Kimberly Ray, Radio’s Untamed Sweetheart: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Radio personality Kimberly Ray’s second time being fired from a radio station would mark the end of her broadcasting career. The on-air comment that sparked the termination had to do with a viral video of protesters gone wild during a George Floyd protest.
In May 2020, in Rochester, New York, an afternoon Black Lives Matter protest had degenerated into chaos in the heart of the city by early evening. Police vehicles were overturned and torched, firefighters were impeded from dousing the cars, and there was additional violence out of range of the professional photographers.
On a small side street running off Monroe Avenue, at the edge of downtown, a group of young men vandalized and attempted to break into a store that—perversely, considering the fires raging in the city—sold fire prevention equipment.
In a now-famous cellphone video taken in front of the combined storefront for the Rochester Fire Equipment Company and Kim Dao Jewelry Repair, a gang of black youth was ordered, by a lone white woman, away from the building. As they began leaving, though, headed toward the main avenue, one of the men unexpectedly turned back to the woman. He began beating her with his fists. A second rioter joined him, using a board as a weapon.
While the hosts of The Kimberly & Beck radio show—Kimberly Ray and Barry Beck— discussed the incident on-air, a listener called in with previously unreported information about the assault. The added detail may not have been meant to provoke a response, but it did—unfortunately, for almost everyone involved.
The caller noted that the white woman in the video had called the black rioters “the N-word” just before they attacked her.
UNCOVER DC: – That was the first time you heard about “the N-word” on-air?
KIMBERLY RAY: You’re right. I did not know that.
Ray, to put it bluntly, suicided her career with her response to the added detail.
An obvious forerunner to how Ray’s comments would be handled in Rochester is the case of Jeremy Kappell.
Kappell, a jock weatherman, made a verbal flub on air in 2019. It wasn’t so noticeable that any of his co-workers thought to mention it to him the night of the broadcast. Kappell headed out of the studio that Friday evening unconcerned. Sunday, all hell would break loose.
At a Sunday press conference held by Mayor Lovely Warren, the mayor charged Kappell with using a racial slur. Once the mayor’s speech had been delivered, whether Kappell had done what he was accused of may have been irrelevant. He was let go by his station later that Sunday and, as alleged by Kappell in a lawsuit, fired without the station interviewing him about or conducting any real investigation of what was said on air.
Judging by the words immediately following the alleged slur, what Kappell said was very likely a verbal flub. Kappell mispronounced the name of a local park as “Doctor Luther c**n King Junior Park.” Sounds of consonants and vowels in “King” and “Junior” could if a person spoke quickly and ad-libbed as Kappell had, create the mash-up to sound like a slur.
Kappell’s situation would elicit sympathy from notable persons from all over the country and far beyond. However, more than their support would be needed to reverse his termination. In a prior UncoverDC article where Kappell was interviewed, he listed the celebrities who came out in his defense:
“Al Roker came out in support. The Today Show and the entire crew of The Today Show came in support. And then later, we were getting support from even Don Lemon from CNN. I was on his show. And then we were covered by BBC news and then the daughter of Martin Luther King, Dr. Bernice King, came out and voiced her support, saying I should not have lost my job.”
Considering the notables who advocated on Kappell’s behalf but whose endorsement had no effect on getting his job back, it wouldn’t take a genius to guess the fate of The Kimberly & Beck Show if the radio hosts had merely matched what Kappell did.
At the time Ray was fired, I believed she was too aware not to have considered Kappell when she ventured into similar territory. I imagined she could have acted out a self-destructive impulse when she said what she did. I brought up my suspicion with her, but she disagreed. She answered,
“Well, I think it was a crazy time. And I don’t think anyone expected the city to burn and be destroyed like it was in one sector of the city. I don’t think anyone expected that to happen. I think emotions were heightened at the time.
I think that the news media had been focused on us for a while. I think it was just something that they were waiting to pounce on.”
When told by a person calling the radio show that the female victim of an assault had insulted her abusers with a racial slur—the “N-word”—just before they attacked her, Ray asked about the men, “Were they acting N-word-ly?”
The show’s producer, evidently flustered by Ray’s use of the phrase, tried to run interference. He corrected her with, “You can’t say that. What are you doing?” Ray only rephrased the question, “Were they acting that way?”
