Jan 06, 2012 Amanda Seef Uncategorized
Bob Lonsberry isn’t from Syracuse. He’s never lived here, studied here or worked here — but he’s not trying to act like he has, either.
The Rochester talk-radio host has filled the slot left empty after Jim Reith’s long-time show was pulled from the Syracuse airwaves abruptly in October. Reith had been on the air for 27 years in Syracuse, 11 of which were in a call-in format.
“When I introduce myself, I’m going to say if I had been the boss, I wouldn’t have fired Jim Reith,” Lonsberry said. “I don’t want to come in and be some insolent jerk. I’ve been invited into this community.”
“I need to learn this community, and I need to learn to love this community. That’s an obligation I have. I don’t think I’m coming in with the all the answers, and I’m going to make rookie mistakes. I need to apologize for being a gomer from out of town.”
— Bob Lonsberry
Lonsberry was offered the slot in mid-December and will come on-air Jan. 9. He’ll fill the 3 to 5 p.m. slot, and will remain broadcasting in Rochester from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Clear Channel’s 1180 WHAM. He’ll split time between Rochester and Syracuse, broadcasting from both studios each week. While Lonsberry hasn’t broadcast in Syracuse before, the two-hour show will remain a Syracuse-centric broadcast.
“There will be some people who will comment on the fact that he’s a Rochester, guy but I think after people listen for a few weeks, they will realize the show will be as much about Syracuse as it can be,” said Joel Delmonico, vice president of Clear Channel and general manager at Newsradio 106.9 and 570 WSYR. “He’s very professional, he puts a lot of time into show prep, he’s been studying Syracuse.”
Lonsberry has been reading local newspapers and browsing television websites to familiarize himself with the major stories and happenings of Syracuse and Onondaga County.
“I need to learn this community, and I need to learn to love this community,” he said. “That’s an obligation I have. I don’t think I’m coming in with the all the answers, and I’m going to make rookie mistakes. I need to apologize for being a gomer from out of town.”
Being the new kid in town isn’t something unfamiliar to Lonsberry — for ten years, he hosted a talk-radio show in Salt Lake City, Utah. From February to December 2011, he hosted a new show in the west-coast city until a change in Rochester’s time slot forced the Utah show off the air. Like in Utah, becoming familiar with Central New York’s people, places and things that matter isn’t going to be done in studio or while reading the paper, he said.
“I’m going to drive around, meet the mayors. Get to know the folks from here,” he said. “I’m going to make calls and say ‘I’m so-and-so, I’m the new guy and I don’t know much.’ That call may be to the police chief or the mayor or the guy at the pizza shop. The fact that I’m the new kid in town is going to be a dominant theme.”
The nuances of Syracuse are in the forefront of Lonsberry’s mind as he studies where the city has been and where it’s going. Don’t expect comparisons between the sister cities, he said.
“Rochester and Syracuse are very different,” he said. “One size does not fit all, and the surest way to fail is to think that it does.”
Lonsberry has been on the air in Rochester since 1995 when he made the switch from print journalism to broadcasting. Traditionally, his conservative-leaning show focuses on strong American values and the goings-on of the community.
“If the show has a theme, it will be God, family and country,” Lonsberry said. “There are a whole string of values that are generally seen as Americanism, and these define the characteristics of Central New York, they speak for the people around here.”
The host includes much of his personal life in the daily show — he’s a father to eight, an EMT and a village board member in Mt. Morris, a village in Livingston County, south of Rochester.
“A radio show needs an unfolding story line,” Lonsberry said. “The ongoing drama of your life or your family can do that.”
Serious issues are at the forefront of the show, however. He has taken aim at numerous local officials, calling for resignations and holding public officials accountable. Most recently, the Rochester airport director was charged with driving while intoxicated. Talks of her resignation were looming for nearly two weeks, but the official act came the same day as a column posted on Lonsberry’s website.
“He has a large voice and his voice is heard,” said Rachel Barnhart, a television reporter at Rochester’s 13WHAM. Barnhart has been on Lonsberry’s show and comes to the studio in his absence.
“A radio show can just be fun, but there are also times where things need to be said, community officials and big institutions need to be taken on,” Lonsberry said. “Right now, I think talk-radio may be the most efficient way to do so. I think there’s an obligation to public service in the news media. There needs to be a vigorous voice. Talk-radio is the electronic vigorous, editorial voice of today.”
Lonsberry’s political leanings are conservative — his website lists him as a Republican, a member of the National Rifle Association and a holder of a pistol permit. His view on national politics sometimes strays on the edge of controversy, something that Barnhart thinks will add to his appeal among Syracuse listeners.
“I think Bob Lonsberry is going to be an incredible asset to the Syracuse community,” she said. “He has his finger on the pulse of what people care about. He also knows how to push people’s buttons, so even people who hate him still tune in and listen everyday.”
Lonsberry’s call-in format allows viewers to voice their support, or disdain, for his opinion.
“The thing that impresses me the most is his fairness,” Delmonico said. “He respects people’s positions. There will be a lot of time where people, myself included, won’t agree with his positions but he respects their opinion and allows them the chance to share it.”
Lonsberry has an extensive journalistic past — he got his start as a print reporter in Hornell, and continued as a military journalist while serving in the U.S. Army in the 1980s. Returning from the service, he was a newspaper reporter and ultimately the metro columnist at Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle before making the move to radio.
“I had always thought writing was the most intimate form of communication. As a writer, you think ‘I am most directly touching people’s hearts and minds,’” he said.
But writing in Rochester’s major newspaper didn’t impress his mother.
“I was so thrilled and grateful, but to my mother, it was no big deal,” he said. “You always want to please your mother.”
His mother was a fan of talk-radio, so he asked to go on a show one day as a stunt. He started filling-in and eventually was offered a full-time job on-air. Through the years, he has continued his columnist days on his website, but talk-radio remains his communication path.
“There’s an intimacy in radio that makes it even closer,” he said. “It’s like spending time with friends. I’m going to try to do a good job every day. If you put out a plate of good cookies, ultimately, people will eat the cookies.”
— Amanda Seef is an editor/reporter with Eagle Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com, at 315-434-8889×334 or on Twitter, @AmandaSeef.