On Sept. 20, 1988, after nearly four years as an Adult Contemporary station serving Western New York’s biggest market, “97 Rock” returned to the airwaves.
Under new call letters that eventually became WGRF-FM, the station’s switch to Classic Rock programming was warmly received. Its morning host Larry Norton became a Buffalo institution through his December 2015 retirement.
Today, “97 Rock” and its owner, Cumulus Media, are dealing with a different type of notoriety for the longtime leader. One of its current morning hosts made a poor decision during a bit on Wednesday. Twenty-four hours later, the host was no longer a Cumulus employee, and the “Morning Bull” show was pulled in favor of music and liners.
A FORTY-FIVE SECOND MISTAKE
Rob Lederman lost his job for saying something during Wednesday’s installment of the “Morning Bull” that raised eyebrows, the blood pressure of many, and the attention of one Marcel Louis-Jacques, who shared an audio clip of what Lederman said via Twitter.
Louis-Jacques is the Buffalo-based reporter for ESPN NFL Nation and covers the Buffalo Bills.
To exacerbate matters for local Cumulus Media management, Louis-Jacques didn’t catch the utterance live: Its on the 52-minute condensed “Morning Bull Podcast” for March 24, and starts at the five minute mark.
The topic at hand: the settings on a toaster. Lederman, responding to Rich ‘Bull’ Gaenzler, ironically prefaced his comments by noting, “I may get into trouble for this.”
Lederman explained, “I have them to the attractiveness of the women that I find to be attractive. So, I will never go to a Serena Williams level, but I’m very comfortable with … a Halle Berry level … I need a little bit of mulatto still coming through.”
Lederman was asked by a female morning show member if Gayle King wasn’t in his realm. Lederman replied, “Gayle King is not even on my toaster level.”
The hosts then continue on with the conversation.
That said, the “Morning Bull” twitter feed remains active, frozen in time from Wednesday morning. Gaenzler’s Twitter feed was last updated March 21. Meanwhile, the “97 Rock” Twitter feed as of 3:45pm Thursday continued to feature as its featured photo a photo of Gaenzler and Lederman promoting the “Morning Bull.”
Gaenzler and a third co-host, Chris Klein, were suspended. On Thursday morning, WGRF offered music in-between station liners and IDs. By 10:30am, midday host J.P. was on the air. Afternoon host Carl Russo took over at 3pm.
While WGRF did not address the incident on the air, Buffalo’s news media treated Lederman’s firing as a lead story ahead of Wednesday’s 11pm newscasts and the publication of Thursday’s edition of The Buffalo News.
Asked for comment, a Cumulus Media spokesperson said the company “operates from a clearly defined set of programming principles and there is no question that Rob Lederman’s comments made on The Morning Bull show are in direct violation of those principles. We swiftly terminated him and suspended the remainder of the show’s on-air talent. We apologize, and deeply regret the incident.”
In response to follow-up questions regarding what’s next for WGRF, the company spokesperson said Cumulus has no additional information to share beyond the statement.
According to the Buffalo News, WGRF lost Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center as an advertiser as a direct result of Lederman’s comments.
Meanwhile, the newspaper spoke with Lederman, who said he was “horrified” by his commentary after listening to a recording of it. “I could easily see how someone could be offended by that. I get that. It sounds terrible, and it is terrible.”
He added that his words were guilty of “ignorance as opposed to malicious intent … I never saw myself as anything close to even thinking a racist thought. It’s just not who I am. So when I heard that, and heard how it sounded, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that sounds terrible.’ Now, can I take back those words? No. If you listen to them, were they meant to be hurtful? Absolutely not.”
Lederman has been associated with “97 Rock” for 30 years and worked alongside Norton.
While Gaenzler was suspended, and is assumedly returning to “97 Rock,” Pegula Sports & Entertainment moved forward with dismissing him as the official Key Arena host for NHL Buffalo Sabres games, and for the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League. Concurrently, the University of Buffalo Division of Athletics decided not to bring back Gaenzler as a public address announcer for football games in 2021-2022 and beyond.