This is a true-life event almost perfectly crafted for docudrama. It’s the tale of an average Joe—a prankster—with a website where he’d post jokey blogs he’d written. In these blogs, the average Joe—who had dreams of a career in talk radio—would savage his city’s most recognized radio personalities, mainly for what he judged to be their lack of talent.
Most of the things said in the blogs could be classified as a guilty pleasure to read; The blogs often included gossip about, or taunting critiques of, the radio celebrities, so to describe the blogger by the recognized term “gossip columnist” wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
But then there’s the story twist, the part that seems almost too Hollywood to be true.
One of the blogger’s readers, almost unbelievably, handed the blogger the real McCoy. What dropped in his lap was nothing less than sexually-explicit evidence of an affair. The alleged affair involved one of the region’s most prominent radio icons; certainly, the radio icon was the area’s most-recognized conservative pundit.
Before continuing with the account of how the blogger handled the radioactive material he’d been given – and before I begin to quote from an extensive UncoverDC interview with the blogger – I’ll sketch a quick portrait of the radio icon in question.
I’ve brought up conservative commentator Bob Lonsberry in earlier UncoverDC articles. The first time was when Lonsberry advocated that Biden’s 2020 win should be respected. Lonsberry, in a January 4th, 2021 column that is a counterpart to his radio show, wrote:
“Just as the Democrats were wrong to spend four years functionally rejecting the outcome of an election, Trumpians are now wrong to seek to subvert and overthrow the results of a subsequent election.”
Lonsberry next showed up in an article written about a town experiencing multiple newsworthy racist incidents. It wasn’t an article that satisfied me partly because it wasn’t as fleshed out as it could have been. I should have contacted Lonsberry as the article referenced a photo he’d posted on social media; I would have liked to ask about its origins. But I didn’t reach out for fairly obvious reasons outlined in the following paragraphs.
Lonsberry, for conservatives in Monroe County, New York, is essential listening considering his depth of knowledge of local politics and the interviews he regularly conducts with the region’s movers and shakers. However, he also routinely uses the advantages of a radio host to torment his listeners when their opinions don’t agree; once they’ve been cut off, he may continue—very publicly, of course—to disparage them. Boundaries can’t be counted on.
An example of this abuse was brought up recently in an online comments section. An anonymous writer recalled that he’d emailed Lonsberry criticism of something said on Lonsberry’s show. The writer noted that Lonsberry responded on-air and unnecessarily doxed the writer by using his name and that of his employer. The doxing, the writer said, caused him to have issues with both his employer and co-workers.
In a pre-interview with the radio-industry blogger who had been given information about the Lonsberry affair, he said that he too had been burned by Lonsberry. I returned to the incident during my formal interview with the blogger. He corrected my memory:
“It was my step-father. I used to like Bob Lonsberry, but he had become placid after the whole Bill Johnson episode, which I discussed with you before.
One time he [Lonsberry] was talking about ‘buy American this and that,’ and I said that my step-father had bought a foreign car, and most of them have American parts anyway, or foreign cars are built in America, so he’s doing nothing wrong. I said he’s a Gulf veteran, and he’s very pro-America, but unfortunately, some of the American cars we have like Ford are not built the way they used to be, so he preferred Toyota.”
I said something to that effect, and he [Lonsberry] called him a coward and [said] I’m a coward.”
You may have caught the blogger mentioning “the whole Bill Johnson episode.” Another altogether different reason some community members—who likely weren’t ever Lonsberry listeners—dislike Lonsberry has to do with his alleged racism.
An orangutan had escaped the local zoo—and whether evidence of racism or not—the escape was reason enough for Lonsberry to joke, “a monkey’s loose up at the zoo again, and he’s running for county executive.” The comment was assumed to be about Bill Johnson—a black man who had been Rochester’s mayor and, at that time, was running for the position of county executive.
The radio-industry blogger had something to say about Lonsberry’s alleged racism. He offered:
“Remember, there are African-American groups that hate him with a passion, and I know why.
I’ll tell you, I was at the Lilac Festival a few years ago, and when Lonsberry went by, this African-American goes up to me and says, ‘I can’t stand him,’ but I go, ‘Look, we probably both can’t stand him in equal measures but for different reasons. I don’t like him because I don’t think he’s a real conservative, although he claims to be one. You don’t like him because of the Bill Johnson statement.’
