Seven Questions with William O’Shaughnessy

By Carl Marcucci

Bill pictureCurrent company:   Whitney Media

Position:  President & Editorial Director.  WVOX and WVIP

Location:  Westchester, NY

Place of Birth:  Waverly, NY, a little town on the Pennsylvania border.

Date of Birth:   Just celebrated the 75th anniversary of my Natal Day

Personal info:  Father of Matthew Thayer O’Shaughnessy, David Tucker O’Shaughnessy and Kate Wharton O’Shaughnessy.  Grandfather of Tucker Thomas Nulty, Flynn Thayer Nulty, Amelia Jane Nulty, Isabel Grace O’Shaughnessy and Lily Anna O’Shaughnessy.  Also Father of Cockapoos Lacey and Coco O’Shaughnessy.

College:   Lectured at 14 colleges and universities, one of which bestowed a Doctor of Humane Letters Honorary Degree in a weak moment.

Favorite Band or Artist:  Band:  Michael Carney society band.  Artist:  You mean besides Sinatra?  Also Matt Dennis, Chet Baker, Gianni Russo, Richard Rodney Bennett, Mabel Mercer, Hugh Shannon.

Favorite movies:  “The Desert Fox” starring James Mason, “Die Hard” and “Beverly Hills Cop.”

Favorite books: Anything by Mario Cuomo, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Gay Talese, Jimmy Cannon.

Favorite Fictional Character: Gabriel Allon, the Israeli assassin a/k/a/ Mario Delveccio, Venetian art restorer, all conjured up by Daniel Silva.

Sports Team:  New York Yankees and New York Giants.

Hobbies/Passions: Trying to get Andrew Cuomo into the White House.

Current Project: See above.  Also working on fifth book, another anthology of life in the New York area for Fordham University Press.

Causes/Charities: Broadcasters Foundation of America:  Director, Member, Executive Committee and Chairman, Guardian Fund.   New Rochelle Police Foundation, Director. Frequent speaker and panelist on First Amendment issues and Free Speech matters. Supporter, the Media Institute, First Amendment Washington think-tank.

1. How did you get started in the business?

Hired by legendary television pioneer Martin Stone (producer, “Howdy Doody” and “20th Century”) as the first AE at WVIP, a pristine jewel of a station in the rarified, rolling hills of northern Westchester when I was 18.  It probably helped that I later married the Boss’s Daughter (Walter Nelson Thayer) Ann.  After a few years moved to the iconic WNEW-AM as personal assistant to legendary GM John Van Buren Sullivan.

2. Your stations have been known as the “Voice of the Golden Apple,” “America’s Great Community Station” and “Vox Populi.” How did they get that name and what does the moniker represent?

Our call letters really mean something.  WVOX is, of course, taken from the Latin “Vox Populi.”   And WVIP needs no explanation.  It’s just perfect.  They’re both great call letters.  Only I still dream of resurrecting and presiding over WNEW of sainted memory.

3. Tell us how “local” you get with your stations.

I have always believed a radio station achieves its highest calling when it resembles a platform and forum for the expression of many different viewpoints.  “Where Many Voices Are Heard In the Land” is our mantra, our theme song, our everything.  David Hinckley, the brilliant critic-at-large of the New York Daily News, called WVOX “a glorious hodgepodge of community programming … much of which even O’Shaughnessy can’t get excited about.”  And the mighty Wall Street Journal accused WVOX of being “The quintessential community station in America.”  That has a nice ring to it.

4. How do you make money with brokered programming, on both stations?

We have extraordinary relationships with the emerging New Americans – including even three weekly Muslim programs.

5. Why is it important to remember these days that radio represents and upholds the First Amendment?

Even in this high tech, speeded-up, cyber day and age, Radio, which is free and over the air, is still the medium of the poor, the lonely, the misunderstood, the forgotten, the disenfranchised and those on the margins of society.  Therein lies its potential to build up our communities and, as Mario Cuomo instructs us, to make them “better, stronger, kinder – and sweeter – than they are.”   

The First Amendment is important to all Americans.  But especially to broadcasters.  Everything that we are proceeds from it.  Every prerogative.  Every privilege.  Every opportunity comes from those clear, unadorned words of the Founders which are contained and enshrined forever, one hopes, in the First Amendment.

6. You’ve had many offers for your stations over the years. Why did you decide to keep them?

I’ve always looked on our community radio stations as instruments to do well and improve people’s lives and to assist, to assist, to assist.  Why did we decide to keep them?  I guess because I couldn’t bear the thought of them falling into the hands of speculators and absentee owners in whose care and keeping they might then surely resemble jukeboxes or “properties.”

7. Is there any question you’d like to answer that we forgot to ask?

I’m most often asked:  if you like Mario Cuomo so much … why do you still call yourself a “Rockefeller Republican?” I still admire our vivid and incomparable Westchester neighbor the late Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller who, as the son of an incredibly rich man, could have been a glorious bum.  Instead he pursued his dream of public service as governor and vice president in trying to make the world better.  As his local, hometown radio station, we traveled with him in jet planes, helicopters and even golf carts.   He was absolutely sui generis and unforgettable.

But Mario Cuomo, a failed baseball player with too many vowels in his name, whom the Boston Globe called “the great philosopher-statesman of the American nation” is, I believe, the greatest, most compelling public figure of our time.  My portfolio as a community broadcaster – in Westchester – has enabled me to observe many an attractive soul.  But Mario Cuomo is the best and brightest of all.  And when I think of him, I’m reminded of the last line Red Smith ever wrote:  “Someday there will be another Joe DiMaggio.”  Mario is 81 and still inspiring us.  It’s a privilege to amplify his voice among Vox Populi.