Bob Grant, the arch-conservative trailblazer of modern talk radio whose extreme on-air persona laid the groundwork for today’s crop of right-wing talk hosts including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, died New Year’s Eve in Hillsborough, New Jersey, The New York Times reports. He was 84.
Ill for much of 2013, Bob Grant’s death was announced Thursday by WABC, the New York talk radio station where he spent the highest-profile part of his career and drew his biggest ratings.
Grant was known not only for his ultra-conservative and frequently outright racist views, but for his irascible, even hostile approach not only to the liberal political figures he despised, but even to his own callers.
The signature Bob Grant line was, “Get off my phone!” which he would spit out immediately before disconnecting a caller who was getting on Grant’s nerves, usually by disagreeing with him.
“Notice he used the phrase ‘my phone,’” Michael Harrison, publisher of the trade magazine Talkers, pointed out to The New York Daily News. “That showed the size of his personality. He owned that space.”
Harrison deemed Bob Grant, “one of the most important talk show hosts of all time” and “a founding father of modern talk radio.”
Grant was a Chicago native who made his first mark as a radio talk show host in 1964 on KABC, the Los Angeles counterpart to the New York station where he made his most profound impact. Arriving in New York in 1970, he started with a show on WMCA, where he was the lone conservative on a station dominated by counterculture and left-wing views.
But when he started his WABC show in 1984, he leaped to instant fame — or infamy.
Though Bob Grant always denied holding racist views, it was difficult to interpret numerous on-air statements any other way. The fact that Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had been a repeated guest on his earlier shows did little to dispel the perception that Bob Grant simply had contempt for African-Americans.
“You can talk all you want about ‘minorities’ rights,’ but heaven forbid you talk about white rights,” he said on the air during a 1989 broadcast. “I see a very bleak future for this country, simply because the quality of the citizenry seems to be heading down.”
Grant interviewed New York’s subway vigilante Bernard Goetz, who shot four black teenagers on a subway in 1986. The youths, Goetz contended, were threatening him. During the interview, Bob Grant lavished praise on Goetz, faulting him only for not having “finished the job by killing them all.”
He referred to New York’s first black mayor, David Dinkins, as “a men’s room attendant” and termed refugees from Haiti “subhuman scum.”
WABC’s parent company, Disney, finally fired Grant in 1996 after U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, an African-American, perished in a plane crash in 1996. Before learning that Brown had definitely died, Grant said, “My hunch is that he is the one survivor. I just have that hunch. Maybe it’s because, at heart, I’m a pessimist.”
His comment was interpreted as Grant wishing for Brown’s death, which caused protests and led to his dismissal.
He was quickly hired by rival station WOR, returning to finish his career at WABC in 2007. However, he never regained the following he enjoyed during his heyday.
His last show on WABC was July 28, 2013. Illness kept him off the air ever since, though Bob Grant never formally retired.