ALBANY — Messages of affection and sorrow piled up on social media Monday as news spread of the death Sunday of Capital Region radio legend Bob Mason.
Mason, half of the long-running Mason and Sheehan morning show on PYX 106, was nearly 20 years removed from his broadcast days. But the fans and their memories of his brash on-air antics endure.
Retired disc jockey Gary “Uncle Vito” Locatelli, who credits Mason with launching his long career, said Mason was in his early 70s and had been fighting an ultimately unsuccessful battle with cancer.
“It’s very sad,” Locatelli said Monday. “Bob was a helluva good guy, he had a good heart.”
On its website Monday, PYX 106 posted: “Rock and Roll Heaven welcomes another!”
Bob Mason (real name: Roy E. Moon) and Bill Sheehan had a long run at WPYX but left in 1997 for WXCR, a smaller station with a much weaker broadcast signal.
Their audience share plummeted and WXCR bought out their contract in 1998. Mason and Sheehan’s on-air partnership ended then.
Mason had subsequent gigs on his own but decided to retire from broadcast radio in mid-2004. He was 56 at the time, and told The Gazette he was getting burned out from the daily pressure of having to outdo the previous day’s show each morning.
Mason earned the “shock jock” label with his style, which included winging the catchphrase “Goodbye, dummy!” at on-air callers.
A Rotterdam woman sued and reached a financial settlement for being declared the “winner” of an ugly bride contest on the Mason and Sheehan Show.
Locatelli said he probably got some of his own rebellious streak — he would have been sacked many times over for ignoring the station’s official playlist, except that it brought in good ratings — from Mason, whom Locatelli joined as a sidekick when Mason was still partnered with Cliff Nash on the Mason and Nash Show.
But what was more important, and what is rare today, Locatelli said, was Mason’s connection with his audience.
The radio industry is so consolidated and centralized that one DJ might be broadcasting on 10 stations in as many markets, he said, and never meet most listeners.
Mason and Sheehan and the crew would meet hundreds of people at a time at breakfast club parties that are still remembered today, Locatelli said.
“You know what’s gone? That interaction with the public,” he said. “You’d just have a ball.”
Mason gave him the formula that worked for his decades as Uncle Vito: Every 15 minutes, give the listeners a little news and a laugh between the tunes.
“I owe that guy everything, I really do.”
Ed Levine, operations manager at PYX 106 during Mason’s heyday, recalls arriving in 1986 to see a thousand people at a breakfast club celebration.
”I said oh my God, what is this,” he said Monday.
Levine departed PYX, and later Mason and Sheehan also bailed, briefly moving to WQBK.
PYX suffered as a result, and Levine was brought back as a consultant to try to fix it.
“PYX was one or two rating books away from changing formats in ’91, ’92,” he said. He got six months to turn it around and his first move was to go to Mason’s home in Albany and recruit him back. PYX remained, and remains, classic rock.
“Without Mason it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Levine says Mason’s shock jock label was relative to its time, and would have been viewed differently in the current unfiltered era.
“In retrospect now, it wasn’t dirty,” Levine said. “It was a PG show as opposed to an R or an X show. It was just edgy enough.
“Mason I think will go down historically as epitomizing a certain era in Capitaland radio.”