By now everybody knows that Edward Koch, Congressman then mayor of New York City, has died at the age of 88. Koch was an outspoken and controversial man—an advocate of the death penalty in a liberal town, a supporter of invading Iraq, and widely criticized for a lackluster response to the AIDs crisis as it unfolded in New York. But it should also be remembered that he was a talk radio host at a signal that began as a socialist station: WEVD.
“His image on television, his high-pitched voice on the radio, his round shoulders and gangly arms and baggy pants, and especially his streetwise gusts of candor — saying what people said over the dinner table in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn — gave New Yorkers the illusion that he was a rumpled, familiar acquaintance,” noted the New York Times in its obituary of Koch.
Socialists launched WEVD in 1927, naming it after their famous leader, Eugene Victor Debs. The Jewish Daily Forward took over its operations four years later and ran the frequency as an ethnic community radio station. Greek, Polish, and Yiddish shows filled the schedule. Then in 1989 WEVD transitioned to a talk format that included the now former NYC mayor. Over the next decade WEVD clung to a reputation as a liberal station, a characterization that station producer Scott Pellegrino challenged as the signal verged on being bought by Disney in 2001:
Let’s examine the liberal status of the four “legit” shows that are still on the air till the end of the month. Morning man Bill Mazer’s main passion is Israel, a subject he delves into about as objectively as Sony critic David Manning delves into Adam Sandler flicks. Ed Koch, who’s on 4 to 5, is pro-death penalty, anti-affirmative action and his past endorsements include D’Amato and Giuliani. The next two hosts were recently described by bubble-brained Newsday columnist Ellis Henican as being “firmly on the left.” Two months before the last election, drive-time host Sam Greenfield (one of my former produce-ees) demanded not to be shown any negative Al Gore stories. Six days before the election, in a sleazy attempt to scare New York Jews, Sam went on the air and accused Ralph Nader of being an anti-Semite without offering a single shred of evidence. When asked numerous times to back up his claim, he offered nothing.
“Esthetically, WOR and WABC are definitely more entertaining car accidents than WEVD,” Pellegrino’s recollection concluded. “Excepting small doses of Ed Koch’s inadvertent psycho shtick, everything on WEVD is boring as spit.”
Still, I remember that quite a few people were upset when Disney reformatted WEVD as a sports signal. They formed a “Save WEVD” group and challenged the license transfer, to no avail. Guess somebody liked Ed, at least on the radio.