Gene was born on December 3, 1940. He was raised in Hornell, New York. Gene began his career in 1962 and held various positions at stations in upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Gene's first aspiration was to become a lawyer. Gene would become the first news director for WWHG-FM 105.3 in Hornell, New York. For 14 years starting in 1971, Gene served as a talk show host, commentator and program director at WKIS-AM 740 in Orlando. Gene even ventured in to the candy business while in Orlando (where his surviving family members live). Do you remember Gene Burns Chocolates, in Winter Park? Gene would have more than one stop at WKIS in his career. Gene arrived from WEEI-AM in Boston in 1971. He would be lured to WCAU-AM in Philadelphia in 1981, but would return to Orlando and WKIS in 1982(?). Gene would run for President in 1984, on the Libertarian Party ticket. Gene was named Operations manager at WKIS in 1984. He moved to WRKO-AM in Boston in 1985, where his show on became the top-rated midday show in the area. In the fall of 1992, he left Boston for WOR-AM 710 in New York. His program was carried on 162 stations across the country. In 1992 Gene was named one of the "25 Greatest Radio Talk Show Hosts of All Time", by Talkers Magazine. In a dispute with WOR management Gene walked out with (with 1 year remaining on his contract). After leaving WOR, he underwent very complicated neck surgery which kept him housebound in New York for a couple of months. Then In 1994, Gene headed to KGO-AM 810 in San Francisco when he suffered a mild heart attack. Now heard nightly San Francisco on KGO. Gene also does a program about food, wine and travel; "Dining Around with Gene Burns". Talkers Magazine ranked Gene as one of The 25 Greatest Radio Talk Show Hosts of All Time, in 2002.
12-2-11 Gene Burns Let Go From KGO
Gene Burns along with four other talk show hosts were let go from KGO-AM 810, San Francisco on Tuesday. Gene joined KGO in 1994. From Gene's Dining Around website: "From Gene Burns to our audience; Needless to say we were stunned at the news of the cancellation of the Gene Burns Program and Dining Around. We deeply appreciate the many good wishes we have received from listeners and sponsors alike. While at the moment personal replies are impossible, we do want you to know that there are great things to come for both programs. Please watch this site for updates which we will provide as matters develop and follow joel on twitter @joelriddell thank you for your loyalty. Gene and Joel
12-18-11 Gene Burns And Dining Around Have Found A New Home
Gene along with his producer of Dining Around has found a new home in San Francisco. Beginning in January Gene will do afternoons at KKGN-AM 910. Gene will also resume "Dining Around" on Saturdays on KKGN as well.
3-28-12 Update On Gene Burns
This from Gene's site "Dining Around With Gene Burns"
To My listeners and Friends in NewsTalk910 Family. The past few weeks have brought a great number of changes, and a vast silence. For the silence, please accept my apologies.
I have been recovering from a Stroke, which has affected the speech center of my brain in the form of Aphasia. In this third month of recovery, I am enthusiastic and thankful for the progress I have made, do in no small part to the great amount of help I have received from UCSF, St. Francis, and the Sutter Health care groups. Most days, I have speech therapy and visits from great friends and colleagues.
I would like to wish everybody well, and to say thank you to the NewsTalk910 family for sticking by me. Many of the NewsTalk 910 line-up of hosts have reached out, including of course Len Tillem, my long time friend and advisor. A special thank you to my colleagues; to John, Gil, Rosie, Ed, Dr. Bill, James and the rest for stepping up to the plate for me.
Most importantly; thank you to all of you who Listen, Tweet, Facebook and tell friends about me, and my Program. Although I do not have a specific date for my return to the Air, I listen each day to NewsTalk 910, giving me motivation to re-join the conversation about the issues of the day.
With gratitude for your support,
Gene Burns Passes
Recently, I had a chance to chat with legendary KGO talk show host Gene Burns. KGO has been the #1 station in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last 20 years. From food and wine to politics and prose, Gene is a master of his medium, and C. Crane feels privileged to share with you the following interview.
JCP: One of the things that I would like to begin with food and wine and how you got so interested in wining and dining?
