Requiem for a Bach Jock

A Post-Blair Firing at Times Radio Station Outrages Listeners

Whiteside himself talks openly—and only—about the pain of separating from his morning microphone in the studio booth. "It wasn't just a job, it wasn't just a career, it was my life," he says. "I couldn't even recognize my name without 'WQXR' attached to it."

A former actor, he is passionate and dramatic, the qualities that endeared him to his audience. Before taking up radio, he traveled the world, working on the stage in Australia and serving in the Peace Corps in Korea. He was a child care counselor in New York, when, on a whim, he called WQXR and asked to be considered as an announcer. He was hired and, he believed, he had found his calling. He recorded ads for the Metropolitan Opera (which still air), and broadcast live from Avery Fisher Hall and Vienna.

He now has what he calls his "prisoner of war speech" for those who ask him about the final episode: "I worked for WQXR for 25 years. I love my listeners. If I could have gone back and cut out that 60 seconds of whatever I said I would do so. I would apologize abjectly and profoundly to whoever was offended." Beyond that, however, he will not go. The reason, as he has explained to friends, is that after being fired without severance and being told to clean out his locker, give up his keys, and leave the studio, he initially vowed to fight. Prudence and family needs (he and his wife have a 15-year-old son who is a piano and violin virtuoso) soon took precedence over valor, and he later accepted a financial settlement which included a firm nondisclosure agreement. Such stipulations are standard fare, the price of fair compensation being silence.

Ex–WQXR morning host Gregg Whiteside
photo: Shiho Fukada
Ex–WQXR morning host Gregg Whiteside

Whiteside later told friends that when station manager Bartunek called him into his office on August 12, he assumed it had to do with upcoming shows. Upon arrival, however, Whiteside was asked if he had ever said anything that could be considered anti-Semitic. In a burst of candor that did little to preserve his rights to challenge the accusation, the announcer responded that he and Hall often bantered off the air. "I could have said anti-anything, anti-anyone. It could have been 100 different things," he reportedly told the managers. It was, he explained later to his friends, the way he loosened up, got ready for the next round. "I'm an actor," he said. "It's what we do when the curtain is down. It's a way of getting the chemistry going." Such rants never included ethnic slurs, he insisted, but they were "often wild, probably outrageous," he said. "But to say something intentionally to hurt someone? I wouldn't, couldn't ever do that."

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