George Weber found fame in Denver, death in New York City
Related: Matt Snyders and Bradley Campbell report on the recent Craigslist murders and how lawmakers -- and Craigslist itself -- are responding.
During separate stints as a talk-show host on KOA and KTLK, George Weber was frequently referred to as a "shock jock" — and he had a habit of rubbing people the wrong way. In the early '90s, when Weber left Denver radio (temporarily, it turned out) for a gig in San Francisco, columnist Bill Husted, then writing for the Rocky Mountain News, bid him farewell thusly: "Bon voyage, Bozo. Weber never got tired of hearing himself talk, but he's the only guy in Denver who didn't."
Such sentiments contrast sharply with the portrait painted by Kris Olinger, the head of AM programming for Clear Channel Denver. Olinger was both Weber's boss and his friend, although not so close an acquaintance that she knew about his more unusual predilections — the ones reflected in a Craigslist ad soliciting sadomasochistic sex that connected him to John Katehis, a sixteen-year-old Queens resident now charged with Weber's murder. Olinger says the Weber she knew comes through most clearly in an anecdote he shared with her about covering the 9/11 attacks for WABC in New York City.
"He was right in the middle of that, and he was calling in reports on a pay phone, because his cell phone wouldn't work," Olinger notes. "And after a while, he noticed that there was a long line of people standing behind him waiting to call their loved ones to say they were okay. Now, as a reporter, you would hold on to that phone. But he said, 'No. This is crazy,' and he gave up the phone. He said, 'Call your loved ones, and when you're done, I'll call the station back.'"
In a bio written for his website, Weber recounted his formative years in Philadelphia, when he was so enamored of broadcasting that he "took over the basement of my parents' home to set up a make-shift radio station." A position on his high-school station led to actual paying jobs delivering news at outlets in such Pennsylvania communities as Doylestown and Allentown — and after polishing his skills for several years, he began applying for positions in larger markets. "I still have my audition tape that I sent to Phil Boyce, the news director at KIMN in Denver, a legendary Top 40 station with a big commitment to news," Weber wrote. "I was hired as a street reporter and anchor in 1985, and to this day, KIMN remains one of my greatest career moves."
Not long thereafter, Weber ran into Olinger, then news director at KOA. She wasn't impressed — at least, not at first. "We met when we were both covering a fire," she recalls. "He had his tape recorder with a microphone hooked to it, and he was walking down the street dragging the microphone on the ground behind him. I thought, I would never hire that guy."
She ate those words a couple of years later when KIMN changed its format, leaving Weber available. At first he concentrated on reporting for KOA, but then-program director John Kamen decided to give him a chance to fill talk shifts on the weekends. "George was green, but he demonstrated a lot of potential," Olinger says — so much so that after she rose to the program-director position and the night slot opened up, she installed Weber behind the microphone. He named his program The Flip Side.
Weber's "creativity," as Olinger calls it, sometimes gave his supervisors headaches. When he was still a weekender, the Cleveland Browns came to town for a big game against the Broncos — and when Weber found out where the team was staying, "he suggested that people drive around the hotel all night honking their horns so they couldn't get any sleep," Olinger remembers. Listeners promptly complied, "and it only took the police department about fifteen minutes to call him up and tell him to knock it off."
He also got an earful from then-governor Roy Romer — but Weber had the last laugh. In August 1990, the yakker learned that the parents of two New Jersey Eagle Scouts had contacted the governors of all fifty states, as well as the first President George Bush, seeking letters of congratulations for their sons, and the only executive not to respond favorably was Romer; instead of a salute, his office sent a note explaining that for budgetary reasons, it couldn't honor out-of-state requests. Weber took up the scouts' cause, and "the governor heard him talking about it when he was driving home from a function one night," Olinger remembers. "In the middle of it, he called up George and they got into it. It was a pretty heated argument, and after the governor hung up, George said, 'Take a sedative, Governor.'"
It was good advice: After Romer calmed down, he wrote the boys a long, apologetic letter. Meanwhile, Weber milked the controversy for all it was worth. "He even printed up T-shirts that said 'Take a sedative' on them," Olinger says.
Of course, such combativeness made Weber's brand of radio an acquired taste — and not every locality took to it. After leaving KOA, he skipped from stations in San Francisco to San Diego to Los Angeles before returning to Denver in 1995. Two years later, he was on the move again, winding up at WABC. He spent a decade at the station, mostly as a reporter and news anchor for the signal's morning show, before being laid off. After that, he made ends meet by freelancing for ABC's radio network — and he also did the occasional fill-in show for KOA, with his most recent gig taking place this past January.
For her part, Olinger hopes that Weber is remembered more for his broadcasting skill than for the horrific nature of his murder. He may have sometimes played the shock jock, "but there was a really humane part of him," she says. "He had a very big heart, and we all miss him terribly."
— Michael Roberts
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