Bob Levey on Katharine Graham ~
“If you look back at what Katharine Graham accomplished, it is really, as the kids say, awesome. She built a Fortune 500 company centered around this newspaper. She made it profitable. I ate breakfast today, thanks to Katharine Graham, and the profit sharing plan that she put into place. Thank you, Mrs. Graham.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town. I keep saying this from time to time, but I mean it. This is very special to me, and for Our Town, to have Bob Levey come back to WMAL, where he starred
for years and years in radio, but also everything else he did. Bob is an icon in Our Town, of a man that’s been around for a long time, and is still active. I’m so very delighted for us to have this chance to talk about what you and I grew up in as radio television.
Bob Levey: Andy, I appreciate the chance to be here, but what are we going to do? My ears are burning from that introduction. Do you have a fire extinguisher?
Andy Ockershausen: No, no money.
Bob Levey: Well that’s no different from the old WMAL, right?
Andy Ockershausen: The old WMAL. I used to have the argument all the time about the talent, and I said look, we’re not in business to make you money. We’re in business to make The Evening Star money to keep ‘em alive, and we did for a while.
Bob Levey: You did for a long while-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s another story.
Bob Levey: It is a long story, it is another story.
The Washington Post – How Bob Levey Became Ben Bradlee’s First Hire
Andy Ockershausen: But you lived through it. You lived through the golden days of The Washington Post, and every day I think about how great The Post has been to Our Town, and to our people. Like it or love it, some people hate The Post, some people love it. But it’s been a rock in Our Town.
Bob Levey: A lot of people don’t understand exactly why it has been a rock in Our Town. It certainly had to do with the unbelievably great Ben Bradlee, whose first hire at The Washington Post, by sheer accident, was me.
Andy Ockershausen: No way.
Bob Levey: Yeah. It did happen.
Andy Ockershausen: He realized he made a mistake.
Bob Levey: Here was the story: I had a job interview lined up with J. Russell Wiggins, who was the Editor of The Post, and a couple of weeks out, he said come in on Monday morning at 9 a.m. But over the weekend, President Johnson named him the Ambassador to the United Nations, so this new dude took over at 9 a.m. Monday morning, and he inherited Wiggins’ calendar. The first guy he had to see was me. I walked in, and we didn’t know quite what to do with each other, so he hired me on the spot. It was the first of a lot of lucky breaks in my life.
Andy Ockershausen: To think about the great life you had up until then, I mean you were not out of the business. You started at six years old. That’s kind of young to start in the journalism business, but you did. Then, when I’m reading about you, Bob, I didn’t know … You grew up in New York-
From Growing Up in New York City to College at University of Chicago
Bob Levey: New York City.
Andy Ockershausen: High school and New York in the city. Then, going to the University of Chicago, which, to me, never meant journalism.
Bob Levey: There was no journalism program at the University of Chicago, but on my first day on campus somebody said, “You really ought to check out the student newspaper for two reasons. One, it’s a whole lot of fun; and two, there are a whole lot of girls there.” I said, “You got the value of this backwards, but I’ll show up.” That began my serious, absolutely over-caffeinated, overwhelming love for the business.
Andy Ockershausen: You had not done that in New York. You discovered that at Chicago?
Bob Levey: No, I was too busy being other things when I was in high school. You’re looking at guy who was an all-city quarterback in football, and an all-met basketball player, and the massively unsuccessful chaser of girls didn’t keep me from trying.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, but Bob look, because the experience that you had though, to go through what you did, and be part of the same in New York City, there’s nothing better than the Big Apple to train somebody.
Bob Levey: Well, you never quite leave it, Andy. I’ve lived in Washington now for nearly 51 years. I was born in Manhattan, and raised in the Bronx. I memorized the subways at an early age, and you never forget the subways. I was just up there two weeks ago with my wife, and she said, “How do we get from here to there?” I said, “No problem. We take the E-Train.” She said, “How did you know that?” I said, “Come on, what are you talking about? How did I know that?” I knew that when I was 11 years old.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s made New York happen, is that subway system, which was put in 150 years ago.
