Gary Bazner would often say to me that there are two kinds of people in broadcasting. Those that have been fired, and those that will be. He also told me on numerous occasions that he would die young.
When Bruce Grant informed management he intended on retiring from WOOD Radio, we began the search for his replacement. The Research Group was hired to conduct a study in the market. The findings confirmed our belief that WCUZ’s Andy Rent and Dennis Sutton could successfully take over the morning show on WOOD and even grow the audience. We offered them the job…they turned us down.
We knew that Gary Bazner was a very popular TV personality in the market. The Baz was TV 8’s head meteorologist and he had a larger than life personality. Perhaps that would work on radio? A reasonable thinking person might come to that conclusion. But there was one problem. Bazner had a contract. What happened next set off a chain of events that changed the TV broadcast landscape in Grand Rapids for years.
I had already known that Bazner would be interested in coming to WOOD Radio so we very delicately approached Channel 8 management and asked them if we might approach Gary, being mindful that any discussions with him without managements approval could be contract tampering. Much to my surprise, Channel 8 green lighted the idea. Hmmmmm – that was too easy. Channel 8 had been in negotiations with Channel 13’s Craig James. James was numero uno in Grand Rapids. He was the markets first TV meteorologist and his contract was up. But Channel 8 had a problem..that I helped them solve. We hired Bazner – they hired Craig James. And the headlines were huge! Of course WCUZ wasn’t too happy about all of this and they leaked to the Grand Rapids Press that Andy Rent and Dennis were our first choice. I thought that was petty.
Gary Bazner took over the morning show on WOOD Radio in early 1986 and Bruce Grant semi-retired, doing Saturday mornings and filling in for Bazner during vacation time. Pairing Bazner with the assembled morning team, which included newly hired meteorologist Peter Chan was a little rough in the beginning. There were awkward moments of dead air as Gary was learning how to run the control board. But otherwise, things seemed to take off well. At least for a while. Without getting into specifics, it was becoming increasingly clear that this was going to be a bumpy ride.
Bazner had big ideas including doing the morning show from the America’s Cup Race in Australia. When Gary approached me with the idea, I couldn’t get my mind around it. But he had already worked it out with America’s Cup Sponsors Amway Corp to fully fund the broadcast. In February 1986 I found myself with Bazner on the shores of the Indian Ocean in Western Australia. It was here I first met the legendary JP McCarthy from WJR – also there broadcasting from the America’s Cup Races. I’ll never forget the plane ride over. The 747 United Jet took a bolt of lightening somewhere over the equator. The smell of burning electrical components permeated the cabin and people were alarmed. Bazner was sleeping. I woke him up – he looked out the window, saw a small fire on the engine, and said it’s no problem..and he went back to sleep! I was about ready to wet my pants. I thought this is it..we’re going down. In fact, were were going down..to dump fuel over the ocean. The captain addressed us over the PA and said we had experienced and “over temperature: and we were landing at Fiji. We made a safe landing at Nandi on the Fiji Islands and were there several hours while crews worked to repair the engine. Who knew they could fix a big Rolls Royce Jet Engine on Fiji??!!
As I had mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Baz was essentially a fatalist. Things like a fire on a plane over the Pacific didn’t phase him. But a memo from the program director would set him off!
Gary left WOOD radio after I had moved on. He moved to Detroit and became meteorologist for WKBD TV 50 in Detroit. He died of a massive heart attack at the age of 49, 22 years ago yesterday, February 2nd 1996. Seemed ironic as it was Groundhogs day. Wierd.