Taking Ron Kuby off the radio won’t stop him from talking — particularly if you ask the radical attorney about his on-air replacement, Don Imus.
“One of the odder aspects of this is that Imus makes a racist comment, and the damage is done to a civil rights lawyer,” Kuby reflected one day after he was canned at WABC-AM, abruptly ending a successful eight-year morning drive-time run.
“He gets my job, and I’m told about the high price he paid,” Kuby continued, his voice rising in disbelief. “He’s paid? What about me? The press release ought to say, ‘Ron Kuby has paid a high price for Don Imus’ mistake.’ He gets $20 million, an eight-month vacation and my job.”
It’s true: The radio resurrection of Don Imus flipped the off switch on Kuby’s New York radio gig, where he and co-host Curtis Sliwa garnered a bigger Big Apple audience than the one Imus left behind after his April firing at WFAN-AM.
But Imus has the reputation, the buzz, the potential for national syndication. As for Kuby, he heads into radio silence looking forward to ... sleeping late.
“I’m a man who strives to achieve his expectations,” Kuby said of his modest goal.
The left-leaning Kuby was an unlikely match for conservative talk-show bastion WABC, home to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. He and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa started their morning show in May 2000, breaking into the top 10 for morning drive ratings in the nation’s most competitive market.
“We were like mixing ammonia and bleach — very volatile, like the husband and wife in ‘Goodfellas,’ ” Sliwa said. “It was great radio. But this is new management, and they want a national show.”
Before bringing his distinctive voice to the airwaves, Kuby did most of his public speaking in courtrooms. He was best known as the protege and sidekick of William Kunstler, the gold standard of left-wing lawyers.
Together they gleefully embraced a series of eclectic clients, including mob boss John Gotti and Marlon Brando’s son, Christian. Kuby soldiered on alone after Kunstler died in 1995; one year later, in a nationally publicized case, Kuby won a $43 million judgment against subway gunman Bernie Goetz for a black youth left paralyzed by the infamous 1984 shooting.
Kuby’s career was good preparation for his role as the liberal voice on the conservative talk station, where many of the listeners were initially ready to kill him. Their threats paled compared to the one posed by mob informant Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, who once issued a contract on the ponytailed lawyer.
Kuby received news of his radio dismissal just 45 minutes before Imus’ return to radio was announced Thursday afternoon by Citadel Broadcasting Corp., owner of WABC. (Las Vegas-based Citadel bought WABC and other ABC radio stations from Walt Disney Co. last year.) Hundreds of calls and e-mails soon flooded in from listeners.
“They were almost all prefaced by ‘I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, I don’t agree with your politics, but ...’ ” Kuby said. “They enjoyed listening to ‘Curtis and Kuby,’ and I share their sadness.”
On Friday morning, Sliwa was back on the air without Kuby. The beret-wearing broadcaster will end up with a show in a different time slot, operating without his mismatched partner. Kuby admits he’s been bitten by the broadcasting bug, and he’d love to get another on-air shot somewhere.
Which reminds him: Back in April, when Imus was under fire nationally for his crack about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, one of the few voices defending the veteran host belonged to ... Ron Kuby.
“While I condemned what Imus said, I also said I didn’t think he should be fired,” Kuby said. “It’s hard to talk for 25 hours a week and not say something stupid.”