Bob Levey: Yeah, and I’m worried about it. There’s-
Andy Ockershausen: It’s very decrepit-
Bob Levey: What is the number now? Is it 50 billion dollars in repairs that they need? You know, here in Washington, we moan and groan when the Red Line is two seconds late. New York is heading for a lot worse.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, big problem. But to get from your days, and the great training, and the great growing up in the Big Apple, and then going back to Chicago, and then finding out this journalism thing may mean something-
Bob Levey: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Then to end up going to Albuquerque-
Bob Levey: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a lateral move, in some ways.
Albuqueque – Post College Career in Journalism
Bob Levey: You gotta start somewhere. There I was, 21 years old, with this piece of diploma in my hand. I had to decide whether I wanted to live somewhere I had never lived, and I chose that. It was a really good decision-
Andy Ockershausen: And you’ve applied for the newspaper down there, or-
Bob Levey: Yeah, and the hired me sight unseen. I deal today with a lot of young journalism students, and a lot of wannabes who say oh my gosh, my resume isn’t on pink paper, and the margins … I didn’t do any of that stuff. I just sent a letter out- I sent a letter to the Editor, and I said, “Hi, you should hire me.” And he wrote back and said, “Okay.” That was-
Andy Ockershausen: Let me tell you how the world has turned around. KOB in Albuquerque, owned by the people who owned The Washington Post radio station, which is called WTOP-
Bob Levey: Yes, sir.
Andy Ockershausen: Is that a small world?
Bob Levey: It is a small world-
Andy Ockershausen: Connect the dots.
Bob Levey: I never did radio in Albuquerque, but the news there was like nothing I had ever seen. You know, I was a big city guy. At that point, the smallest city I had ever lived in was Chicago. There I am in Albuquerque, and this guy says, “If you want to be a success in the news business in Albuquerque, buy cowboy boots.” So I did. I showed up for work every day in cowboy boots. Andy, if I had come to work at WMAL in cowboy boots, what would have happened? Nothing good.
Andy Ockershausen: No. You know, you adapted yourself to the people, rather than the people adapting to you.
Bob Levey: Well, you’ve got to. If you’re in journalism-
Andy Ockershausen: Wonderful market, too.
Bob Levey: If you’re in radio … It’s a good market, and in part, it’s a good market because there is no other market within 400 miles. Denver is 400 miles, Phoenix is 400 miles, Texas might be 1,000 miles. I don’t know where it is. But it was really-
Andy Ockershausen: Isolated.
Bob Levey: Isolated, self-contained, and a lot of stuff that I had not seen before. Heavy military influence, there are two Air Force bases there, and three kinds of people: Native Americans, Latinos, and what they called Anglos, there-
Andy Ockershausen: Anglos, yeah.
Bob Levey: The population was about 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 and that meant a lot of opportunities for journalists, but a lot of challenges.
Andy Ockershausen: It really was you had the whole state in your hands.
Bob Levey: Absolutely.
How Bob Levey Came to Washington DC
Andy Ockershausen: But that gave you the impotence to chase some young lady to Washington, D.C. that I read about in your resume. You decided-
Bob Levey: Why are we … We’re still talking about young ladies-
Andy Ockershausen: No, we’re talking about . . .
Bob Levey: Okay, I brought it up. Okay.
Andy Ockershausen: We’re talking about how journalists get along, chasing females. We know that. Like Bill Bradlee … Not Bill Bradlee-
Bob Levey: Like Ben Bradlee.
Andy Ockershausen: Ben Bradlee. Bill Bradlee-
Bob Levey: Yeah, he-
Andy Ockershausen: Bill Bradlee didn’t do that.
Bob Levey: Ben did his share of that.
Andy Ockershausen: Ben, we’ll talk about him. So you decided to come to Washington, pursue this young lady-
Bob Levey: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: And you did. You came to Washington and applied for a job with the number one newspaper at the time-
Bob Levey: I did.
Andy Ockershausen: In the community.
Bob Levey: It lasted, and she did not. I was at The Post for more than 36 years, and I was lucky enough to be there during, as you said, the golden years-
Andy Ockershausen: The golden years of the paper.
