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William O'Shaughnessy

The Magic of the Airways

by Joseph Montebello

With his height and his amazing head of perfect white hair, it is hard to miss Bill O’Shaughnessy. As president and editorial director of Whitney Media, he has been the voice of Westchester County broadcasting for over fifty years. From radio stations WVOX and WVIP he has covered every imaginable topic and has interviewed some of the most important celebrities, writers and politicians of our time. In an age of social media he has singlehandedly kept local radio relevant. And we thank him profusely for that achievement.

It is hard to escape O’Shaughnessy’s Irish charm and his keen interest in what is going on in the world around him. The thoughtful, astute and memorable broadcast moments in his career are too numerous to list. Over the years he has published four successful books of his programs, reflections, and tributes to people he has known and interviewed. Of the countless friends he has made along the way, no one has affected or influenced him as much as former Governor Mario Cuomo. To honor both the man and his legacy, O’Shaughnessy has written Mario Cuomo: Remembrances of a Remarkable Man, published by Fordham University Press.

“I am grateful to Mario Cuomo for many things and for his countless expressions of friendship during the 38 years I was privileged to know him,” O’Shaughnessy writes in his foreword to the book. “As a lawyer, scholar, author, and governor of dazzlingly facile mind, he taught us how to think, how to write, how to argue, and how to love. I imagine this book only as a memoir of a remarkable friendship, not as a formal biography…for I always thought of him as a teacher, albeit a great one, possessed of that beautiful soul that far outshone all his accomplishments in the public arena.”

Cuomo died in January 2015. Since then there have been countless books, articles, and tributes detailing his amazing career and his accomplishments. None have been as personal as the one O’Shaughnessy has produced.

Theirs was a mutual admiration society of two. Cuomo called him Brother Bill and had the greatest respect for O’Shaughnessy even though they were at opposite polls—Cuomo a staunch Democrat and O’Shaughnessy a self-styled Rockefeller Republican. The former governor said of his friend: “As an interviewer, Bill O’Shaughnessy is among a select few who create magic with their words. He always brings us a rich flow of genuine American opinions and sentiment.”

And he loves radio and operates one of the last community radio stations in the New York area. There is always something happening at WVOX.

“We call it the Eastern Establishment Hometown Radio,” O’Shaughnessy explains. “Radio is like Lazarus. Television didn’t kill it and the Internet hasn’t killed it. It’s free and over the air, it’s a medium for everyone: the rich, the poor, the misunderstood, the forgotten, and the disenfranchised.”

O’Shaughnessy did not study broadcasting. Instead he learned the trade and the art of the interview and always getting the story right from some of the greatest newspaper journalists of the twentieth century.

“Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, and Jimmy Cannon, the great New York Post sportswriter, were my teachers. I have them to thank for this amazing career I have forged.”

O’Shaughnessy had not intended to write a whole book about Cuomo.

“All of my books have an obligatory section devoted to Mario,” says O’Shaughnessy, “ and I was going to write one for my new one. But my publisher believed that I needed to honor this great man with a stand-alone book.”

O’Shaughnessy spent the better part of a year putting the book together.

“I had writer’s block. I wasn’t comfortable putting Mario in the past tense. So many have written beautifully and gracefully about him, I was afraid I wouldn’t do him justice.”

He need not have worried. Cuomo would have been very proud of what O’Shaughnessy has written. Now we eagerly anticipate the next volume of his broadcasts and interviews. If he has his way (and we are sue he will) WVOX and the magic of radio will reign forever.