GB: I come from a family of very good cooks. My mother's mother was a very, very good cook, as was she, and she had one sister who was also a good cook. On my father's side they couldn't cook worth a damn. Many is the Saturday night it was beans and franks, with the beans right out of the can and the franks right out of the boiling water. My grandmother on my father's side used to think that spaghetti was macaroni covered in tomato soup. It was god-awful.
JCP: Having lived in Boston and in New York, how would you rate the restaurant life in those cities compared to San Francisco?
GB: I think in the matter of dining and in the matter of food and wine, San Francisco is absolutely the epicenter of American gastronomy. San Francisco is very much like Boston in terms of its location. Both Boston and San Francisco are largely surround by water, both are about the same size, both are at the very core of huge urban sprawl. Boston's tends to go west from the ocean and San Francisco's goes east from the ocean.
In terms of restaurants, this is an on-going battle with my good friend Arthur Schwartz and I. Arthur does a dinning program on WOR in New York and is the former food editor of the NY Daily News. Arthur and I worked together at WOR, and after I moved out here, I delighted in telling Arthur that San Francisco is the capital of American gastronomy. And he goes berserk because he thinks New York is the capital. He's wrong, incidentally, as you'd expect me to say. But you understand what he's saying.
In terms of restaurants, New York clearly has far more than San Francisco because it is bigger when you include all the boroughs, and it may have a little more diversity. I know there's a very good Turkish restaurant in Manhattan that Arthur and I have eaten at, I'm not sure there's a Turkish restaurant in Northern California. New York might edge out San Francisco on one or two ethnic restaurants that we don't have here. But when you add the wine country, which we have all around us in great depth, and when you add the produce of the valleys - Salinas, and the Central Valley and the San Joaquin Valley - and you add phenomena like Asian immigrants who have fled here and obviously come to the West Coast because that's the logical port of entry for them, and who now have managed to pull together some money and are buying plots of land in the valley and are now growing vegetables which we could only get, here-to-for, by importing them, and we can now get, and chefs can get first hand, because they're growing the fruits and vegetables they knew in their native countries, and you add the bounty of the ocean - which we have right next to us, well, we blow New York right out of the water. New York has Long Island wines, there are maybe a handful that are reasonably decent, and a couple that are competitive. There are a couple wines up in the Hudson Valley that are decent, but that's it. Where do you stop when you start calculating the wines that we have available? That's important because there's this whole subset of American cuisine called wine country that really sets the standard. It was Alice Waters at Chez Panisse thirty years ago, that set the standard for a revolution in American cooking. Even James Beard was born in Portland, Oregon, that's where his mother had a boarding house - even though he ended up living in New York City.
JCP: Do you have a favorite type of food?
GB: I don't have any Italian to the best of my knowledge. I'm Scotch-Irish-English-French and Polish as near as I'm able to deduce from my grandparents. But a couple of my aunts, my father's sisters, married Italians, and they were very good cooks, and they learned to cook Italian, and we learned from them, and for whatever reason, just because my pallet likes Italian food, that is my favorite.
JCP: When I think of food and wine, I usually think of music. Is there a type of music that you prefer?
GB: My musical tastes are eclectic. I have hundreds of CDs and if you could see that collection, it would drive you crazy, trying to figure it out. You would probably say this is a collection that belongs to six or eight people. I like opera, I like country, and I don't much care for rap, but probably because it's not my contemporary music. I like symphonic music of course; I grew up in the fifties so I like classic rock and roll. The music you like is very much a function of what you are doing. If I have a party on the Feast of St. Joseph, which is a big Italian feast day, I'll play Italian music, and so on.
JCP: So is there a favorite Christmas song?
GB: I prefer to avoid this category of "favorite" anything, just as I avoid the word best like the plague. I mean people say to me, "that is the best hotdog in the world." Well, I mean that's ridiculous, have you tasted all the others? How could you say that? You could say it's the best you've ever had, or the best you've had in San Francisco or New York, or wherever you live, but you can't say it's the best in the world, you haven't tried them all. The same thing is true about favorite. People invariably say, "what's your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?" Well, you've got to give me more parameters - when I want to put on a tie? When I don't care how much it costs? Or is it when I feel like relaxing? When I'm entertaining? I mean it's always a function of what you're trying to do. So I guess the same is true in any other category.