Bob Levey: There were lots of golden people there, but I want everybody to understand that the newsroom was not the only golden place there. The most important person who ever worked at The Washington Post was Katharine Graham, by a long way, because she built a business out of really not much of a business. You remember, Andy, when the old line was The Post was the number four newspaper in a three newspaper town?
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
Bob Levey: Ha, ha, ha. But it was true.
Andy Ockershausen: The Washington Daily News was tweaking them every day.
Katharine Graham Built a Fortune 500 Company Centered Aroung The Washington Post
Bob Levey: Every day, The Star was established and great, The Post was here, the Times Herald before The Post merged with the Times Herald in the 50s was better, and bigger than The Post. It was really not much of an operation. If you look back at what Katharine Graham accomplished, it is really, as the kids say, awesome. She built a Fortune 500 company centered around this newspaper. She made it profitable. I ate breakfast today, thanks to Katharine Graham, and the profit sharing plan that she put into place. Thank you, Mrs. Graham.
Andy Ockershausen: She . . .
Bob Levey: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: I know a lot of the guys that worked in the advertising department. They leaped retirement because the retirement was so great from The Post.
Bob Levey: It wasn’t just that it was so great, it was that she made it great.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, and good for the people.
Bob Levey: Yeah, you have to remember, and you do because our hair has changed colors. When a woman was running a big shop like that, a lot of the guys would mutter behind their hands, “Oh, she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Oh, this is . . .”
Andy Ockershausen: She had her time.
Bob Levey: “Oh gosh, oh this, oh that.” This woman was so good at her job … And by the way, she was a graduate of the University of Chicago-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh God, I knew we were going to get to that.
Bob Levey: Oh yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Jay Berwanger went to school with her, probably.
Bob Levey: Actually, I think they were there around the same time. She might have been a little earlier. She was so good at business after not believing that she could be, that that’s why I had breakfast this morning.
Andy Ockershausen: And she did something else significant. She hired good people.
Bob Levey: She did, and she got out of their way. She let Bradlee have his sandbox, and we all played in that sandbox. It was great.
Andy Ockershausen: Tell me about it.
Remembering Ben Bradlee
Bob Levey: Can I tell you one Bradlee story?
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. Have you seen the movie?
Bob Levey: Yes, I’ve seen it.
Andy Ockershausen: Did you have a review of it?
Bob Levey: Yeah, you know the movie is very good because it will teach the younger generation how absolutely great that time was, and what an amazing-
Andy Ockershausen: The golden days.
Bob Levey: But she performed under pressure like nobody I’ve ever seen. It was great. Here I am in the job interview with Bradlee, and some guy sticks his nose in the door, busts into the interview, and said, “Ben, I gotta be in Saigon. How soon do you want me there?” Bradlee says, “Be there in about a week.” The guy says, “I don’t know who this guy is.” The guy says, “Okay, okay.”
Bob Levey: Ben asked me to wait a minute. He picks up the phone, and here’s what happens, Andy. “Kay, it’s Benji. Yeah, yeah. Good. Fine, mm-hmm (affirmative). You too. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Listen, Kay, mm-hmm (affirmative), I gotta have one more guy in Saigon. I know. I know, Kay, the budget. Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know. Only a million, Kay. We gotta do it, Kay. Okay, honey. I love you, I love you bye.”
Bob Levey: That is how Ben Bradlee got another million bucks just like that in the budget to add a person-
Andy Ockershausen: In the bureau.
Bob Levey: To cover the war in Vietnam. The guy was amazing at playing-
Andy Ockershausen: Hitting the right buttons, didn’t he?
Bob Levey: Yeah. He wasn’t playing her in a cynical way. He played her in a way that really mattered to the future of the paper, and he did it beautifully.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, and I think he really appreciated her, the mutual admiration-
Bob Levey: Well, yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Went a long way.
Bob Levey: They really respected one another, although they were very different people.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, it led you to going to one of your major occupations in broadcasting-
Bob Levey: Well, it did.
