By Ellis Nassour
The rabid theater critic/arts reporter Michael Riedel has segued to radio, joining Len Berman, WNBC-TV’s former longtime sports anchor on Len Berman and Michael Riedel in The Morning. Rise and shine at 6am weekdays on WOR710 radio for their freewheeling four-hour marathon about anything and everything. Be prepared for quite a bit of mutual razzing.
Both are from quite different backgrounds: Berman, a walking/talking sports encyclopedia; and Riedel, the brazenly caustic New York Post theater columnist. Yet, they have great chemistry even during these months of pandemic while broadcasting from their homes
Riedel is author of the 2015 New York Times best-seller Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway, a no-holds-barred account of larger-than-life theater impresarios who transformed the Great White Way from the seedy, unsafe 70s crossroads into a Disney-esque billion-dollar tourist magnet.
You’d never use the word shy to describe Riedel. He loves to boast of his stature in theatrical settings and being the go-to guy for hot scoops. Now with his theater column currently on, as he put it, “hiatus,” he’s made quite a comfortable fit at WOR. Riedel, who resides in the West Village says, “I’ve only been to the office once since March 14th. Len doesn’t seem to have any intention of coming back. I’ve seen the Berman home in Sands Point [on Nassau County’s North Shore]. If I had it, I wouldn’t want to leave either.”
THE BACK STORY
Growing up in Geneseo, he became a fan of fire and brimstone political commentator John McLaughlin. He graduated Columbia University with a BA in history with plans to get into politics but ended up being drawn to media. He went from leg man collecting tidbits and breaking news from over the city to become managing editor of a now-defunct theater magazine.
It was there he honed his pit bull persona, but he was further influenced by veteran colleagues when he became theater columnist in 1993 at the New York Daily News. “I was surrounded by these crusty guys who’d covered wars and politics. They’d been around the block a few times and didn’t give a hoot offending anyone. They just wanted the facts.”
That stint transitioned to theater columnist at the New York Post in 1998, where his critical drubbing of shows in trouble and scathing criticism of select actors got him tagged “the enfant terrible of the New York press,” a badge he wore proudly. He not only asked tough questions but had a bevy of secret sources to uncover facts producers and directors wanted to be kept quiet. When he was denied access to shows, he stepped up to the box office, purchased a ticket, and got the lowdown
TAKING THE AIR WAVES
His radio career began gradually in 2011 when invited on Imus in the Morning to talk about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. “Don liked my sense of humor,” he explains, “which led to weekly segments about Broadway for seven years with broadcaster/author Imogen Lloyd Webber [yes, the composer’s daughter]. There were also weekly stints with shock jock Howard Stern on Sirius XM Satellite Radio show. He also was co-host with Susan Haskins on CUNY public TV’s Theater Talk.
Four years ago, WOR broadcaster Mark Simone was set for a week’s vacation. Station chief Tom Cuddy picked Riedel to sub on his two-hour program. “I didn’t know I was auditioning like Cassie in A Chorus Line. On Mark’s return, Tom asked if I’d be interested in co-hosting with Len Berman.
“I’d never met Len but knew him from TV. We certainly came from two different worlds, and I wasn’t so sure about co-hosting a four-hour morning show.”
Riedel rarely said no to an opportunity, “and this was big-time radio with a handsome salary to boot. My buddy Harvey Firestein gave me the best advice: ‘Always say yes and see what happens.’ So, I did. The next week, I was with Len for a trial run.” They got on like gangbusters.
Riedel wasn’t sure he had another book in him, but he’d been wanting to go beyond column items and juicy gossip. The result is Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway (Simon and Schuster) where he sought out the producers and stars, some once enemies, for the behind-closed-doors stories of Broadway’s transformative 90s—its triumphs and disasters—not to mention a few massive egos that led to bankruptcies and intense rivalries among top-drawer stars.
But Riedel’s not planning to give up being live in the moment. Or the opportunity to drum up sales for his book. Tune in as he drives Berman crazy mentioning Singular Sensation ad nauseam. But sit tight. Berman is always ready to bounce back with those ego-busting stingers.