Columnist John Sheirer: Radio personality Bob Flaherty will be missed

Published: 5/10/2021 9:25:49 AM

I always enjoy hearing the melodious voice of Rachel Maddow beckoning us to listen to “WHMP: news, information, and the arts.” Unfortunately, our local radio station recently rendered an iconic voice silent when local legend Bob Flaherty was fired from his morning show on WHMP.

  • Bob Flaherty at the microphone in 2017

I first met Bob in 2015 when he was running the studio control board for Bill Newman while I was promoting a new book as a guest on Bill’s fantastic show. Bob graciously invited me to appear on his show the next time my Gazette column appeared, and I agreed.

Bob’s show always sounded spontaneous to me, but his preparation for my first visit was meticulous. When I showed up before daylight for that initial early segment, I saw that Bob had printed my column and scrawled so many questions and comments in the margins that he might have had more words on the page than I did.

That level of preparation was no fluke. For the past six years, I’ve appeared on Bob’s show each month to talk about my column, and Bob marked up every column the same way. I was always impressed with his perceptive questions and observations. For each of those 70-plus Monday crack-of-dawn conversations, Bob never failed to be an insightful interviewer and an intelligent, entertaining commentator.

Before I started appearing on his show, I assumed that Bob had lots of technical help while on the air. But it was just Bob operating his studio control board like a virtuoso playing a church organ. He wheeled his chair from control board to microphone to coffee mug to keyboard to cereal bowl with a purpose that masqueraded as random, hyperkinetic motion. He seemed to move as much in one radio show as he did during his marathon ping-pong charity events

We didn’t agree on every issue, but he respected my views and could find common ground even when he probably thought I was full of crap. And he was far from a one-note flamethrower. He could enthrall his audience with yarns about yardwork, parenting, sports, and, of course, his “lovely and talented” wife Annemarie. I’ll miss his sweet, funny, nostalgic reminiscences just as much as his passionate rants.

The Gazette quoted Bob saying that he was fired for “a couple of rants,” including comments calling for the death penalty for mass shooters. Do I agree with Bob on that point? No. Should he be fired for voicing that point? Of course not.

I don’t subscribe to right-wing “Cancel Culture” or “Political Incorrectness” theories. In reality, people who behave like jerks are finally receiving consequences for jerky behavior. Good. That’s called adult responsibility. Fox Newsers and their agenda-driven comrades act as if they can’t be questioned about the jerky things they say and unironically whine to an audience of millions on major media outlets about being “silenced” or “canceled.”

Bob has said plenty in the past decade that could be considered controversial, but he was never a jerk. Firing him seems a deeply misguided consequence

Like so much in the media business these days, Bob’s departure sounds like an economic media trend. Someone probably decided the station could boost its bottom line by replacing Bob with more syndicated programming. Media finances aside, airing more syndicated shows is a terrible decision if your goal is to have local voices for local listeners.

WHMP doubled down on this baffling strategy when the station added a conservative syndicated show to the afternoon lineup. We live in a time when the flagship conservative media network tells us that President Biden is banning hamburgers and Vice President Harris is forcing her children’s book on minors at the border. Those stories are obviously false, yet Fox News repeated them even after issuing half-hearted retractions.

Add to that the right-wing’s amplification of lies about the election and the pandemic (lies that were literally deadly), and it’s clear that conservative media weaponizes misinformation into dangerous propaganda.

Other than liberal, reality-based stalwarts Stephanie Miller and Thom Hartmann, most of WHMP’s syndicated programming is conservative-leaning fluff in the guise of entertainment, finance, and news. These shows aren’t as extreme as the Biden-bans-burgers brigade, but listeners can find such anodyne programming anywhere.

By contrast, our local airwaves thrive with more local hosts and guests, not fewer. Would the Gazette still be a “local paper” if it consisted primarily of syndicated national news with precious little local coverage? Should we look at “local radio” differently?

If there’s a silver lining to Bob’s departure it’s that he now has more time to write another novel. If you missed Bob’s delightfully rambunctious coming-of-age tale, “Puff,” you’re in for a treat. I’ll be first in line to buy his next book.

Maybe WHMP could address its identity crisis by replacing big chunks of syndicated programming with local authors like Bob reading their work. We have a vast network of outstanding writers within WHMP’s airwaves, many of whom have graced Bob’s and Bill Newman’s shows over the years.

Readings of local fiction, poetry, memoir, journalism, scholarship, and children’s books would be far more worthy of the tagline, “news, information, and the arts” than replacing distinctive voices like Bob’s with yet more generic noise.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. His book, “Positively Toward the Negative,” contains his Gazette columns from 2016-2020. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.

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