In early August, I ran in something called "The Celebrity 5K." It was sponsored by the Buffalo Broadcasters Association, an organization which is devoted to preserving the area's broadcast history. I finished 137th in the race, which does not make me the 137th biggest celebrity in the media. I'm a ways below that.
But wherever I am in line, I dropped a couple of spots this week. That's because Margaret Russ-Guenther and Mary Brady passed me when it was announced they would be inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. Me, I've only visited Hall of Fames. They're in one.
The idea of "institional memory" is thrown around in business books, referring to someone who has been around the workplace long enough to remember the good times, the good people, and the mistakes. There should be a picture of Margaret and Mary by the term, because they defined the phrase for a couple of area radio stations. In other words, they really did run the place, albeit in different ways.
During my several years at WEBR, I had more dealings with Margaret than Mary. That's because many of her responsibilities put her in direct contact with the AM side. Margaret was something of the house mother to a place that at times did look like a frat house, filled with young people who had a little too much energy. Someone had to keep law and order, and Margaret helped keep things running smoothly.
She did it with a ruthlessly efficient style that could ruffle a few feathers but in hindsight certainly was quite necessary. Somehow, the station logs got done, the pay checks were handed out, paperwork found the proper destination, and a million other details were handled. You crossed her at your own risk. Entering Margaret's office was a particularly challenging experience. She sat with her back to the window, so that when you entered she was back-lit so that her face was covered in shadow. That only added to the imtimidation factor when you entered her domain after something had gone wrong.
Luckily for all us, there was an ample good side there as well. She always treated me with respect and good humor, perhaps because I always tried to do the same. Besides, once a while she had to come into my area of expertise. Margaret reviewed a book once a week, and I was the studio engineer in charge of recording her two-minute commentaries. I was impressed that she found the time to read a whole book once a week, let alone one that she liked. In fact, I don't think she ever did a negative review during my engineering career. For those who think the media always accentuates the negative, I'll submit the scripts of those reviews as evidence to the contrary.
Mary had similar roles for WNED-FM, which was and is the classical musical station. The FM crew was upstairs on 23 North Street, while the AM operation was in the back. That meant our paths rarely crossed. When they did cross, we struggled to find common ground for conversation. Peter Goldsmith would occasionally walk into the sports office because he was a hockey fan. Otherwise, most of us on the AM side would confuse Johan Sebastian Bach with Catherine Bach of the Dukes of Hazzard.
Since we had so little in common, the AM people needed something of an interpreter when we bravely ventured into the world of FM. That interpreter was Mary. When someone would venture up the stairs into the strange world of classical music, Mary would be there to point us in the proper direction.
The word comes to mind for her is "cheerful," enough though "full of cheer" might be a better way of expressing it. Mary always seemed to be in a good mood, ready with a smile and laugh for anyone who greeted her. She, too, kept the trains of a radio station running on time.
As I get older, I increasingly realize the importance of veterans like Margaret and Mary and engineer Don Lange, who when asked in 1980 how long it had been since the basement had been used as an office replied, "Well, I got here in 1937, and I've never seen it occupied." People like that provide the link between the people who pass through a building while working in a business not known for employment longevity.
So by honoring Margaret and Mary, the Buffalo Broadcasters Association honors all those who all those people who through the years worked behind the scenes to keep the business operating. Let's hope they take the honor as a belated substitute for two words they probably didn't hear enough during their tenure: "thank you."