I listened to Bernie Ward on KGO Talk Radio off and on during the early ’90s.  At that time, he was on-air weekends and weekday evenings, in addition to his Sunday morning Church of the Holy Donut show, still going strong.

His God Talk show could be heart-breaking.  Every so often callers reached out to him, people in pain.  They’d lost someone and didn’t know how to get through it.  Or, they’d had a bad diagnosis and needed reassurance in the darkened early hours of the morning.  They trusted this voice on the radio to help get them through it.  And Bernie did help them, as much as a stranger in front of a microphone could help.

But Bernie had changed over the years.  I’d stopped listening for six months or more at one point and when I returned his God Talk program was still on, but Bernie’s Sunday mornings had become more about long rants against the Catholic Church than about audience members seeking enlightenment and purpose in their lives.

During Ward’s other time slots, he talked about his attempt to be nationally syndicated, but had to have a minimum amount of program time for consideration.  That year  I could turn on KGO and hear Bernie either starting or ending a show every time I listened.  I heard other hosts as well, but not enough to remember names.  Bernie’s show became frenetic, it was obvious he really wanted syndication and tried too hard, at the cost of putting on quality programming.  It was all about him.

Then in July, 1995, one of the more popular KGO hosts, Duane Garrett, jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. 

As expected, Bernie, as well as the entire KGO crew, sounded devastated.  Surprisingly, on the air Bernie confessed to being obsessively jealous over Garrett’s success.  I’m guessing this was not news to KGO employees.

I’d recognized Garrett’s name, had even heard him in between Bernie’s shows, and was genuinely saddened by the news.  KGO listeners found out he’d left behind a wife and young children.  Shortly after Bernie’s on-air confession, he announced that an entire program would be dedicated to raising money for Duane Garrett’s family.  He told his audience to call in and send money donations and he would present the money, personally, to the family over the weekend.  A few calls came in, but nothing overwhelming.  Bernie was mad.  He yelled, “Why isn’t anyone giving?”  He begged for donations for two hours.  He tried berating people into giving.  Not many opened their wallets.  Bernie raged,  Why? Why? How could they not want to help?

To be honest, I was a little puzzled as well.  Listeners truly liked Duane Garrett.  He was a popular talk show host.  There was no question people were sad to hear the news of his death.  Why wouldn’t they give?

My boyfriend, sitting next to me on the couch and listening to Bernie’s tantrum, said to me, it’s because when he hands over the money to Garrett’s widow, he’s the one who will get the credit for it – off the backs of all the people who actually cared enough to give.  Not once during the entire program did Bernie Ward mention how much money he would be giving out of his own pocket.

And, you know what?  I think my boyfriend was right.

Does anyone remember any of this?  Let me know.  Share your thoughts about Bernie Ward.  Or, any of the hosts.  I know there are a lot of stories out there just waiting to be told.

Link to your blog or comment here.  Many of us have listened to KGO for years and will know what you are talking about.  Join in the conversation!

I have more to say about Bernie Ward, but later when I have time.  Someone else add to this.  I’d love to read it.

  1. Cee says:

    Bernie disappointed me greatly. I knew near his end that something was very wrong. He had become a dark hole.

    • Did you hear Gil talk about that? I think it was Gil who said it, that everyone at the station kept asking, what’s wrong with Bernie? It was near the time the news broke about Bernie. One thing, though, KGO didn’t spend a lot of time talking about that either. What do you think of it? Do you think it’s possible he was researching material for a book? I haven’t read the transcripts presented for the case and don’t intend to, but I am bitterly disappointed in him. It’s almost as if he used the whole God Talk and theology training to hold back his own demons.

  2. I was just thinking about this today…remember when KGO used to be great? and it had great hosts like Duane Garrett and Gene Burns? And I remembered this sad chapter. I found this on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlbkMXFUDZU I remember hearing that live that evening, a summer evening as I walked my dog. I thought “why is he predicting elections that are more than a year away?”

    I guess this is how life goes. Gene is gone now 😦 , we know what happened to Bernie, and Duane, well, here we are.

    Never really cared for Bernie, but didn’t expect that either. I still miss Gene to this day.

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