Andy Ockershausen: By being with The Washington Post, the great credentials to take the next step.
Bob Levey: It was a great credential, but all my life, people had been telling me what a tremendous voice for radio I had, and-
Andy Ockershausen: Tremendous face for radio, too.
Bob Levey: Thank you for that. I knew that was coming. Thanks for not disappointing me, man. I was counting on you there.
Andy Ockershausen: That was a good one.
Levey On Broadcasting Career
Bob Levey: But nothing succeeds in our business, Andy, like sheer terror. In 1981, our daughter was born, and we went from two adults with two incomes, to two adults, one child, with one income. That wasn’t going to do it. One night, I was lying in bed and I said, “All these people have been telling me all these years that I should be in broadcasting. I think I’m going to try.” The rest is history of various kinds, but from that-
Andy Ockershausen: You got on the air, and people appreciated you.
Bob Levey: I got on WRC 980.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my God. Great call letters, great station.
Bob Levey: I had a wonderful experience there, and I was there for a couple of years. I was doing Afternoon Drive right away there.
Andy Ockershausen: With The Joy Boys, were they in their heyday?
Bob Levey: They were gone by then-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, they had?
Bob Levey: Yeah, but Braden and Buchanan were there, Bernie McCain was there.
Andy Ockershausen: They had talent.
Bob Levey: Mike Cuthbert was doing mornings there, and a young guy would pop in to do the weather on my show, and his name was Willard Scott.
Andy Ockershausen: We know him well.
Bob Levey: So, I’ve been around a while.
Andy Ockershausen: We’re going to take a break here, and come back with Bob Levey, and talk more about his broadcast career, as Evelyn Freyman, the name you must remember.
Bob Levey: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: Broadcast. This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town. This is Andy Ockershausen. I’m having a wonderful discussion with Bob Levey, who is an icon, as far as I’m concerned, in our business, and has done so much for broadcasting, so much for Our Town. But he did so much at The Washington Post, he followed a man named Bill Gold-
The Washington Post Local Column – Bill Gold, Bob Levey and Brian Kelly
Bob Levey: I did.
Andy Ockershausen: In the column, and that kept things … I don’t think there’s anything like that in the paper. It’s Kelly-
Bob Levey: Kelly is there, and Kelly followed me-
Andy Ockershausen: He’s a good guy. We like Kelly.
Bob Levey: He is good, but he’s working for a much different newspaper.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s exactly right.
Bob Levey: I can’t really compare Kelly to me, and I can’t compare me to Bill.
Andy Ockershausen: No, that’s right. There were three different personalities-
Bob Levey: And three different newspapers.
Andy Ockershausen: All of them bring something to the table. Bob, tell us about … You did some television work.
Bob Levey: I did a lot of television. I was a commentator and a chat show host on I think it was four local television stations. My favorite gig there, Andy, was at Channel 7, when they were on Connecticut Avenue, right at Van Ness, in that old-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, Ice Palace.
Bob Levey: That old Ice Palace, remember that?
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, don’t I?
Bob Levey: Now, it’s condos that you can’t afford.
Andy Ockershausen: Will you believe those buildings?
WMAL Radio Gig
Bob Levey: Gosh, anyway, this what was cool about that. I was on the 6:00 news for years, and in those days, early days of Metro, you could get a transfer, and it was good for two hours. I would go up to WMAL, get a transfer, put it in my pocket, go on the air, do my commentary, and the transfer would still be good, and I’d get on the bus and go home.
Andy Ockershausen: On the same fare.
Bob Levey: Yeah. I loved to say that WMAL did more for my children’s future, than any other station I ever worked for.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, but your wife was doing all the heavy lifting.
Bob Levey: She was.
Andy Ockershausen: But the paper transfer, I had forgotten about. That was pink, as I recall. I told-
Bob Levey: Oh, no. This is after that. It was spit out by a machine.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh it was? I’m talking about the time the guy ripped it off his-
Bob Levey: Oh, those were fun, too.
Andy Ockershausen: See, I’ve been around too long, Bob. But you did have television work at all the local stations, and you grew up with all the local personalities, and involved.
