As If Limbaugh and Beck Weren't Bad Enough, the Granddaddy of Hate Radio Is Back on the Air
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Answer: Both find echo and inspiration in the career of Bob Grant, the granddaddy of conservative hate radio who this week announced his return to New York's 77 WABC for one last go-around. Starting September 13, the frail octogenarian will host a Sunday show between noon and 2 p.m.
It's hard not to wonder if Grant's return to terrestrial radio is a bid to reclaim his identity. Not only has Glenn Beck borrowed Grant's two trademark catch phrases—"Get off my phone!" and "Sick, twisted freak"—this month Beck even reprised Grant's former role as the tallest whipping post for organized liberal outrage.
When colorofchange.org launched a campaign on August 4 targeting Beck's sponsors after he called the president a "racist" who hates "the white culture," the organization followed a path first blazed by Bob Grant's opponents during the mid-90s. It was then, on the cusp of the Internet age, that Grant became the first conservative broadcaster to trigger a sustained campaign against him with incendiary racial rhetoric. That campaign contributed to the eventual firing of Grant from WABC in 1996. It also made him a martyr for an entire generation of conservative talkers.
Grant was not the first conservative broadcasting firebrand. That distinction falls to Grant's mentor, Joe Pyne, a tough-talking one-legged ex-Marine who built a radio and tv career during the 50s and 60s on screeds against liberals and hippies, famously telling many of them to "go gargle with razor blades." But the bluster was largely an act. "Pyne was all shtick, a total gimmick," Larry King, who knew Pyne, has said. "He'd make fun of his guests and then go to dinner with them."
Grant's politics were less gimmicky. He studied Pyne closely while the two worked together in Los Angeles during the 1960s. In 1970, the year of his mentor's death, Grant relocated to New York. It was a propitious cultural moment for Grant's snarling Nixonian worldview. He arrived on the heels of the infamous "hard hat riot" on Wall Street, where 200 construction workers injured dozens in an attack on a student antiwar protest. Upon hearing the news, Nixon famously exclaimed, "Thank God for the hard hats!"
And thank God for Bob Grant, Nixon might have added. Grant's show became New York's megaphone for blue-collar white rage. He railed against the welfare state and slammed liberal politicians, peppering his insults with earthy southern Italian slang. He called blacks "sub-humans" and "savages" and invoked an earlier New York that never existed, "where everyone spoke English."
During his first months in New York, Grant's anger at the world around him was compounded by the fact that he despised the city and yearned to return to California. He found New York loud, filthy, and too crowded with non-whites and immigrants. Grant would later write that he hated New York so much that he "subconsciously wanted to get fired." Toward that end, Grant cranked up the hate in every direction. "I was becoming irascible on the air. Argumentative. Feisty. Impatient with the callers… I didn't care what anybody thought of me or my manners… I was telling people off left and right."
By the time New York started to grow on Grant, he realized something: not only had his spitfire persona failed to get him canned, his ratings were through the roof. So he kept up the act. For the next three decades, Grant's vitriolic rants against liberals and immigrants, originally fueled by self-hatred and disgust with New York, would inspire the next (and currently dominant) generation of conservative talkers. This includes Sean Hannity, who listened to Grant in Long Island during the 1970s, to Glenn Beck, who listened to him in New Haven during the early 1990s.