Kimberly Ray, Radio's Untamed Sweetheart: Part 1
To anyone unfamiliar with Kimberly Ray's name, you may recognize her anyway due to the circumstances that caused her career to burn to the ground. She made headlines twice outside Western New York, having been fired by two radio stations. Ray's final termination matters for various reasons, but none more than the disappearance of a radio innovation of hers.
Kimberly Ray’s invention of “the fourth man” meant that her comedic radio show could do an end-run around journalists in Rochester, New York. In our interview, she explained where the name “the fourth man” came from:
“I can't remember what football team it was. Maybe Seattle. They were always talking about their—what?—twelfth man? They had a number. If I knew football well enough. But, you know, [co-host] Barry [Beck] and I had been talking about that. We thought that could be a great name for our listeners.
We needed something to call the listeners, and there were the two of us and a producer, and so we just decided to call the listeners ‘the fourth man.’”
Whether they knew where the term “the fourth man” originated, any regular listener of The Kimberly & Beck Show understood the concept.
It hardly mattered what the day's lead local story was: homicide, a pawn shop being raided, a girl gone missing, whatever it might be, some listener who knew the inside story would call in to tell it. Every listener in the county seemed to know that if they or an acquaintance had been caught up in a crime making headlines, they called Kimberly & Beck.
Ray recalled how “the fourth man” concept developed:
“It started when we were on mornings (on 98.9 The Buzz). It started, probably going back to maybe 2005? And just like with any show, your show kind of evolves, and we had been syndicated in five cities at the time—up until about 2006, we were syndicated in five cities—and people would call in, and you'd call them by their name, and that's just something normal.
And the show kind of evolved, and people were calling us and giving us tips, and, 'Hey, did you know this was going on in my neighborhood?' So, we just decided to make people a part of our show because we wanted people to feel like they were a part of the working group.
Because, really, listeners to our show were instrumental in how we did our show. And our success. I don't think our show would have ever evolved to the point of success that it was without ‘the fourth man.’”
Interestingly, management at their station in the early 2000s didn’t expect Ray and Beck to connect with audiences as well as they did. Nor did management care if they did a superlative job. Ray recalled:
“Michael Doyle—the general manager at Entercom at the time—when he hired us said, ‘You'll never be more than like fifth or sixth. We don't expect you to be.’ And I looked at Barry and said, ‘Those expectations are really low. I don't want to be the fifth show in town. I don't want to be the sixth show in town. That's all they expect us to get?’
Because, of course, there was Wease (Brother Wease). He was number one at the time. And there were another two guys—I can't think of their names, but they went to the Boston area. They had pretty good ratings. I think [Howard] Stern was on, at the time, still on terrestrial radio. So, I went, 'Barry, I don't want to be fifth or sixth forever. That's a drag.'
And I looked at Michael Doyle and said, ‘We're going to be number one or number two.’ He kind of laughed at me and said, ‘Well, I like your attitude.’ And I'm like, ‘Okaaay.’
So, by 2006, 2007, we were either number one or number two, going up against The Bee, WBEE. We went back and forth with them on number one or number two from that point of 2006, 2007 on. We were never any lower than number one or number two.”
And with that success came rivals and enemies.
It was a natural thing to pick up competitors as Kimberly & Beck commanded an increasingly large rating share, but they also, by design, drew listeners in with controversy. That meant sticking it to local news outlets or reporters for opinions judged to be bone-headed. They would also go gunning for local politicians with attacks mixed with daffy entertainment. Typically, repeatedly, when covering the exploits of BLM-friendly Mayor Lovely Warren, they'd play the chase music from The Benny Hill Show.
And on the subject of the duo’s brand of humor –
A regular comic bit was something called "Freak of The Week," where the radio hosts would find the worst mugshot possible and joke about the person's appearance and crime. The segment counters later accusations that the radio hosts were either homophobic or racist. The week's mugshot often featured a stereotypical white methhead. The common denominator for the duo's targets was that they had done something stupid, not belonging to a particular demographic.
On this subject, Ray agreed with me. She said about lower-class whites—“trailer trash”— who could be disparaged on the show:
“We just call it what they are. I'm one of these people. They were trailer trash. I mean, I grew up trailer trash.
We talked about all kinds of trauma that were inflicted on people. It was all kinds of topics.”
Typically, however, the people who were the butt of the joke weren’t in trouble due to minor traumas they'd inflicted. Often, they'd done something indisputably criminal. When the radio hosts covered hardcore crime, "the fourth man" could do its best work.
NEWS REPORTING, IN ADDITION TO RADIO SILLINESS
Of the career highlights made possible by “the fourth man,” Ray has a couple. She said:
“I tell people because the one incident [that[ really puts it all together is—and, there are two situations where people really trusted us—one, the Rose Chase murder case, and then someone had called up regarding Charlie Tan.”
On the subject of “The Rose Chase Murder Case”:
Adam Chase—an adult married man—had been reported missing by his mother. Police worked on the disappearance without success. The family took it upon themselves to solve the mystery. They hired a private investigator, and they contacted Kimberly & Beck.
Ray recalled her introduction to the Chase family:
“The family had come up to me at the Grape Festival right after Rose Chase's husband had disappeared, and they said, 'There's something going on, and the police won't really look into it like we want them to look into it. Here're all the weird things that have gone on since,' and, 'Will you talk about it on your show?'
And I said absolutely, and I think that’s one situation where a family trusted us enough to give us the background on Rose Chase and her marriage.”
The details of the case eventually came to light, instigated by pressure on police from the Chase family. Adam and Rose had been arguing over Rose's infidelity; Adam had seen a photo of his wife kissing another man. During the fight, Rose pushed her husband down two flights of stairs, killing him. She kept the body in the basement for months, finally dismembering and burning it to dispel any thought that the death was a horrible accident.
And on the subject of the more traveled and famous case of Charlie Tan:
Charlie Tan, a well-liked college student from an upscale suburb, seemed to many people that he was the victim when he was charged with his father’s murder. The goodwill felt toward Charlie was such that it outweighed a crime as heinous as the one for which he was accused. Charlie was, specifically, charged with killing his father in the family home with three blasts from a shotgun.
The general feeling among many in the community was that, even if true that Charlie had ended his father's life, the violent act was probably unavoidable. Further, the thinking was that Charlie had likely acted in defense of his long-suffering mother. As a result, donations for Charlie's legal defense totaled $47,000.
Ray remembered that “the fourth man” provided a different take on the character of “sweet kid” Charlie, as well as that of the mother. Ray said:
“A caller had called up regarding Charlie Tan. This is information that no one had. That Charlie Tan and his mother had left to go to Canada, and the body of Charlie Tan's father—Jim Tan—had been left to rot in the house for four or five days with the family dog.”
CONTINUED IN PART 3: “Tripping Up” NEXT WEEK