words to songs, but again, people didn’t have to pay to go see him.

        Bodine however was on a taxpayer supported public radio station, daily, then weekly.

        And it wasn’t like he couldn’t quite hit the high notes or might forget a lyric here or there, he was stone cold out of it.

        Management got bullied by a handful of interested parties into doing something everybody in radio here knew was wrong.

        Is it wrong for Chuck or mark to have gotten off somehow on the folksiness of his doddery? Of course not.

        Was it 30 years of really good radio as implied by today’s Star? Hardly.

        • the dude says:

          And Bodine was basically fired, the Stones and Sinatra were not. Big difference.
          Eh, people get so blinded by nostalgia they can’t see the elephant in front of them.

          • Les Weatherford says:

            Sandy Koufax did NOT play past his prime. He won 26 games in ’65 and 27 in ’66. His last six season of his 12-seacon career were his best. He retired after ’66 because of arthritis. He knew when to leave.

  20. Ginger Bonita says:

    This column was fine. Of course people get pissed when you write something negative about the dead guy, but there’s a place for reflection of facts and actual events after one’s passing. You may not find it in the Star, but you can find it somewhere.

    Walt didn’t appeal to me, but obviously he did to a number of people who lost their shit when Patty Cahill tried to jettison him from the airwaves. In this case, the free market spoke. People freaked the fuck out when the guy they liked was about to be shown the door, and the station realized they didn’t have much of a choice. If only there had been a similar uprising when Sonic Spectrum was handed its marching orders from KCUR, it would still be a station worth listening to today.

    I’m guessing KCUR realized they were going to lose a lot of underwriters and contributors in 1996 when they wanted to get rid of Walt, and figured they’d have a hard time surviving without the support of Walt’s fans. Good for Walt. Most of the rest of us could only hope to be so adored and meaningful in so many other people’s lives.

  21. Super Dave says:

    I grew up hearing Walt’s voice over the air ways and yes he will be missed. Too many of us in some ways he was like the old uncle or maybe even a grandfather some of us didn’t have. Sure he was getting hard to listen to at times there in the end, but listen we did because he was like family to us in ways. Walt had a voice you either liked or hated but you knew who it always was as soon as you heard it. Walt made Kansas City home and chose to be a part of Kansas City his whole life and that is something we see damn little these days in the media or sports world. Walt stayed in Kansas City because he loved the city and the people in it. The people of Kansas City over the years as well spent many hours listening and enjoying that voice floating through the air to their ears.

  22. Irishguy says:

    Why do I have the feeling that his is less about Walt Bodine and Patricia Cahill than it is about Hearne Christopher and the KC Star?

    • Irishguy says:

      Should read: “this is less about” rather than “his is less about”.

    • admin says:

      I dunno, because you’re dyslexic?

      • Irishguy says:

        Or is it because you used the death of a 92-year-old man to tell us again how awful the Star is? By digging up a story that is going on 17 years old?

        Really, Hearne. Let it go.

        • admin says:

          Let it go?

          This was a huge, front page turning point in Bodine’s career. Would you like to let all of the trivial details re-reported from a lot farther back than 17 years go as well?

    • Vernon Justice says:

      Good point. One which should be remembered.

      • admin says:

        Dare I suggest that after several phone calls admonishing me on this story by a certain former KCC writer from Johnson County obsessed with death – a one time Bodine regular who co-wrote a book with him – that Vernon Justice might be an alias? Just a thought.

  23. CG says:

    First off, Hearne has the right to express his opinion. Walt was more than slipping towards the end, the long end. I think Hearne addressed this before Walt passed. However as I expressed on TKC, Walt, like Mike Murphy, was and is a KC Icon. This city rallies around the ‘average guy.’ Not that Mike nor Walt were average, but they came off as ‘the guy next door.’ Your neighbor, your pal.

    It makes Hearne come off a bit cold reporting the negative when Walt dies. I don’t think it was a secret that Walt had many issues and his show was aimed at a pretty elderly market for the most part over the last many years. Maybe the timing of the piece wasn’t so great.

    All that being said, Hearne left little to really argue about other than the timing. I knew more of Walt when he was younger and on WHB, the older Walt and I had a few talks and I did his show in the last decade or so, a nice man. The guy did have a huge loyal following. When we go, and we all will go, there is always nice things to say and some maybe not so kind, just the way it is.

  24. gerald bostock says:

    An obituary is meant to assess a person’s whole life and its significance. So when Michael Jordan’s is written, it will focus on his championships with the Bulls, not his last gasps with the Wizards. Dick Berkley’s will focus on his 12 years as KC mayor, not whatever it is he has been doing in the last 22 years. The newsworthiness of Bodine’s death is because of his milestone status based on his earlier years as a dominant player in KC media and on his overall longevity. Hearne evidently wanted the obituary to focus on Bodine’s last years of diminished skill and physical deterioration, which shows again the poor news judgment he continually displays here when he doesn’t have professional editors to rein in his snarky and superficial instincts.

    • admin says:

      Did you read the Star story Gerald?

      Right up top it talks of his last 30 years on KCUR. Most of which were years that he should not have been on the radio.

      Again, you don’t write Nixon’s obit and leave out Watergate. You don’t write Clinton’s and leave out Monica.

      And you don’t fluff out Bodine’s and leave out the fact that he was yanked off the air for being out of it 17 years ago, but a PR campaign pressured a very highly regarded public radio official into making a really bad choice.

      Try reading Craig Glazer’s story about how out of it Bodine was in the early 1990s, before his axing and rehiring.

  25. CG says:

    Not so fast gerald. Hearne worked for the Star for years. He had a tough editor and still put out the most colorful articles on this cities best known and even not so well known people, like Jerry the panhandler. What made the guy stand out was he was often tough on big name KC leaders and known somebodies. So this is something Hearne may have gotten into print, less the attack on the Star itself. But yes they would likely have let him semi blast Walt. No not this hard, but yes he could have reported on Walt’s negative issues to a certain extent. However I do agree we should be measured by our long time finest moments not the last few questionable ones that come with age and getting towards the end, we all get there.

  26. harleyiscool says:

    nice article. Hearne be nice to the man. That’s you someday.

  27. Country Jesus says:

    I wish KCUR would replay Walt’s interviews with James Elroy and Larry Flynt, as a tribute.

  28. Marty Bodine says:

    IRONY (def)
    i·ro·ny [ahy-ruh-nee] noun, plural i·ro·nies.
    1. A failed media gossip attacking a beloved community icon on the occasion of his death for being irrelevant.

    (Walt always loved playing around with definitions. This one’s for you, Dad!)

    • admin says:

      Failed, huh?

      Built up the Pitch from a record rag to a weekly, highest read column in the Star for 16 years with a six figure salary plus expenses and one of the top blog / web sites in KC.

      Look, your dad clearly had his moments. We all know that. We also know that those moments for the most part did not encompass not the last 15 or 20 years on KCUR shortly before and after he was fired.

      I was never fired, I was laid off alongside hundreds of others.

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