Lynn Samuels, whose acerbic voice and wit riled conservatives over New York City radio airwaves for more than 30 years, passed away Christmas Eve at the age of 69.
According to the New York Radio Message Board, Samuels had missed her Sirius Radio show on Saturday, which prompted management to call the police. Officers found her dead in her Queens apartment. No reason for the progressive talker’s death has been given as of this writing.
Samuels began her radio career donating her time doing office work at far-left station WBAI 99.5 FM in the late seventies. She quickly got her own late-night show at the station in 1979, where she developed her voice as a host. Her signature Queens accent and unusual take on things drew a loyal listener base. Samuels was a noted pioneer in free-form talk radio, and was able to seamlessly bounce from hard politics to the musings of her everyday life without losing her audience. The Right Perspective‘s Frank from Queens was an in-studio guest and frequent caller to her show, despite their polar-opposite political views.
The progressive talker was an odd choice for WABC 77AM to add to its lineup in 1987. It was then when Program Director John Mainelli was building a station that would define talk radio to this very day. Rush Limbaugh, an unknown at the time, was also starting out with a local show for two hours, from noon to 2pm. Lynn was picked to be his unlikely lead-in, and the two debated politics at times on the air.
Despite being hated by many of the callers, and even some of the hosts at WABC, Samuels’ street-wise attitude and quick wit enabled her to manage through it all. She was fired for a brief time when, while being paired up with conservative veteran talker Barry Farber, she lost her cool and called for the assassination of then-president George H.W. Bush.
Samuels was fired a second time by WABC, but was re-hired by the station. She became a vocal supporter of President Bill Clinton, often getting into very passionate debates with callers, including The Right Perspective‘s John of Staten Island, over the many scandals plaguing the administration.
In addition to doing her radio show, Samuels moonlighted as call-screener for Internet news hound Matt Drudge, who had his own show out of the WABC studios on Saturday nights. She has also had national appearances on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, Sally Jesse Raphael, Geraldo and Politically Incorrect.
Samuels was then fired a third time from WABC on August 22, 2002. Although the station claimed “budget cuts” were the reason for her canning, many believed the real motive was to silence her progressive voice during the build-up to the the War in Iraq. At the time, she was on only once a week, on Saturday mornings.
The Sirius Satellite Radio network quickly hired Samuels in 2003, and she had been broadcasting from there ever since. Despite being on the Sirius Left channel, Samuels took no favorites and bashed Democrats when she saw fit, including dropping a c-bomb on then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Samuels was very critical of US President Barack Obama, and even questioned his “natural born” status. Many of the progressive listeners to Sirius Left complained that she was not far-left enough for the channel. She was moved to Sirius Stars in May 2011.
Condolences have already started coming from New York talk radio hosts. Jay Diamond, who had an acrimonious on-air relationship with Samuels when the two were on WABC during the 1990s, called her “a great and unique talent, and a good human being, from whom I learned a lot about radio” on his Facebook account. Fill-in host Mark Simone tweeted the “sad news” to his followers.
UPDATE (2011.12.25): Former WABC program director and longtime friend John Mainelli told The New York Daily News that Samuels “was unique beyond words” and he is “so glad he knew her.”
Matt Drudge has tweeted, “this one is way too hard: no more lynn samuels. bold,brilliant. and she would be surprised i would say it: a sweetheart.”
WBAI notes that in addition to doing her own radio show, Samuels worked as Music Director and engineer at the station.
Former WABC broadcaster and fellow progressive Lionel calls Samuels “absolutely sui generis” and said it was an “absolute honor” to work with her at the station.
UPDATE (2011.12.26): The New York Post reports Lynn Samuels died from a heart attack.
UPDATE (2011.12.27): Sirius XM will air a tribute to Lynn Samuels on Tuesday, December 27th on Sirius XM Left 127 from 7-10 AM Eastern.
UPDATE (2011.12.28): Former WABC talk host Steve Malzberg writes on Facebook, “Sorry to have to tell you this. Lynn was a great person. When Marie was expecting Robert, she would drop off little gifts to Marie’s desk at WABC each day. She was at our wedding. May she rest in peace.”
Talk radio legend Bob Grant told The New York Times that Samuels was “funny, smart and original.”
“What I admired about her was, she wasn’t afraid. With all these right-wingers around,” he said, referring to her view of him as well, “she just said what she had to.”