(Above: Uncle Buck, 1949-2018)
The Grand Rapids, Michigan radio dial is a quieter place today.
Ed Buchanan, known to generations of radio listeners in West Michigan as “Uncle Buck,” passed away this morning from an apparent heart attack. Ed had most recently been hosting a Sunday morning program on WLAV-FM called “Breakfast In the Basement,” where he’d spotlight songs of local prominence, either by West Michigan bands or regional releases that fared better on the charts here than anywhere else.
Ed was a bit of a rabble-rouser in the best possible way. On his earliest days on FM he worked for WXTO-FM, a station operated out of Aquinas College and owned by the Archdiocese of Grand Rapids. During the day, the station played religious talk and occasional light music, but at night featured an underground rock program. Ed hosted the show, using the name Edward the Second – a bit of a papal nod. When the Archdiocese decided to sell the station to WGRD (who made it WGRD-FM, a simulcast), Buchanan moved over to WLAV, perhaps the station that he is best known for. For a brief time, Ed also handled middays on WCUZ, as part of the “Dick and Buck Show” with Dick Richards, who worked as Bozo the Clown on Grand Rapids TV in the 1960s. While a midday team was quite rare, it resonated with the listeners.
Ed also has a direct connection to the job I do now. He served as a mentor and teacher to many broadcasting students at Grand Valley State College in the days of student station WSRX. Many current radio and television stars – among them Kevin Matthews, Tony Gates, Tim Steele, and John Keating, just to name a few – studied under Ed. Kevin immediately made Ed a part of his morning show at WLAV when he returned to Grand Rapids in the 2000s, and upon his departure Tony Gates took over the program, keeping Ed a part of it. As former students of mine started their careers as board operators or interns at WLAV or a sister station, Ed would share stories with them and mentor them as well. He never really got out of the education business, I guess.
I had, unfortunately, too few opportunities to sit down with Ed and chat. There’s a group that gets together for lunch every three months or so in Grand Rapids of radio veterans, and the group was kind enough to extend membership to me several years ago despite being just barely old enough to qualify. (At 25 years experience at the time I was the relative “newbie.”) Ed would occasionally come to the lunches and tell stories, and I always appreciated the opportunity to listen. Sadly, over the last five years or so, the group has lost a few members along the way.
Ed had talked about working on a book at some point; I don’t know how far he got, or if it got started, but I think I confidently speak for the relatively few historians of West Michigan radio that we’re sad that we don’t get to hear more stories.
Ed picked a song by Jonathan Edwards called “Shanty” as “the Friday song,” kicking off every weekend with it when he worked every day. WLAV still plays the song on Fridays to signal the arrival of another weekend, and it’s fitting that we play it again today.
Update: Ed’s obituary, with nod to Tom Petty’s “The Last DJ,” can be found here.
Keep the link handy and start your weekend whenever you need to. You can hear “Shanty” by clicking here.