Channel 7 TV and Frank Herzog
Bob Levey: I did. You won’t take this personally, I hope, but there are people in management of radio and television stations, who are cheap, Andy. When I was on Channel 7, I was there for years. The anchors were Renee Poussaint, and David Schoumacher.
Andy Ockershausen: I know David very … We hired him from ABC.
Bob Levey: Yes, indeed. There were three seats. It was a three shot on a panel, and David and Renee would be there, and the third seat would change depending … It would be the weather person, or the sports person. Frank Herzog was the sports person there then, and Frank and I were, shall we say, prematurely white in the hair department. They had this light that came down on us, and it made people with white hair look as if their hair was on fire.
Bob Levey: If we gave it a chance, maybe our hair would have been on fire. That’s how poorly made this thing is. So Frank and I went to management, and we said, “Guys, we look like something out of a horror movie. Do something about it. Change the light.” They wouldn’t do it.
Andy Ockershausen: What?
Bob Levey: They would not do it. So, Herzog would go on and do the sports-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a . . . job, too, right?
Bob Levey: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Union job.
Bob Levey: Herzog would go on, and these wisps of smoke would be coming out of his head. Then, I’d go on and more wisps. Let’s just say that I don’t think that did a lot for their ratings. Actually, maybe it did.
Andy Ockershausen: I’m sure it did.
Bob Levey: Maybe it was a reason to tune in.
Andy Ockershausen: Renee was-
Bob Levey: Frank and I have been buddies ever since-
Andy Ockershausen: You know, he was our first guest on Our Town.
Bob Levey: Was he?
Andy Ockershausen: Yes-
Bob Levey: Oh, what a great guy.
Andy Ockershausen: Because … It was just an accident. He was here for the Hall of Fame.
Bob Levey: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: And Janice said, “We better get him while he’s here.”
Bob Levey: Oh yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: So we did. We love Frank. He’s a very dear friend.
Bob Levey: He’s wonderful.
Andy Ockershausen: We lost a lot when Frank left the Redskins. I’m telling you, that’s a fact. One of the things, Bob, it’s maybe a cliché, but we think there was a chemistry there between the Redskins as a team, and the broadcast team. They were winning-
Bob Levey: Yeah, they were certainly winning-
Andy Ockershausen: The audience loved it.
Bob Levey: Then more than they’re winning now, and the audience loved it.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Bob Levey: I don’t hear anymore, maybe you do, Andy. I don’t hear anymore this idea that you put the Redskins on the television set, and listen on the radio at the same time.
Andy Ockershausen: They don’t do it anymore.
Bob Levey: 25 years ago, that was routine.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my God. Sonny Sam and Frank made the team. It made the chemistry work.
Bob Levey: I mean, it proves yet again, that the personality in radio is everything.
Andy Ockershausen: We do, and we just are so happy that the personalities we’ve had on Our Town, and certainly, Bob, I mean it sincerely. You have done so much. You were a big part of WMAL at one time. Janice was a big part. She still is, as an advertiser. Those days can’t happen again, for whatever reason. I don’t know why.
Bob Levey: I think a form of them could happen, and I have always thought so. As I’ve said to you before-
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, they could build one.
Gap in Local Radio
Bob Levey: I think there’s a gap here for the right kind of local radio, that is not trying to be national radio. I think it could work as a business, says this guy whose never run a business. It just seems to me that-
Andy Ockershausen: It’s a good model. I know what you mean.
Bob Levey: I think so. I think particularly in this area, where we have such high education levels, such high income … Andy, the big one, and you know this from your days, the level of female education in the Washington area, is exceptionally high. The number of women with advanced degrees-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, the degrees. Oh, yeah.
Bob Levey: In this market is huge. And that alone-
Andy Ockershausen: It leads the nation.
Bob Levey: Yeah, and that alone, plus the car time that everybody’s doing, that should mean that a station somewhat like this one, and maybe this one, could re-establish local products.
Andy Ockershausen: It could be. It’s a commitment of management or ownership. It’s all absentee ownership.