And I said, ‘But equally, I don’t think he’s a man of any integrity, and I would fight with you to get him off the air, but, unfortunately, this is a ratings-driven market, and he and Wease are the only ones who draw ratings that are significant enough to be almost untouchable.’”
And now, there is a personality and character of the blogger.
The blogger is primarily a jokester but shares with Lonsberry, and some of his other most-usual targets, that he enjoys turning the knife on occasion. And there are more similarities between the blogger and some of his targets. You get the feeling that in an alternate universe, the blogger would be an on-air host himself and possibly living by the same rules as the objects of his derision.
Seeing the two men in the tank together—Lonsberry and the blogger—you may think “shark versus shark.” However, it is essential to factor that the blogger swings upward at targets much better financed and connected than he is. That’s not nothing; there is some courage needed to do what he does. The blogger’s first name is Michael—I won’t include his surname to protect his employment—but online, anyway, he is better known by the modest handle, The King of Rochester.
A radio personality as much, or more, a target than Lonsberry for The King has been Rochester’s resident Howard Stern imitator, Brother Wease. While a liberal host on FM station 95.1, Wease is, as the conservative Lonsberry on AM station WHAM 1180, an employee of iHeart Media. Oddly, The King of Rochester shares with his sometimes-nemesis Wease the Howard Stern interest. The King explained:
“When I was in Geneseo—which is a college in Western New York; I was on a four-year degree there—I had done a local, kind of funny radio show. Now, in the Western New York area, nobody had heard of Howard Stern yet. And I knew of Howard Stern because I spent two years in the New York City area in a private school, and I knew about Howard Stern. I listened to him, and I said, ‘That is the freshest, funniest stuff I’ve ever heard,’ and I wanted to bring a little bit—like almost stealing his act a little bit—because nobody knew who he was in Western New York, so I kind of did that.
Kind of like my idol in the way of radio has always been Howard Stern, although he’s been getting kind of lame lately.”
The King seemed as excited recounting the antics of a particular member of Stern’s cast of oddballs as when he talked about Stern himself. The King said about Captain Janks:
“They would feature this guy named Captain Janks completely tormenting a radio guy named Don DeBella in Philadelphia because Stern had just syndicated there. I just laughed, not because what he was doing was especially funny in itself, but to listen to these radio hosts that think they’re Mr. Cool completely not be able to handle this type of a caller struck me as funny. It’s like The Wizard of Oz; they’re pulling open the curtain, and there’s nothing there.
It was funny that some little pipsqueak guy who Stern used to make fun of—a five-foot-three guy—was able to almost break down an entire station just by fooling around.”
While speaking with The King, I couldn’t help—at moments in the interview such as this— thinking that he’d fit in a series of articles I’d been publishing for some time.
BEATING THE SYSTEM BLUE
While interviewing and reporting for UncoverDC on various personalities with their backs to the wall, I became interested in how an average person can strike back at the system. Each of the three (so far) articles in the series have a title that begins with a verb – “Tripping Up…”, Defending Yours…”, Becoming a…”. My focus has been—probably due to temperament—on ways a lone wolf can affect, as opposed to persons working as part of a team.
The interview subjects of articles two and three in the series battled establishment narratives but did so by distributing their competing narratives. Nothing they did was done with a thought as to dismantling the media organizations that were drowning them out. The radio industry blogger, The King of Rochester—whether you want to think of him as a genius or an accidental genius—designs his work to disrupt the establishment talking heads, to take the fight to their doorstep. To repeat what he’d said about his inspiration Captain Janks prank-calling radio stations:
“I just laughed, not because what he was doing was especially funny in itself, but to listen to these radio hosts that think they’re Mr. Cool completely not be able to handle this type of a caller.”
If a performer imitates another performer in the same field as himself, the imitator is considered, to some degree, a hack. If The King worked in radio—and did a poor man’s version of his radio idol Howard Stern—he might deserve similar criticism to what Stern-facsimile Brother Wease receives. The King, however, isn’t currently on the radio; He’s a writer (blogger) successfully pulling inspiration from outside his discipline (shock-jock radio).
Had Lenny Bruce been a horn player aping other better horn players’ lines, he likely wouldn’t be remembered. When Bruce transferred the feel of improvisational jazz into his comic delivery, it was considered a genius move because he had figured out a way to cross disciplines.
As a blogger, The King is unique in Rochester and has cultivated an audience for what, regularly, is an entertaining attack on establishment radio. He, too, managed to be a thorn in the side of local media even before “the affair.”
But then there is, as well, the affair.
Continued in Part II