Bob Grant – An Intimate Memory of a Talk Radio Giant
There are going to be many platitudes over the next few days or so dedicated to someone who should definitely be known as the “father of modern talk radio.”
Bob Grant – who, after a lengthy illness, passed away New Year’s Eve at the age of 84.
Born Robert Gigante, Bob came up in a radio era where it wasn’t acceptable to be thought of as ethnic.
But that never stopped him from showing his ethnic roots. Or, for that matter, being able to appreciate the ethnic roots of others.
Bob could hold court in his favorite eatery, the Reo Diner in Woodbridge, conversing in Greek to the owners, just as much as he was able to appreciate a good many foreign expressions he’d hear in daily conversation on his radio show.
I worked with Bob when I was still “Bobby Valentine” at WPLJ; and when my tenure there ended, was able to scoot across the hall to WABC where I was able to do some tech work for both Bob and Rush.
Bob’s show was especially adventurous. Rather than have his producers screen out calls thought to be cranks, he seemed to relish them. It gave him an opportunity to use some of that dry wit and bile (“get off my phone, you fake, you phony, you fraud”) of which he was so well known.
And if there was one thing in particular that was his stock in trade, it was tweaking politicians. Some of his favorite targets were Jim Florio (“film flam Florio”), Bill Clinton (“slick Willie”); and former NYC Mayor David Dinkins (“the men’s room attendant”).
But the best of all was his ribbing of Mario Cuomo.
Bob would sing a song in the Neapolitan dialect of Italian to the former Governor that went something like this: “Mario asentta mme. Tu sei propio nu’ sfaccime!” (trans: Mario, listen to me, you’re a real ‘sfaccime!’)
Fact is, despite his grasp of the dialect, he never knew what “sfaccime” meant.
And one day, some of the Governor’s people who heard his remarks called the station to say how impolite his using the phrase was.
So he asks me what it means, and I tell him, “Bob, my grandmother always called my father that, but anytime I tried to ask her what it meant, she’d always tell me “mala parola!” (trans: It’s a bad word!)
But, just to satisfy him, I called my uncle back in Brooklyn to find out. I get my uncle on the phone and ask him, “”O’zi (“uncle” in Neapolitan), I’m with Bob Grant.”
He then says, “who, the guy who changed his name?” I replied, “yeah…he wants to know what ‘sfaccime’ means.
“No Ray, quell’ e’ mala parola!” (trans: That’s a bad word!).
“But O’zi”, I insist, he’s calling Mario Cuomo a ‘sfaccime’.
To which my uncle says, “e giust’….essi e’ propio ‘sfaccime’.” (trans: He’s right….he IS a sfaccime!)
“So then,” I ask again, “what does it mean?”
Upon which, in very graphic terms he describes the words meaning, which I come to understand as “scum”.
I relayed the message to Bob, who at that point decided “no harm, no foul” – and the expression lived on in Bob Grant lore.
It was always funny that by the end of his show he’d express feigned disgust and exclaim to then program director John Mainelli, “hey Mainelli, I gotta get outta here!”
Which unfortunately came one day in 1996 for having made comments about then Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. I was there when his firing was announced and could honestly say there wasn’t a dry eye in the studio.
Sharp witted, never politically correct, extremely well-read, some might go so far as to say racist, but never predictable – that’s the Bob Grant (Gigante) I’ll always remember.