Bob Levey: Right, and that’s a problem-
Andy Ockershausen: One of the great things that happened in our company was we were owned by The Star, and The Star took great pride in their broadcast division.
Bob Levey: But this idea that nobody knows or cares about local news is nonsense. The idea that today you are going to put on the radio, and the only person you care about is Stormy Daniels, is silly. It’s just silly. There’s news everywhere in this community, every minute of every day.
Andy Ockershausen: She’s in television the same way as radio.
Bob Levey: Look man, you go raise the money. I’ll do Morning Drive, we’ll be reincarnated, how about that?
Andy Ockershausen: Janny’s got the money. We gotta talk her into this show.
Bob Levey: She’s got the money? Okay.
Andy Ockershausen: She’s so successful. But Bob, I’m going to come back … We’re going to take a break here now, and talk to you more about … I hope you don’t mind, about The Post, and what it means now. I connect Bob Levey with The Post more than I do with WMAL, unfortunately. This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: Andy Ockershausen, and I’m talking to Bob Levey about local people he has grown up with in the business, and stayed in the business. It was so important that you were part of the WMAL team in later days. But you know what we went through, and what the city went through. It was local. It wasn’t built … WMAL was local. That was us, local.
Local Radio | Harden and Weaver | Star Spangled Banner
Bob Levey: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: Local, local, local. And that doesn’t happen anymore.
Bob Levey: I run into people all the time who are in their 70s who say, “I could not have had breakfast in the morning without Harden and Weaver, because I never did have breakfast without Harden and Weaver.” My parents put it on, and I listened to all those jokes about Smokey the Bear and everything, and now they’re 70 years old, and they still remember the jokes.
Andy Ockershausen: They also say, “I couldn’t be sure I was going to be on time if I hadn’t heard The Star Spangled Banner.” Nobody plays The Star Spangled Banner anymore.
Bob Levey: That’s true.
Andy Ockershausen: Do you ever hear it?
Bob Levey: No, not ever.
Andy Ockershausen: Every TV station used to sign off with it.
Bob Levey: I hear it on the football broadcast, by people who can’t sing.
Andy Ockershausen: God Bless America. Bob, but in all your experiences at The Post, working with this talented group of people, it’s the same thing you did in radio-
Bob Levey: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: When you went to the station, you were working with talent. Boy, that was a great opportunity. I’m sure you really learned a lot from The Post about the talent, and what they do.
On Working in a Talented Environment
Bob Levey: I learned about working in a very talented environment, and what I learned, Andy, was not to try to be better at what they were good at, than certain people were good at. I could never have been a better political reporter than David Broder. I could never have been a better cartoonist than Herblock.
Bob Levey: When I walked in here, I could never have been better at spinning stories and working with each other, than Trumbull and Core. They were terrific at that. There I was, not with a partner, in a studio, and the biggest mistake I could have made was to try to be another Trumbull and Core. I didn’t do that-
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Bob Levey: I was working in an environment that they helped to establish.
Andy Ockershausen: We, in building this talent … of this station of talented people, we told them, “Don’t try to be Harden and Weaver-”
Bob Levey: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: “Because Harden and Weaver aren’t going to listen to you.” I can tell you that.
Bob Levey: All they would have been would have been a pale imitation.
Andy Ockershausen: Exactly. So they went another different way, and-
Bob Levey: They did.
Andy Ockershausen: It worked.
Bob Levey: They did.
Andy Ockershausen: Frank and Jack didn’t pay attention to anybody. They just did their bit and left, and went home. You know that. Janice knew, she worked with them-
Bob Levey: Remind me of this, because I want to cash a bet on this. Were they doing 40 shares at one time in the morning, or was it more?
Andy Ockershausen: It could have been more. It could have been almost as much as 50.
Bob Levey: Wow. Just get your head around that for a minute.
Andy Ockershausen: We had, at one time, one out of every four listeners at any one time would tune in here. Nobody can do numbers, but things have changed, Bob. We were talking, Bob, about your experiences and some of the names that you work with. Following Bill Gold with a challenge had to be, because he was such an icon.
