Friday, July 09, 2010

Once a Flaming Talk Show Host -- The Only Flame Now in Dave Barber's Life is on his Grill and He's Happy About That

It wasn’t that long ago that the radio market in Flint, Michigan was filled with some incredible on-air personalities from wild and kinetic rock n’ roll antics of Peter C. Cavanaugh on WTAC to the mid-day housewife’s best friend, Betty Clark on WFDF.  Country music fans listening to WKMF couldn’t get enough of disc-jockeys such as Johnny Irons and Big Bill Anderson and then there was Buffalo Dick’s Radio Ranch on WWCK – Jeff Lamb’s somewhat bent take on children’s television shows that kept everyone entertained in the late 70s.

It’s a pretty safe bet that if there was anyone on the radio in Flint, Michigan who made a lasting impression on people – good or bad – that person would be Dave Barber.  While working overnights spinning records at WTRX – Dave dipped his toes into the world of talk radio by filling in for a vacationing Wally Kennedy.  Unlike other fill-in hosts for Wally Kennedy – Dave didn’t play it safe – he instantly went into his flame-throwing mode and the style of talk show that people remember Dave doing.

“I figured I couldn’t do the show the way Wally did it, so I started flame throwing,” Dave says.  “I mean I had an opinion about everything.  It managed to get a reaction (not always favorable).  Wally tended not to be very confrontational, so I stood out like a sore thumb.  It’s not what people listen to, it’s what they remember and can write it down in a rating diary and back in the late 70’s my show had a 40 share of the Flint audience.”

And just like Howard Stern in New York City – radio listeners in Flint, Michigan might not have liked or even loved Dave Barber, but they would listen to him just to hear what he would say next or who he would verbally dissect without missing a beat.

A complicated radio personality – Dave was part newsman, part antagonist and part Las Vegas lounge lizard who would like nothing more than to be a part of Old Blue Eye’s Rat Pack.  On one hand Dave Barber could be playful on the radio, but most of the time you took him pretty seriously and the last thing you ever wanted to do was to get in a pissing match with him.  He warned more than a few of the callers to his show – “If you want to play mental gymnastics with me, I’ll tell you right now, you’re going to lose,”  and he would see to it that even your best argument didn’t hold water and you weren’t worthy to even take up any of his time.  With Dave Barber – you either loved him or hated him….and he usually made sure that there was no middle ground for you to choose.  He knew how to push his listeners’ buttons and get them to respond, and in turn, it’s safe to say that Dave Barber provided Flint with some pretty exciting talk radio.

It’s been four years since Dave Barber’s voice has been heard on Flint radio.  In March of 2006, Dave left his hometown of Flint, Michigan to take a morning spot on WPRO radio in Providence, Rhode Island.  The radio business is not unlike any other business – if you want to move up in your career you had to take some challenges and Dave knew that the job in Providence was that next big step in his radio career, but it’s not easy to leave your comfort base and move to a new area where nobody knows your name or who you are. 

“The move was far more difficult then I expected,” Dave said.  “I did not know one single person and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would have made the move if I knew what I know now.”

After nearly a year in his new job, Dave received his first employee performance review from the vice-president of talk programming for Citadel broadcasting (the company that owns WPRO, as well as WJR in Detroit and the ABC Radio Network).  Dave got a glowing review and everything was coming up roses, or so he thought. 

“I was so excited about the good review,” Dave says, “I decided to treat myself to a vacation in Miami to see the Super Bowl.  Things changed though when I got back to Providence -- On my first day back from vacation, I was fired.  And to complicate the matter even more -- the general manager of the station wouldn’t even give me the reason why I was being let go -- I was just told that I would understand in a few days.” 

A few days passed and Dave discovered the reason he was let go.  A former Rhode Island radio personality, who was better known, had just been fired from his job in Boston and was now available, so WPRO decided to bring him back to Providence

“So, I was the odd guy out when they hired him to come back to the market.  Plus, I don’t think it helped that I questioned the war in Iraq on the air, because the General Manager’s husband was a military General.  A little something that nobody bothered to tell me about.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dave was vocal about his feeling against the war in Iraq – he’s always let his feelings known on the air about the issues of the day – whether it was the war, the Auto World fiasco, abortion rights or capital punishment and he wasn’t afraid to take on people in power. 

Dave’s feud with former Flint Mayor Woodrow Stanley was pretty much chronicled by the Flint Journal. 

“Woodrow was simply corrupt,” Dave said about the former mayor.  “He circled himself with corrupt people and he didn’t like it that I let people know that about him.” 

How many talk show hosts do you know that have to protect themselves against the people that they talk about on the air?  Not too many, but at one point during the Stanley feud, Dave was allegedly struck by the former mayor and he had to have a restraining order issued against him. 

“Hey, Stanley loved me so much that he called me ‘his bitch’ to anyone who brought up my name.”

Dave irritated some other politicians – such as former Michigan governor John Engler.  Dave challenged Engler -- who embraced “family values” during his campaign for governor -- yet allegedly abused and cheated on his first wife – according to a request for an annulment from the Catholic Church that Engler’s wife filed.