JCP: These days, it seems a lot of people want their public figures to come down either for or against their particular point of view. However, you seem like you're very, very cautious in terms of thinking about what's going on, and trying to respect difference perspectives?
GB: Predictability is boring. And since I am a performer, if I become completely predicable, I'll become boring. And I don't think that's healthy in my line of work. I also tend to be iconoclastic. In fact, back in the late 60s, I got into a huge political battle when I worked in Baltimore, and somebody who was on the other side of the issue called me an iconoclast, meaning it as a disparaging remark, and I thought it was a great compliment. There's nothing wrong with deciding every issue on its merits. And libertarians, of course, tend to be very conservative fiscally, economically, and fairly liberal socially, which makes us very difficult to pin down. Which is okay by me. I can't, I would never want to live my life, let alone prosecute my profession in a situation in which a set of predetermined criteria automatically decided what I thought about something. That's mindless. What I think about something is what I think about it. If it fits somebody's idea of what they thought I might say, that's okay, but if it doesn't that's also okay.
JCP: Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated with debates about patriotism and what is or is not patriotic?
GB: I lived through the Vietnam war, and was a talk show host during the Vietnam war, and so I've heard these arguments all before, and I've seen them all before, and what I do try to do is warn people not to make the same mistakes as we made then. Like hating the troops because the war went badly, because of bad public policy or that sort of thing. That's a big danger, but I can hear the arguments echoing down the corridors of time, because I heard the same arguments back in the late 60s, early 70s.
JCP: Has traveling to Vietnam and the Middle East, and experiencing these places first hand, influenced the type of news formats you rely on for information?
GB: One of the big realizations of the Vietnam War days was that the American media had been reporting an American war that happened to be taking place in Vietnam, and the only way to understand a conflict like that is to report the Vietnamese war, because it's their war, even though we were involved in it. Once we started to do that, that's when American public opinion began to change. That, coupled with the fact that too many body bags came home to too many front porches of homes in America. When it became obvious that the government had lied significantly about the circumstances of the war in Southeast Asia, it was inevitable that the country would change its opinion. When I was in Saigon, there was a
briefing every day at the Military Command Headquarters, MACV, Military Assistance Command Vietnam, in Saigon at 4:45 in the afternoon, and it was laughingly referred to, even by the correspondents there, as the "4:45 follies." Nobody believed anything they were told, in fact at one point a journalist added up the enemy's body count that the military had given us, and we had killed everybody in North Vietnam three times. It had no connection to reality. And then you'd go out in the field and talk to our troops. I don't think we'd been there more than five hours before we just looked at each other and said this is hopeless, this is a nightmare, how did we get stuck in this?
JCP: How do you feel about the recent work of embedded journalists?
GB: Embedded journalism is very good, and to some degree, bad. Very good because it's astonishing that you could literally watch the war. Vietnam was called the "living room war" because American families would sit down to dinner just about the time Walter Cronkite would come on, and the first fifteen minutes of every newscast was about what was happening in the war. A lot of that was battlefield footage, and so we said that was the "living room war." This is really the living room war. With this war, you have correspondents with video phones talking to you as troops are moving down the highway. I think that's good, it gives people a sense of what war is all about, more than they've
ever had. Although you'll never get the smell of war, one of the dimensions that is most compelling.
JCP: And where do you usually find the information that you rely on?
GB: I've been at this for forty years, and the brain is a marvelous instrument, and if you keep it working halfway decently it stores a lot of information. I get my information by reading. You have to read. I read several newspapers each day, and magazines and books, and you store that information. Some of it seems quite silly and irrelevant, but you never know when a single piece of information stored in that computer of the brain will suddenly become relevant or important or help you make a point. You just have to read and study. I discuss these issues three hours a day, five days a week, and the dinning issues threes hours a week, so if every American discussed contemporary affairs three hours a day five days a week, we'd be a much different people. But most people don't have time to do that, but that's what I do for a living.
JCP: Do you leave yourself time for other diversion?
GB: I get lots of vacation and take every day. My entire career I have heard people say, "Oh I never take every day." Well, I take every minute because the body needs to recharge, and you have to enjoy yourself. And working a schedule in which you have a day and half off a week. That half day you get essentially write off - Sunday is my only day off, when I just relax.