On Following Bill Gold at The Washington Post
Bob Levey: Bill had written the local column on the comics page for 34 years-
Andy Ockershausen: He helped us raise money for Children’s Hospital.
Bob Levey: Of course, and I did that, too-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Bob Levey: What Bill had established was there was a place for something other than what the President said in the last five minutes. Bill had his flaws, I think. I don’t think Bill ever understood how suburban this community had gotten, and I don’t think Bill had any idea how multi-racial this community had gotten. But I salute Bill, and I salute his memory, because he made it possible for me to write a local column.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. He was a good man to follow.
Bob Levey: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: What is that … Cody Pfanstiehl, remember that name?
Bob Levey: Yes, I do.
Andy Ockershausen: Was he ever a writer at the post?
Cody Pfanstiehl – Metro’s Chief of Public Relations
Bob Levey: He was briefly, and then he decided he wanted to eat for a living, and we went to be the Chief PR guy for Metro.
Andy Ockershausen: What an opportunity, because that was just getting it off the ground, right? He had it for years.
Bob Levey: Cody gave me a great quote one time. I was working on a column about a bus that ran out of gas. Really. Rush hour, 14th Street Bridge, the bus ran out of gas, came to a dead stop on 14th Street Bridge, and I called Cody and I said, “Cody, how in the world could this happen?” He said, “I’ll tell you how it could happen. There wasn’t any gas in the tank.” I felt like an idiot for the first and last time in my life. I said, “Okay, Cody,” and I put it in the newspaper. There it was.
Andy Ockershausen: A true story.
Bob Levey: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: And truth is stranger than fiction, you know that.
Bob Levey: Yes, sir.
Andy Ockershausen: And a lot more entertaining. But you know, the character of Ben Bradlee, I told you, he had done a couple of things. He was a friend, and had been around. I know he used to harass George Solomon all time with the sports section, but they were doing it in a friendly way. Ben would say, “It’s trash. You gotta do better than this,” and-
Ben Bradlee Was Like a Great Football Coach
Bob Levey: Ben was like a great football coach. He would cajole you, he would stick needles in you. He would never stop riding you, but it was always for the right purpose, to make you better, not worse.
Andy Ockershausen: Right, and make the paper better.
Bob Levey: Right, and all of these bosses who get their egos involved and say, “I’m going to tell you what to do because I’m better than you,” or, “I’m higher ranking than you,” everybody knew Bradlee was higher ranking, but he had a way of-
Andy Ockershausen: He never flaunted it, that’s right.
Bob Levey: Well, he didn’t flaunt it in the wrong way.
Andy Ockershausen: We had an AD club meeting, and there was supposed to be this girl. She is a sales manager, she’s in the family … She’s in the Graham family somewhere. She couldn’t make it, so Ben came over. It was right across the street. Ben had the greatest opening line. He said, “Who in the hell is Howard Bomstein?” Howard is a big advertising guy.
Bob Levey: Yes, sir.
Andy Ockershausen: Ben was sincere. He didn’t know who the hell he was. He said, “I don’t even know why I’m here, but Bomstein is winning an Award.”
Bob Levey: Well, Ben-
Andy Ockershausen: That was Bradlee.
Bob Levey: Ben was famous for misbehaving in a little boy kind of way.
Andy Ockershausen: He did.
Bob Levey: He got away with it every time.
Andy Ockershausen: But that’s what made the paper … That’s what made you great, because you had somebody prodding you all the time.
Bob Levey: Well, he also gave me, as Bezos says, runway. He got out of my way, and he said, “Do what you want, just don’t do anything stupid. Don’t do anything wrong, and you can do what you want.” How can anything be better than that?
Andy Ockershausen: So many bosses don’t do that . . .
Bob Levey: The guy set the table, and I said, “This is an amazing opportunity, but it will be amazing only if I handle it in the right way,” and I tried to do that.
Andy Ockershausen: You sure did. That kept you off of TV a lot, I’m sure. You worked hard.
