When transgender health benefits were added to the City of Rochester, New York's medical plan in 2014, news outlets declared that the hosts of one local radio show responded abysmally. Kimberly Ray and Barry Beck—of the Kimberly & Beck radio show—were said to have disparaged transgender people on-air. Their commentary cost them their employment at radio station 98.9 The Buzz.
To present both sides of the controversy, I'll use descriptions of what transpired on the radio show written by two of the show's harshest critics. First, though, a quote in defense of the radio program.
News stories suggest that a fairly predictable group was responsible for the radio team's termination: gay pride organizations, the 4,441 signatories of a petition to remove the radio hosts from the air, and activist journalists. John Lukach—the man who started the petition—wasn't a factor that seemed as important as others. However, a regional blogger with a laser focus on the radio business made some damning assertions about Lukach.
The blogger—who goes by the handle "The King of Rochester"—wrote about Lukach:
"This little self-important dickturd, who has not kept a single job for more than a few months in various social work, a self-proclaimed 'activist' for transgender rights, but apparently not a spokesman for the Men's Warehouse, went on a kamikaze mission from hell, tweeting like a banshee about the allegedly offensive K&B comments and starting a change.org petition to get Kimberly & Beck fired from the Buzz."
The blogger then claimed that the petition was not as advertised:
"If you see the original 2014 petition on change.org, it was full of bot signatures and even statements that they supported K&B. But to no avail. Munn and Danger (management at 98.9), fearing a backlash from advertisers, sent their top-rated radio personalities packing."
Another concern is whether anything happened on the broadcast that was incendiary enough to warrant anyone being fired. For that determination, I'll quote some of those most offended.
In a passionate article by Slate associate editor Bryan Lowder, the radio team's behavior was characterized as "outright malicious" and "frighteningly callous." However, when it came to what had outraged Lowder, even by his own account, a joke told by the radio hosts came across as PG-rated and funny.
Lowder wrote that Ray and Beck were confronted on the show by an "impressively brave and eloquent caller" who pushed back against their evident prejudice:
"Amid a stream of transphobic jokes, willful ignorance, and nasty slurs, Kimberly has the gall to suggest that she understands all the 'sensitivities' involved in transgender issues. Of course, that's only when she's confronted by an impressively brave and eloquent caller who does their best to push back against the morass of prejudice with a little education—' [this is] incredibly disrespectful toward transgender people.' Not that it does much good: Before kicking them off the air, another host, perceiving the caller to be female, says: 'Thank you, sir.'"
Andrea Raethka, a contributor to Rochester's daily paper, The Democrat and Chronicle, also tried to paint the radio duo's behavior as unconscionable. But, like Lowder, she arguably left at least one joke intact.
In a column titled "Local Radio Hosts, Kimberly and Beck, Disgrace Station, 98.9 The Buzz with Transphobic Rant," Raethka—behaving very much like an activist—wrote that she planned to contact the station, as well as its advertisers, to register her "disgust."
In her column, she outlined the crimes as she saw them, including, as Lowder had, that a female had been called "sir." The closest Raethka may have come to landing a blow was pointing out that the radio hosts called transgender people "nut jobs." She finished her litany of offenses, however, with an example that didn't work out to be a grand finale:
"The hosts then ended the segment with Aerosmith's song, 'Dude looks like a lady.'"
The parties responsible for detonating the employment of the two radio hosts—whoever deserves the credit—would find any satisfaction they'd derived short-lived. The universe, in that instance, appeared to be more forgiving than the mob.
Ray and Beck were fired from a drive-time show, and due to the reason for their reprimand, it was safe to assume they wouldn't return to the airwaves in Rochester. So, it was almost inexplicable when they resurfaced—and on another Rochester station, with another lucrative drive-time slot. Nearly everything about the return was unexpected— including that their new station was home to former competitor Brother Wease.
Ray was back on the air after what should have been a career-ender. Instead, she'd rejoined show business like any tainted celebrity with a new hit series. Almost rejoined, anyway.
Ray and Beck now found themselves recognized in a way that would have been genuinely noxious to an influential subset of the community. I'll offer one example to describe what that would mean in very blue Rochester.
Rochester is a city big enough to have at least one of everything, and that would include having its notable vaccine skeptic. Radio host Shannon Joy has her program on WHAM, the region's largest talk radio station. However, even being mixed in with the talent on the station's website doesn't mean that WHAM officially sanctions Joy. Her nightly broadcast begins with a disclaimer that her show "does not reflect the views or policies of this station or iHeart Media."
I'll describe an instance where Rochester media—both left and right—aligned against Joy, whom many in the community would know by the pejorative "anti-vaxxer." The attack began when an editor for Rochester's free entertainment guide/leftist newspaper City News called into question an action taken by the local Republican Party.
The Republicans forwarded a release to the media about a Shannon Joy press conference. David Andreatta, in City News, wrote:
"News reporters across Rochester received a press release from the Monroe County Republican Committee in their email inboxes on Thursday morning.
That normally would not be considered unusual. Local political parties of all stripes routinely issue press releases about matters involving their organizations and candidates.
What was unusual, though, was that the release was sent on behalf of the conservative Rochester radio personality Shannon Joy and advertised a press conference she was staging later in the day."
If you're at a loss to understand the crime committed, nonetheless, the Monroe County Republican Committee must have. They promptly lifted their ass in the air to receive their beating. Party advisor Jack Merritt wrote a letter of apology for the press release distribution and was then put on administrative leave. Todd Hallidy, a WHAM talk radio anchor—ostensibly on the republican side of the aisle and on the same station as Joy— joined the pile-on. Hallidy tweeted in agreement with Andreatta that the Republicans had erred:
"This was a significant screw-up. Allowing the party and its apparatus to be used as a very public mouthpiece for a controversial activist is never a good idea."
To summarize, in Rochester, if you're a fan of specific stories that the establishment would like to see buried—among them, the dangers of the COVID vaccine or the illegitimacy of the 2020 election—you may find yourself on a short leash even among your Republican brethren. That tight rein would also apply to those, like Ray, who consider themselves non-political but aren't on board with the program.
FUNNY LITTLE INTERACTION
In my interview with Ray, she told an anecdote illustrative of her radio show's relationship with the Rochester press. I asked if she felt the media was gunning for her after she'd been fired from 98.9 for the allegedly transphobic comments. She said:
"Prior to the week of things being shut down (due to COVID)—it was in March of 2020 —Beck and I were hearing that COVID was really hitting the black community. Mainly because COVID hit people that were overweight, and it seemed to be attacking the black community. That was the big news story at the time, right? That was the narrative that it was really hitting the black community.
They were saying to stay away from big large groups and gatherings and don't have parties and stuff like that, and that was the big news push at the time.
And this would have been probably the second or third week of March 2020 because we were getting ready to go on vacation, and Beck had said something about, 'COVID was the virus of the black'—I don't remember what he said exactly. But it had to do with COVID and black people, and a day later, there was a Channel 8 news reporter in the lobby looking for Barry.
He (Beck) had come in through the elevator, and he said, 'Can I help you?' and the reporter—not knowing even who he was—some girl—some random reporter at Channel 8—said, 'I'm looking for Barry Beck, and I want to talk to him about his comments regarding COVID and the black community.'
And he said, 'I'm not sure he's here yet. I'll look around and let you know.'"
Beck's comment about blacks and COVID was quickly forgotten due to the shutdown overtaking everyone's attention. The nameless reporter's hyper-focus on an incorrect thought about blacks did, however, foreshadow the radio hosts' most formidable controversy.
CONTINUED IN PART 4: "Tripping Up Far Worse" NEXT WEEK