Rick Buckley – An Appreciation

Rick Buckley came at your with great lineage.  His father Richard Dimes Buckley owned the legendary WNEW of sainted memory all the way back in the days of Arde Bulova, John Jaeger and Bernice Judia. One of young Rick Buckley’s first assignments was to pick out the records to be played on the “Make Believe Ballroom” program. 

The Rick Buckley who slipped away from us on a warm, summer Sunday was himself one of the giants of our tribe.   Although Rick presided over a collection of stations in other states, including the estimable WDRC in Hartford, he will always be remembered as the permittee of the mighty WOR, an urban powerhouse known as one of America’s “heritage” stations which sends its signal throughout the northeast from New York, NY.

In every season Buckley was in love with that notion, subscribed to in these parts, that a radio station achieves its highest calling when it resembles a platform, a forum, for the expression of many different viewpoints.  And for many decades, while so much else was changing in the great city, WOR, never did resemble a jukebox. 

For decades he kept this instrument of communication away from the speculators and absentee owners with a fierceness and relentless devotion that surprised even his friends.  And they were legion.   He saved it harmless even during the allurements and temptations of Consolidation. 

Buckley carried himself with a shyness and a self-effacing wit that endeared him to so many of our colleagues. 

Rick lived like a country squire and had homes in Greenwich and Quogue and out in the desert in California.  And he was quick, this Buckley, to grab a check in every circumstance and venue.  

Just one month ago, Rick Buckley stood in the glow of the lights at The Sagamore in upstate New York before 600 of his colleagues there assembled by Joe Reilly to welcome him into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame as plaudits and encomiums rained down on the honorees.  Brian Williams … Regis Philbin … Deborah Norville … my friend Joe Reilly and others stepped up to the microphone.   Norville and  Williams did a dazzling turn.  Reilly was superb.  And Regis was, well, Regis.  But the most touching, heartfelt response came off the lips and from the heart of Buckley. 

And no one who heard it will ever forget the words he used to describe his love for the profession he distinguished for 50 years.  And the enormous pride which was his as a result of WOR’s independence, standing and stature.

He also spoke movingly on that summer night on the shores of Lake George of his great love for his family, in whose care and keeping WOR is now entrusted.   So there’s a great sadness in our profession this August morning, a Monday.  But nowhere is that sadness more profound than among those of us who served with Rick on the Board of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He was our Treasurer, a member of the Executive Committee and one of our strongest Directors who was unfailingly generous with his wisdom, his counsel and his purse.

The Foundation’s humanitarian mission of helping those for whom life has turned sad and difficult always resonated and had an effect on Buckley.  You could see it in his face as we would review the pleadings and importunings from those unfortunate souls who have fallen through the cracks.

He had a great family.  And when Rick and his dazzling Connie – or his crackerjack daughter Jen – entered the room at one of our events and high councils, you knew something good was coming at you. 

He amplified the voices of the fabled Gambling family, Bob Grant, Mayor Bloomberg, Joan Hamburg and Joey Reynolds.  And WOR, in its best moments, resembles one of the soapboxes favored by street corner orators in London’s fabled Hyde Park Square. While almost every other station in the great city was rocking and rolling, Rick Buckley used his franchise to amplify the disparate voices of his New York neighbors.  Some of them were raucous, many unsettling and a few were even sweet.  And Buckley made it very easy for all sorts and types of people to get on the radio. 

He had absolutely no interest in presiding over a jukebox.  Rather he was powerfully and irresistibly drawn all the days of his life to Vox Populi, the real music of America.  Not a bad legacy.