Evidence that Radio is Not Ephemeral
Bob Levey: Well, yeah. I mean, people say what is the secret of this triple career that you had: Newspapers, radio, television, often at the same time? Andy, I did that for years. I would do a radio show, a television show, and a column on the same day for years. What is the secret? Coffee is the secret.
Andy Ockershausen: And money.
Bob Levey: And free coffee is really the secret. Anytime I could get a free coffee, I would take it. Everybody says radio is ephemeral, that’s in one ear, out the other, and about three years ago I was on the Metro at rush hour, and it’s the sardines as usual. I run into this guy that I know. We’re standing there yakking with each other, and this lady whose sitting right by my right side pulls on my jacket and says, “Sir?”
Bob Levey: I say, “Yeah?” “Sir, didn’t you used to be on WMAL?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “I thought I knew your voice.” My voice had lived in this woman’s head for 20 years, Andy. My gosh. And you think newspapers aren’t ephemeral? They are, but a radio is not. I think that the human voice … There must be research about this, but the human voice sticks with people in ways that-
Andy Ockershausen: No question. No question about that.
Bob Levey: You know, you remember Martin Luther King saying … You remember the speech?
Andy Ockershausen: I Have A Dream, yeah.
Bob Levey: Yeah. Remember what Kennedy sounded like? I can hit you with that, and you remember right away what he sounded like. It’s true of a lot of human voices.
Andy Ockershausen: That is absolutely the truth. What is your plan now? You got all this knowledge and talent. How’s it going to get out there? Are you going to travel? Are you-
National Champion Bridge Player for Hire
Bob Levey: I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. I’ve been teaching a lot. I had Chairs in journalism schools two times in the last few years. I’m writing books, I am doing a lot of consulting work where I help nonprofits, and sometimes individuals, write better so they can raise money better. I want to say this, too, nobody knows this about me, but I’m a national champion bridge player.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Bob Levey: I hire myself out as a partner to people who want to play in bridge tournaments, who are really good. The analogy to prostitution, Andy, is almost exactly right with one major exception … No, we don’t do that, but it’s really the same. You hire me, and I’ll try to make it good for you, but if I can’t make it good for you, no hard feelings, and you can hire me again if you want, and you don’t have to hire me again … So, I am a bridge prostitute. I travel around the country playing bridge.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s a travel deal, then. You can go places.
Bob Levey: Yeah, well I go-
Andy Ockershausen: And your reputation is spread around the nation, of course.
Bob Levey: This is one of the few good parts of the Internet, I have to say, where after I became a national champion, everybody knew it, and they knew how to find me.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Do not be surprised if you don’t hear back from some our listeners.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, we will. We still have people that care about it.
Bob Levey: Good, oh, okay.
Andy Ockershausen: Nice commercial, now if you want Levey-
Bob Levey: I don’t even look like a prostitute.
Andy Ockershausen: Call a lady. Call Janice Ockershausen. She’ll tell you how to get in touch with Bob Levey. But Bob, that’s great to know. You’re so active. I’m thanking the Lord every day for Janice. This is her idea to keep me active. But we’ve enjoyed it so much, and so much … To see you, and talk to you-
Bob Levey: Andy, thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: Even seeing you in Guapo’s was a thrill.
Bob Levey: Thank you. Guapo’s is always a thrill. Sometimes, not in the right ways.
Andy Ockershausen: The next day.
Bob Levey: But I loved it, and thank you very much. Anytime you run out of people to have as a guest, let’s do phase two, because I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I-
Andy Ockershausen: We’ll get into the bridge. We’ll start giving bridge lessons, and not charge ’em.
Bob Levey: What? No, no.
Andy Ockershausen: This has been so special. Really, this has been a special edition of Our Town with Bob Levey. We will have you back. Remember that for our fourth season, Bob Levey comes back.
Bob Levey: Thank you, sir.
Andy Ockershausen: I’m serious about that. This is Andy Ockershausen on This is Our Town.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town: Season Three, presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite, with your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions, see us on Facebook, or visit our website at OurTownDC.com.
Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL Radio in Washington, D.C. for hosting our podcast. Thanks to GEICO: 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.