“She said she would sue me if I reported it,” Dave said.  “I did and she didn't, so you see truth is a defense.”

As much as Dave loves to talk about his days in talk radio – he knows that those days are now over and he feels that was is happening now in the radio business is sad and embarrassing.

Currently, Dave Barber is the program director for Rhode Island’s Capitol Television. 

“Think of it as C-Span for Rhode Island.  I report to the Speaker of the House and I serve as the stations’ only on air person.  It’s all politics all the time.  My life today is completely different then it has ever been and I have never been happier.”

When Dave Barber lived and worked in the Flint area – he ate at only the finest restaurants in the area…today, Dave Barber enjoys eating meals at home -- meals that he cooks on his deluxe grill and, if you believe some of his Facebook postings, he has become a pretty fair grill master. 

And when asked about what he misses about the Flint area, Dave answers quickly, “Koegel Viennas!  Here in Little Rhody they call coney dogs “hot wieners”.  I was spoiled in Flint.  A hot dog in Flint is like filet mignon. The dogs here crawl out of the bun.” 

Anyone wishing to forward some Kogel’s out Dave’s way – you can contact him at Capitol Television.  You could call him at home – but he might be too busy grilling or getting ready for an evening in front of the television watching “American Idol.” 

In the interest of full disclose -- the author of this blog, Rich Frost, was once Dave Barber’s producer at WTAC – which doesn’t make him a bad guy – but it’s something he thought you might like to know.


Anonymous said...

I used to work at WTRX when Dave Barber was the talk show host. Believe me, working with him was not a pleasure. I don't believe I've ever met a more egotistical person in my life and I can't think of one person there that liked him. But we got him back ... scaring him on the steps by shooting off the fire extinguisher, putting a dead mouse in his mailbox (Dave - you should have heard yourself scream! Twice!). Dave did a lot of disgusting things at the radio station and always thought he should be at the top of the heap. I have to say, he was at the bottom of my heap. Thank God he's out of Michigan. Any by the way, I never would have thought of him again but someone contacted me on facebook to ask whether I'd worked at WTRX and mentioned that that "shank Dave Barber" had tried to impress her there.

Rich Frost said...

Dear Anonymous:

I gotta big question for you -- did you misplace your balls after you left WTRX? The only reason that I ask that is because you did your fair share of making some disparaging remarks about Dave - but didn't let everyone know who you are. Was Dave an angel back at WTRX -- probably not -- but I'm sure that if we checked into your background someone might find a few "disgusting" things that we could say about you -- but you want to remain faceless (as well as spineless) in your comment about others.

And just to let you know -- Dave and I didn't always see eye to eye during our time together at WTAC -- but what you might have seen as "egotistical" others see as "talent" and Dave had a talent in making good radio. You might not always agree with what he said or how he said it -- but he definitively knew what people wanted to hear and he gave it to them.

And here's another thing about Dave -- he's no fair weather friend -- if he's your friend -- he's your friend for life -- which is something that you might not know anything about "Anonymous" -- and that's friends.

The Macon Express said...

You hit the nail on the head, Richie. If Dave is your friend, you are a friend for life. Even though I haven't seen Dave in many years, I have NO DOUBT that if I NEEDED him, he would be there, no questions asked. I enjoyed working with Dave at WTAC. Always a professional, he also had a terrific sense of humor. Dave had his detractors, but all successful people do, and Mr. Barber wouldn't have it any other way. Van

Anonymous said...

yeah o.k. my name is christine I knew dave when he was "flaming" at wtrx. your word not mine. i always thought of him as a jerk who thought he was king and kept screaming how good and talented he was but in all actuality a small time radio station in flint michigan is a long way from the airwaves in california isn't it life was always better in the good old days. see ya

Tim Huck said...

Ha - just seen a documentary about michael moore (manufacturing dissent) and it had a lot of dave barber in it. googled dave and found this. my name is tim huck and i worked with dave at wtac along with tony johnson. tony and i both live in clearwater, fl now. personally i found dave amusing and old school good. but i favored rick arshamo (sp?) he was over the top funny at the time. i also liked doug cunningham's untouchable low voice when i worked at wflt. dave barber always was civil and kind to me and i always thought that big ring with his initials on it was a perfect fit for his ego. everyone has an ego to a degree in radio, right? he brought the "elvis bling" to the game - good for him.
my mother-in-law was a frequent caller to his show. shout out to john yinger and evelyn! you can track me down now at

Randy DeBoise said...

I like Dave. He is a great guy and yep he pissed people off. But the truth tends to do that. Like John Adams said: Facts are stubborn things. People have their opinions and Dave will listen to all of them and let you voice them. Get a radio show, you'll see that if you think walking the fence, between all of the opinions that we have, is easy, try it. You will fail... Dave did not.

Anonymous said...

I use to listen to Dave on the Flint station in the early 80's "back in the 60's it was WTAC" anyway he could stir up a storm on most topics that were presented to him.

bokorbear said...

I had a college class with Dave back in 1976 I started a discussion with the professor about the flint journal and oh man Dave took over and really explained why the journal wouldn't report facts that's saying it nicely but I am really proud he is who he is!!!!