Friday, August 10, 2012

1055 R. Peter Straus

1055 R. Peter Straus (1923-2012)

Quick... what’s this?

If you’re a New Yorker of a certain age, you will know instantly.  If you aren’t, all you need to know is that you could win one of these by listening to WMCA Radio when it was a real station run by a real man, R. Peter Straus.

They don’t make station owners like this guy any more.  And they don’t make families like his, either.

But radio is only the tip of the Straus family history.  R. Peter died this week at 89.  And those of us in the broadcasting business owe him plenty of gratitude.

In his WMCA days, you had the “Good Guys.”  Joe O’Brian, Harry Harrison, B. Mitchell Reed, Murray Kaufman (before he became Murray the K) and others.

How’s this for family ties:  Married at one time to a Sulzberger (of the New York Times Sulzbergers.)  Years after she passed away, he married Marcia Lewis, mother of Monica Lewinsky.  His father was FDR’s Director of Housing.  His grandfather was co-owner of Macy’s and was the “Straus” in the Abraham & Straus stores.  A great uncle, Isador, also a big time retailer died on the Titanic.  Another one was U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

But it’s WMCA that we radio geeks have to thank him for.  No one did editorials.  Then Straus did editorials.  And he put his money and his lawyers where his mouth was.  You have this guy to thank in part for “one person one vote” Supreme Court decision.

WMCA had a real news department that ownership created and took seriously.  It covered New York and the rest of the world when other music stations went only lightly in that direction.  

They stopped the music each weeknight for two hours so Barry Gray could hold forth.  Barry was the grandfather of talk radio and at the time a (shudder) liberal whom Walter Winchell called “Barry Pink.”  (Gray, a friend, got more conservative over time, but never was a right winger.)

When they no longer could hold their own against WABC, Straus converted to a talk format.  What kind of talk?  Uh oh! Liberal.  

WMCA no longer is “first on your dial,” because the dial has expanded both upward and downward.  But it’s still there at 570.  These days it’s owned by Salem, the religious and conservative talk broadcaster.

If Straus had any opinion about the present state of the station his family owned starting in the 1940s, we can’t find it.  But we can imagine.

And even though his family name was a household word for millions, he probably had to spend a good deal of time telling people that the letter “s” appears in his name twice, not three times.

Shrapnel:

--For the astrology followers among you... R. Peter Straus’ birthday was February 15th (1923) and Mike Bloomberg’s is February 14 (1942.)  So maybe there’s a connection between rich Aquarians and radio.  Or not.

--Only two days until the end of the Freak Show in London.  It was so exciting to watch the Irish girl beat the Russian girl in lightweight boxing, and the American girl dancing rings around the other Russian girl in the middleweight division, I almost woke up.  Next up:  the eagerly awaited Bowling With Marbles, with top seeded China expected to roll over former world champion Peru.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com.
© WJR 2012

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