There's been a lot of talk lately of finding work filled with purpose and passion. So many people are switching careers, moving from for profit into nonprofit, reinventing themselves, becoming entrepreneurs, moving from career to fulltime motherhood and back into the workforce.
Joan Hamburg (who happens to be my mother) found her purpose and her passion 40 years ago when she began her radio career.
She has given practically her entire career to WOR Radio. She did so with loyalty, professionalism and most importantly passion. I have never met someone who loves what she does more than my mother. I have never met a broadcaster who is more fiercely loyal to her listeners as my mother. She takes some of them on vacation with her, she calls them to check in on them off the air if she has promised to follow up on something. Once in a while, she even has invited them home for family holidays! She had a similarly close relationship to her sponsors--she speaks passionately about their products and from personal experience. There were quite a few sponsors whom she turned down because she did not think the quality was high enough for her listeners and she didn't feel like she could put her personal seal of approval on them.
Last Thursday after almost 40 years at WOR radio, she was told that programming was changing, her show was over and she should leave the building immediately.
From an earlier career as a writer and journalist (co-creator of the Frommer Series New York on $5 A Day), Joan fell into radio by chance and after a brief stint at WMCA, she joined the WOR Radio family in the early 1970's. She thrived there. She built an immediate connection with her loyal listeners, her guests and her sponsors. She has been a wealth of information about New York--where to find anything, where to eat, which shows to see and even how to find a date. As her daughter, I was sometimes jealous of the fact that so many in New York thought of her as their second mother--always giving advice and providing a shoulder to lean on.
I had the great privilege of learning at the side of one of the best in the business--a role model for so many who were trying to figure out how to juggle career and motherhood--doing two mother daughter segments twice every week for over a decade.
She is known as New York Radio's First Lady." Carol Channing, a regular listener, once called Joan Hamburg "The Yellow Pages of The World".
In 2012, she was inducted into the NY State Broadcaster's Hall of Fame
She is a recipient of the prestigious Matrix Award presented by New York Women in Communications Inc. (NYWICI) together with seven other women of renown including actress Geena Davis, author Candace Bushnell, Glamour Editor Cynthia Leive, and ironically (see below), New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson.
She was voted "New Yorker of the Year" by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce
There have been a lot of changes recently at WOR. In 2013, Clear Channel purchased the station from the Buckley Family. Third generation broadcaster John Gambling was taken off the air and after almost 40 years of broadcasting 5 days a week, Joan's show was moved to weekends to make room for Sean Hannity. Gambling was given a big send off--a week long celebration culminating in a final show with celebrity guests including Michael Bloomberg.
Last Thursday, Joan returned to work after attending a funeral the previous day of a very close relative. Despite the sadness of losing a close cousin, Joan was the consummate professional and was ready to head into the studio to give her audience the upbeat and informative show that they expect. She was preparing to tape her show for the weekend when the head of programming and someone from HR came into her office. She was told that weekend programming was changing and that she would no longer be on the air. Worse, she would have to leave the building immediately. No time for farewells to her beloved audience or sponsors, no time for tributes from the many, many loyal guests whom she has interviewed over the years, no time to even clean out her office. Within hours, she had been removed from the WOR website without any hint of an announcement.
Of course there was shock and sadness. But what was really appalling was the complete lack of respect and dignity given to her by Clear Channel management.
I loved Barbara Walters' send off a few weeks ago--it was the perfect way to acknowledge an amazing career. I was horrified by fellow Matrix Award winner and New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson--it sounded like she was unceremoniously escorted from the building with no time to say her goodbyes. But, it also sounds like the Times' management had concerns about her performance. As far as we understand, Clear Channel did not have an issue with Joan's performance. There was a programming change. Her loyal sponsors were happy and the audience still worships her.
I understand that radio as a medium has changed. The days when we all tuned in to the same few stations getting ready for the day are over. There was a sense of immediacy and family with radio that you didn't get from TV. So many people who listened thought that they were part of our family. Because they heard Joan every morning as part of the John Gambling "Rambling with Gambling" show and then again for two hour every day, they heard stories about our family. They would call to ask how the kids are, when the dog died, they even called to send their condolences.
So, it was even more ridiculous that Clear Channel management did not even give Joan the opportunity to say farewell and thanks. I understand that programming changes. Clear Channel, you have the right to make whatever changes you want. But give the audience a chance to ask their final questions, to pay tribute where tribute is due. Give sponsors a chance to acknowledge the businesses that she helped build. Give a parade of guests from well known politicians including Hillary Clinton, and Henry Kissinger Broadway stars like Julie Andrews, and Hugh Jackman well known authors, like Daniel Da Silva, and Salman Rushdie, celebrity bad boy and frequent guest host Alec Baldwin, TV personalities Wendy Williams and film stars including Paul Rudd a chance to send their best wishes.
Listeners had no clue on Saturday when they tried to tune into the show. Since then, there have been Facebook postings and phone calls asking what happened to the show. There have been some wonderful tributes including from Cindy Adams at the New York Post and a host from a competing morning show called Joan at 7am the other day asking her if she would like to go on their air to say goodbye to her audience. That was really classy.
Joan is in discussions with several other local stations and should be back on the air soon. I'm a big believer in Karma. Clear Channel management--what goes around, comes around. And ultimately, it's about the audience. You should have given them a little more credit to be able to call in to New York Radio's First Lady one final time.