Buck Geno: Labor Activist and Radio Host
By Charles Chandler
When we seniors, the walking wounded and other lightweights are making our rounds at the Tamarack Fitness Center in Fremont we know when Buck Geno is in the house. He is always the guy with the towel around his neck and perspiring from head to toe from his intense and lengthy workouts. Sometimes when Buck is so focused, I think he still hears those Marine Corps Jody cadences.
A few days back I approached Buck as he took a break from grinding up the stair-stepping machine. I said that I was doing some articles for Near North Now on radio and had heard that he was a radio host and I would like to hear the story. He agreed and a couple of phone calls and some calendar juggling and the date was set.
We met Buck at his and Barbara’s lovely family home on the quiet side of North Baldwin Avenue. We sat in a bright spacious sunroom and looked out on their beautiful lawn and colorful flower beds. This well cared for property has been in Buck’s family for generations. Buck is a well-known family man and a stand-up guy around White Cloud, Lincoln Township and in Newaygo County. He is also a Marine, a Vietnam Era Vet and a member of the Newaygo County Democratic Party.
Geno is an unapologetic labor activist. and has been a member of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 70 and Local 174 for about 42 years. From 2000 Buck has served as Supervisor at Lincoln Township in Newaygo County and is the President of the Newaygo County Township Officers Association. Buck has been involved in public radio for about 15 years.
Why public radio? According to Buck he and a group of labor activists called Friends of Labor had been searching for a way to present a positive message about Unions to the folks in West Michigan.
“We had tried a few other avenues and decided that we would try the radio. We began at WTKG in downtown Grand Rapids. It was a one-hour program called Working West Michigan. It was a Community Service program and our format was to not necessarily focus on hardcore labor issues. We wanted to be the voice of ordinary working people and speak to issues that were important to them.
“At first, I tried to work from a script but that didn’t work for me. I wanted to talk to the listeners like I was sitting down with them having a cup of coffee. We did Working West Michigan show for a couple of years and then we had a call from Bob Goodrich, Bob owned a chain of Goodrich Quality Theaters all over the county. Bob also dabbled in radio and liked our show and offered to sponsor us at his station at WPRR.
“I also did a spinoff show called The Monday Report with Michael Johnston a retired Labor Historian? Then we went on a National Broadcast program called the Union Edge out of Pittsburg, PA. This was a daily show five days a week with a three-hour program. We were a portion of that. My office is in the basement and it was pretty easy if you have the technology. All you need is a good computer, a flash drive and a phone. We did that show for a couple of years until the program lost its funding.
“Then I got a call from Jim Chase. He was a friend of mine and a member of the Teamster Union. He was thinking about retiring but wanted to continue with radio. I agreed to help but I had been doing programming, scheduling, calling and setting interviews for the other programs and I didn’t want to do that anymore. Jim said to not worry about that because he would do that. We started a program called Cut to the Chase with Jim, Dave Johnston and myself.
“We are not professional or smooth talking radio hosts. We try and stay away from hardcore labor issues, have a lighter tone, and include some humor in our program. We try not to get caught up in National politics. It is too divisive, too much animosity. Our focus is to provide factual content and there is no lack of things to talk about in Michigan. We usually talk about topics that are important inside the State, like the roads, redistricting. There have been some really big changes in the State this year. We were talking about Medical Marijuana and now it is Recreational Marijuanat. Healthcare is very concerning to many people because it can drive you into bankruptcy so quickly. We are trying to educate folks about the importance of the upcoming census because it affects so many areas. It impacts funding for roads, infrastructure, and Medicare.
“We also like to present both sides, both left and right, and have a generalized debate on these issues. We like to hear and understand why people say and do and believe what they do. We invite a guest speaker to the program from time to time and have had Governor Gretchen Whitmer on the program.
“What we prefer are community activists rather than politicians. I am still a labor activist and will go back to my roots and work to educate those who are anti-labor so they understand why it is important for people to make a living wage. The rising tide lifts all boats.
“I also recognize that in previous decades Unions and membership, in general, have been in a serious decline but I believe that things have turned around because of the little things like what we do on the show. .We are part of organized labor and we know that the labor movement is like a pendulum and it swings back and forth. I am optimistic about what I see in the next generation, (millennials). They are starting to pay attention to what they have and don’t have and the reasons why.
“Also the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), is out there working for the common good. It is an international labor union that includes many unions and their goal is solidarity and working for the rights of all people. If you are united you can bargain for better pay and benefits. If you aren’t united you are doing individual begging.
“Things are good now for some working folks but not all. We do have health care, pensions, some 401(K)s and livable wages. The Unions fought for these things for years and are still fighting. But it’s not universal and there is still a lot of poverty here in West Michigan. We will continue to fight for the rights of all working people and we believe they should be able to earn a living wage. “
I asked Buck if he thought radio was still relevant and had some social and practical value in today’s media mashup?
“We think it does and we think we can make a difference through radio and have a little fun. Even if it is with one person at a time then we are happy with that. I remain optimistic about labor unions and believe that radio is the way to go. We want to be the voice of working men and women.”
So why would Buck want to take on this band of giants? Probably because he is a stand-up guy for his family, community, and is an unapologetic labor activist that leads by example. As he said they are not professional and not smooth-talking radio hosts.
“We just have fun and present ourselves and the voice of all working people because it is simply the right thing to do.”
Cut to the Chase can be heard at WPRR -90.1 FM, 1680 AM, 95.3 FM, and 102.5 FM. and on 1680 AM on Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM.Their call-in number is 231 656 1680.
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