JCP: What are you reading now?
GB: I'm a huge detective fiction reader. I think I'm a closet cop, I think I would have liked to have been a cop or a defense lawyer. I love to read detective fiction and I read a fair amount of it.
JCP: You're very eloquent. Do you could trace gift with words back to someone or something in particular?
GB: My father was a seventh grade drop out, who was intuitively intelligent and extraordinarily glib. My mother was a college graduate who brought the intellectual horsepower to the gene pool I think. Not that my father was stupid, but book learning was not his thing. When I was a kid growing up, my father had various jobs, and he was an early riser. He used to get up at 5 o'clock, even if he didn't have to leave for work until seven. He'd get up at 5 o'clock and he'd go downstairs and make a pot of coffee and drink the entire pot, and make another pot, and drink half that, and all the while he was sitting downstairs he'd have a chat with himself. And I remember the first time I woke up and heard the
noise and heard this conversation going on in the kitchen, I thought who the hell is here? It's still dark. And it was him. He was very astute politically. He would turn on the news on the radio or TV, and he'd have a conversation with the news.
JCP: Would you mind sharing telling us the story of how you found yourself working in radio?
GB: I first got into radio in Western New York. I was home for a summer in Hornell, which is where I was raised. Some college friends of mine, and some people who'd just graduated high school, were having a beer and a pizza at a local pizza parlor. The local chamber of commerce had just announced that they wanted to build a new parking lot. They wanted to float a $100,000 bond referendum to build a new parking lot. So, on about the fourth beer we were talking about the new parking lot, and we said, Hornell needs a new parking lot like we need a hole in the head. There are parking places open, empty in this town every damn day. This is just a total waste of money. For whatever reason, I guess because
rebellion takes many forms, and when you're that age you like to rebel, so we formed the Young Citizens Committee, and I was elected chairman, to fight the new parking lot referendum. We had no money, but one of our colleagues got her father, who was a doctor, to give us 100 bucks. The Democrats were out at city hall and the Republicans were in, so the Democrats gave us 100 bucks. With our war chest of $200 we were on our way to fighting the parking lot. We took a shoe-leather survey of all the parking spaces open, when they were open, what time of day and so on. And we wrote this up as a press release, saying that the chamber asked for a new parking lot at a time when all these spaces are available in Hornell. It's a waste of taxpayer's money and we oppose it.
JCP: Had you even considered going into radio before working at WWHG?
GB: Radio wasn't a respectable career when I was a kid. I graduated in 1958. We used to listen to these rock and roll radio stations, driving our parents crazy with this horrible music, and a guidance counselor wouldn't even consider radio - that noise, that's not respectable, you have to be a doctor or a lawyer. My father wanted me to be a doctor because I think he wanted free medical care in his old age, and I had decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I had never thought about radio. And I worked in news and radio for about six years and I was news director of large radio station in central Pennsylvania, which was owned by the Susquehanna Broadcasting Co. I had been hired to rebuild their news department.
They were a rock and roll station and had never spent any time or money on news, and I went down to do that. I had been at that for about a year and three quarters when a friend of mine, George Burns, not the famous George Burns, and no relation of mine, had gone out to the West Coast and had taken a job as assistant program director for a Metro Media FM in LA. When he came back from the final session in which he sealed the deal, he came into my office at the radio station and said, "You know what, Metro Media is looking for a talk guy in Baltimore, do you know anybody who could do that." And I said, "George, what is a talk guy? I don't what you're talking about; I never heard a talk show." So he went away and came aback in about an hour, all
agitated, saying, "you've got to go to Baltimore." He leaned over me, he was behind me, and actually pushed me down face-first on my desk, grabbed the telephone and called a woman named Shirley Barish in New York City who was a very famous agent, and was Metro Media's talent scout. He jabbers at her and then hands me the phone. And I said what is this? Is this maniac George out of his mind? She said he probably is out of his mind, but he thinks you ought to do a show in Baltimore and he's a pretty good judge of talent. I said, "you do understand I've never done a talk show, I've never heard a talk show, and she said, "don't worry George will tell you how."