Retaliation against the radio program was swift. It had only been days since the riot rocked the city and left torched vehicles. No one wanted to give the rioters another excuse to rampage. The radio hosts were fired the morning after the broadcast.
I asked Ray about a public apology she made following the broadcast. I asked if she wished she hadn’t said what she did or said it differently. She answered:
“I think both. One, I probably should have said, ‘Okay, so she called them the N-word,’ and my comment was, ‘Well, how were they acting?’/ You know, ‘Were they acting like what she was calling them?’
I probably should have rephrased, but this is how our show runs. I mean, it is top of the head right out the mouth.
I probably should have rephrased and said, ‘Well, how were they acting?’ Were they acting in some other way that would have been … equally offensive, right? ‘Were they acting like animals?’, ‘Were they acting like criminals?’
Instead of saying, ‘Hey, I mean, she called them the N-word. How did she intend that to go over? What was her intention in calling them that?’ and I guess that was really my point.”
The relevant excerpt of radio dialogue:
RAY: Okay, let me ask you a question.
RAY: Were they acting N-word-ish? There’s your question.
BECK: They were acting thug-erly, like, I think they’re thugs.
RAY: Were they acting N-word-ly?
BECK: Yeah, and by the way –
PRODUCER: You can’t say that. What are you doing?
RAY: Were they acting that way?
PRODUCER: No. You can’t say that.
BECK: Hey, if that would have been –
PRODUCER: Also, stop saying “thugs.” That’s part of the problem. You can’t –
BECK: No, it’s not. They’re thugs. They’re thugs. If you look like a thug, and if you act like a thug, and you got three on-one and beating up a white woman with a two-by-four, by God, you’re a thug.
RAY: And by the way, there are people in the black community (who) would say they’re acting N-word-ly.
PRODUCER: But they can say that. You can’t say that.
BECK: It’s [a] double standard. And I was gonna say –
PRODUCER: It doesn’t matter.
RAY: And I don’t appreciate the double standard.
Ray’s thoughts about the controversial dialogue continued in our interview, and she said:
“Do I wish I had said things differently? Absolutely, but Beck and I talked, and honestly, I don’t know if we would have made it through the whole year and a half of COVID with the job. I think at some point, something would have been said, and that would have been the end.
We knew the line, but to be honest with you, we always would try to push. A little bit. Because it’s just the way the show works.”
The show’s cancellation had several repercussions—the most obvious being the loss of one of the region’s largest radio communities. Ray’s reprimand—or simply the information that the assault victim had used a racial slur—also resulted in the woman’s beating being dropped as anyone’s priority.
Ray said about the apparently shelved search for the woman’s assailants,
“—But the fact of the matter is—which still kills me—is those two individuals were never arrested for beating that woman. With a two-by-four. But we lost our jobs for asking what their behavior was like. Was that wrong? Apparently, it was because we were out of a job.”
Suppose you’ve only read articles about the comments made on the Kimberly & Beck show and have yet to see the video of the activity in front of the store. In that case, you may have the impression that the rioters had been relatively subdued before the slur was made. But that isn’t true. The gang had vandalized the storefront since before the start of the video, which was the cause of the noise that brought the woman outside.
At the point that the cellphone video begins to document the incident, the woman exited through a door that placed her on the sidewalk in front of the store. One of the black men grabbed something off the ground. Another swung a board close enough to make her flinch. With only a cursory review of the most viral video of the incident—the cellphone video—you could be left with another mistaken impression.
It may seem the man who swung the board only cracked it against the ground in frustration. In footage taken from an alternate angle from a security camera, it’s more apparent that he had the woman’s husband as a target. The husband stood back in a doorway, attempting to exit the building. He was threatened and beaten back from joining his wife on the sidewalk.
There was an apparent decision made among the rioters to leave after that initial flurry of violence. However, the young man who had retrieved material from the ground took parting shots at the husband. He hurled material three times, the final time throwing an aluminum ladder.
What has just been described took place before the alleged insult and the tag-team assault on the woman.
CONTINUED IN PART 5: “Life Among the Ruins” NEXT WEEK