Bob Grant would know how Phil Robertson or even Melissa Harris-Perry feel about being a targeted for stating opinions. Asked how he managed to survive and thrive so long despite efforts to have him booted off of air, Grant had a simple answer.
FILE - In this April 29, 1996 file photo, longtime conservative radio host Bob Grant speaks on the air at WOR-AM in New York. Grant died Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, at the age of 84, in Hilllsborough, N.J., after a short illness according to New York radio station WABC. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File
“Ratings. That’s the only way anybody survives,” Grant told me. “If you pick up a copy of the New York Post in October 1992, there I am on the cover and you read that and you get the clear picture of how important, it’s everything ratings. That’s how you survive.”
It was quite an honor to interview Grant – an iconic figure for the conservative movement and for talk radio. He died last week at 84, leaving behind a legacy that not every talk radio fan is fully aware of.
Like Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant began his radio career in California before making it big in New York. Rush had a show in Sacramento, Grant had a show in Los Angeles. Grant surprised me by recalling his most memorable moment of his radio career was on his L.A. show. That’s when he interviewed Ronald Reagan who in 1966 was running for governor.
“So Reagan was booked and it turned out to be his first radio interview as a gubernatorial candidate. I kept him for two hours. He was only supposed to be on for one,” Grant told me when I talked to him for my book on talk radio, The Right Frequency.
A supporter of incumbent Democrat Edmund G. Brown called in to say Grant had more answers to Reagan and that the two should switch places, something that might have made other politicians defensive.
“Ronald Reagan, such a wonderful human being, says, ‘You know, you might have a good point there,’” Grant recalled. “That in retrospect has turned out to be my most memorable interview.”
After hitting the East Coast, Grant notably impacted other gubernatorial campaigns.
His relentless criticism of tax hiking New Jersey Gov. Jim Floria, whom he called “Flim Flam Floria,” and frequently having liberal Republican challenger Christie Whitman tilted the 1993 election.
Florio said, “how can I win with Bob Grant beating my brains out every day?”
The next year, Grant championed George Pataki’s long shot campaign against legendary liberal Gov. Mario Cuomo. “Whenever I wanted to talk to the people, I’d call Bob Grant,” Pataki once said.
Pataki, no rock ribbed conservative, continued to be grateful to Grant. Buckling to political pressure, Whitman threw Grant under the bus. Interestingly, Grant and Florio would make their peace.
“Years later, there was a lunch arranged by mutual friends to have Jim and I set down to have lunch together. We both agreed. I found him to be a delightful person,” Grant told me. “We enjoyed it because we weren’t talking so much about the election. He was a pretty good sport come to think of it.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, The New York Times produced a negative obituary filled with ad homonym attacks, bemoaning Grant’s “testy, confrontational manner.” Before there was an alternative media, Grant was one of the few voices who challenged the Times liberal narrative.
But I think most listeners, as I do, will recall smart and entertaining political analysis. I encountered a very gracious and fascinating individual, one who kept those big ratings because he spoke for an East Coast audience that didn’t have a voice in the more dominant Times-centric media.
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