David Brudnoy, RIP


Sad news that Boston radio talk show host David Brudnoy has died, age 64. For the last 18 years, Brudnoy was an evening talk show host on WBZ, and was on other Boston TV and radio stations for 15 years before that.

I don't remember listening to Brudnoy in college. I think I first came across him during business trips and visits to friends back east in the first few years after graduation. WBZ, a 50,000 watt clear-channel station, can be heard throughout the northeastern US at night. Whether I was in Boston, Providence, or Philadelphia, I'd tune in to catch his show.

What I tuned in to hear was an intelligent man with a pleasant voice interviewing authors about books on politics, history, and culture -- books he had actually read before the program -- and engaging in thoughtful discussion with callers. Brudnoy's politics were libertarian, a welcome contrast to the dominant left-liberal trend in Boston politics. Even if the show's topic was something I had not known or cared about before the program, I always came away happy that I took the time to listen, feeling that I knew something that I hadn't known an hour earlier.

Brudnoy was a homosexual, which he revealed after nearly dying 10 years ago from an AIDS-related infection, but he did not make his sexual preference the focus of his identity or his radio program.

To give you a flavor of his show, here's a link to a transcript of a segment about Scientology. And here's his review of Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine." Talkers Magazine ranked him as one of the 25 all-time greatest radio talk show hosts -- their profile of Brudnoy is here.

Activist talk radio is important, especially in a town like Tulsa, where the media has been dominated by a single viewpoint for too long. There's a need to rally support for important causes, and to cultivate a sense of outrage to replace the sense of resignation in the face of rampant abuse of power -- to give people the confidence that they can change things. That's something Michael DelGiorno does so well on KFAQ every morning, and I'm thankful that he's there to do it.

David Brudnoy wasn't an activist talk show host, although he was an able and articulate advocate for his point of view. He dealt with plenty of controversial issues, but never in a polemical way.

Tulsa could use a show like Brudnoy's, too, as a complement to the activist approach. I've always thought that if I ever had the chance to host my own radio talk show, David Brudnoy's approach to talk radio would be a model from which I would draw.

UPDATE 12/13/2004: Two obits on conservative websites say what I was attempting to say much more clearly and colorfully. National Review Online has published an obituary by Thomas Hibbs. Hibbs writes:

Brudnoy was simply the best radio host I've ever heard in any market or on any part of the AM or FM dial. In most markets, FM talk is National Public Radio, where guests have an opportunity to develop their positions at a leisurely pace and where there tends to be little in the way of heated exchange and little listener interaction. AM talk is loud, fast-paced, with a lot of give and take between host, guest, and callers. It's a caricature to describe NPR shows as inducing somnolence and AM radio as generating headaches of the sort caused by having too many teenage siblings in a car at one time. But there is a kernel of truth in each description. Brudnoy combined the virtues of both styles of radio talk while avoiding their vices.

In most major markets, talk radio is increasingly dominated by the national shows, such as NPR, Rush, Hannity, and Ingraham. Brudnoy could and did devote a great deal of attention to national politics, but he spent as much time on local issues and seemed especially to relish the personalities and political and cultural intricacies of Boston. ...

He was a model of the way to hold one's own position, to argue vigorously on its behalf, and yet to engage other points of view with tact and seriousness. And listeners found themselves caught up in the argument, agreeing or disagreeing with Brudnoy on any number of topics. A libertarian who articulated his views with rigorous clarity, Brudnoy did not feel the need to score ideological points at every step in the conversation. Besides, one never had to agree with him to profit from listening.

The American Spectator has a tribute by W. James Antle III. An excerpt:

There were plenty of hosts who could effectively mock the Clinton administration, rail against Hillary's health care power grab, and attack the day's legislative outrages (remember midnight basketball?). What set Brudnoy apart, aside from eloquence and polemical skills that put most of his peers to shame, was his ability to go beyond such well-worn subjects. His show was no less interesting when he was interviewing antique collectors, obscure academics, and authors of books on subjects that would have otherwise made my eyes glaze over.

Many libertarian pundits praise liberty and excoriate the state, but talk about nothing except politics and government. Brudnoy celebrated life -- films, theatre, travel, wine, classical music, literature -- and demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of virtually all subjects, with only one notable exception -- he was charmingly ignorant of professional sports and relentlessly tweaked Boston for its obsession with athletics.

Which is not to overlook how scathing he could be in his political analysis. Brudnoy's position on welfare payments to unwed mothers was, shall we say, Charles Murray-esque. He skewered multiculturalism by insisting, "One culture, one country." He derisively referred to the Clintons as "Bubba and Evita" and was equally critical of the "Almost Lifelike Al Gore."

NRO also has David Brudnoy's 1995 article for the magazine about living with AIDS and his brush with death the previous year.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 11, 2004 12:54 AM.

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