Though he’s virtually unknown to today’s younger generation, during a four-decade span, nobody was smoother at spinning records on New York radio than the incomparable William B. Williams (right).
Williams was synonymous with hosting the Make Believe Ballroom on WNEW 1130, which he started in 1957. He is credited with giving Frank Sinatra his famous title “Chairman of the Board.”
Williams was honored for his iconic role in radio with a spot in the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Radio Halls of Fame.
Fittingly, Williams was to be enshrined last month in the New York State Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
Williams, sadly, died before receiving any of the well-deserved accolades.
Instead, his son Jeffrey B. Williams and his mother were informed of their beloved’s latest lifetime achievement.
But this induction was bittersweet for the Williamses.
At issue, Jeff Williams contends there was poor communication between him (and his mother) and the organization.
The limited conversations he did have were with Bill O’Shaughnessy, a former NYSBA president.
Not certain about the specific date for the weekend in Lake George, O’Shaughnessy (the president and CEO of two Westchester radio stations) told him that NYSBA out-going president (and Hall of Fame inductee) Joe Reilly would call with specifics.
Williams also inquired about transportation to and from the Adirondacks. Again, O’Shaughnessy said Reilly would discuss it with Williams.
“I never heard from Joe,” Williams tells FishbowlNY.
Sometime in April, he got a call from someone wanting to coordinate a time to conduct a video interview that would be used as part of his father’s induction ceremony.
O’Shaughnessy, Williams was told, wanted to visit separately on that same day in May.
Still having had no contact from Reilly, Williams once again asked if the organization would provide travel upstate.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to get you up there,” O’Shaughnessy assured the junior Williams.
Once again, he promised a call from Reilly, along with another from himself.
Reilly (left), who spoke with FishbowlNY about this matter, initially was terse. He also started the interview with a prepared statement.
“Jeff was told that we never offer transportation to awards site to any family member or even a recipient,” Reilly read.
He went on to say it would be “physically impossible” to supply transportation to every honoree and their family.
However, the organization did provide travel for guest speakers Brian Williams (named 2011 Broadcaster of the Year) and Deborah Norville (Carol Reilly Award winner).
“Their appearances were conditioned on their returning home the very same night because they all had commitments,” Reilly says.
So, Reilly and his staff did whatever it took to get the “big names” at the annual event—including transportation.
Although O’Shaughnessy had promised to do what he could to get Williams to the Lake George hotel, he wasn’t speaking for the NYSBA. Once the notification came out about his father, Williams was in touch with a spokeswoman, who confirmed that there would be no transportation. (Williams recalls that his family was flown for the NAB and National Radio Hall of Fame ceremonies in Las Vegas and Chicago, respectively.)
Noticing Williams (no relation) and Norville on the list, Williams inquired how they would get there.
“Well, they’re not being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” the spokeswoman said. “I’ll talk to my boss and I’ll get back to you.”
The boss, of course, is Reilly, who never got back to Williams, nor did anyone else.
Meantime, Regis Philbin was a late addition to the Hall class.
“Did they tell him, ‘We don’t provide transportation?’ I doubt it,” Williams claims.
Any doubts Williams had were answered by Philbin himself on his Live program the morning after the ceremony.
Philbin told his audience that he was given a private jet with Brian Williams.
This miffed the junior Williams.
“I just thought it was kind of odd that I didn’t even get a phone call from them, and they somehow managed to get a private jet to take these people up and bring them back,” Williams says. “So, I guess having me and my mother there wasn’t high on their priority list.”
When asked about that, a defensive Reilly responded:
“I don’t know who this guy is,” Reilly told FishbowlNY. “It would be an insult to Brian [Williams] to say, ‘Thanks for coming up after your 7 o’clock newscast, but I’m putting Joe Blow on the plane with you.’”
To be clear, though, Jeff Williams claims he had no knowledge of any private plane until Philbin talked about the ceremony the next morning.
“I wouldn’t have called and said, ‘Can I get on the plane with a superstar,” Reilly says. “I would have gotten my butt up here to get my damned award!
“No one has ever put us through anything close to this,” Reilly admits. “This is America. There are people that are treated differently because of status, because of profession, their standing in life, and those that aren’t.”
Playing the hypothetical game, Reilly said if this wasn’t a posthumous award, he could make the case for the elder Williams likely getting the special treatment –being flown back with the NBC News anchor.
“I know, albeit, he’s the son of an icon—but he’s not the icon,” Reilly admits. “I wouldn’t have doubted if it was William B. Williams. I would have cleared it with Brian’s office… but I don’t have to do it for his son.”
Reilly says if he allowed transportation for Williams this year, by next year the precedent would be set with others wanting their own mode of transportation.
“Where does that end?”
Eventually, though, Reilly came around to recognize some wrongdoing.
“Jeffrey never called me and I never called Jeffrey,” Reilly says. “That was probably part of the problem.”
He says, though, as a rule, he doesn’t contact winners or their family members.
The standard protocol, Reilly says, is informing the winning party of a free overnight stay with dinner and breakfast.
“You provide your own means of getting here,” Reilly says. “It’s all spelled out in the letter.”
Another issue was false promises by O’Shaughnessy.
“If Bill wanted me to talk with Jeffrey, he never told me,” Reilly admits.
Ultimately, he drove the one-time NYSBA president under the bus.
“It was his nomination to begin with, and has been for six years. If he was so interested, why didn’t he find a way [to get him in attendance].”
Reilly says any O’Shaughnessy calls to Williams were not sanctioned by the NYSBA.
“It wasn’t on my behalf,” Reilly says. “Bill took it upon himself.”
Regarding the promises of transportation, Reilly says, “He had no right to make that statement. None whatsoever. He’s not authorized to make such statements.”
“I think he [O’Shaughnessy] got swept up in all the excitement of his idol being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and he wanted him there,” Reilly says. “But if he wanted Jeffrey that badly he should have said, ‘I’ll get you up there in a limo.’”
Williams contends that O’Shaughnessy, though, was more interested in riding his father’s coattails.
“My gut feeling is, this was an attempt or this was Bill O’Shaughnessy’s way of getting up and making a speech on stage with Brian Williams, Deborah Norville, and Regis Philbin,” Williams says.
“I’m sure he did not call the NYSBA and say, ‘Please call Jeff or his mom.’ Because if he had done that and [we] were there, he wouldn’t have been able to get up and make the speech.”
“I don’t believe that’s true,” Reilly says. “Because I think that Bill would have preferred to have Jeff accept it. But he [O’Shaughnessy] agreed to do it if Jeffrey wasn’t going to be there.”
O’Shaughnessy wrote online that he was asked to say a few words about honoree Williams when he learned that the family didn’t show.
“It’s four pages long,” Williams says. “That’s not something you do on short notice at the last minute.”
Furthermore, Jeff Williams points out that O’Shaughnessy was quick to post his induction speech for William B. Williams on various websites.
“[O’Shaughnessy] seems more concerned with trying to get his speech out there, and his name out there, next to my father’s name associated with this particular award, then he is with my father’s career,” Williams says.
Williams thereafter had the award sent from O’Shaughnessy’s office.
For anyone who questions why his clan did not make the trek upstate, Williams has a simple retort.
“No one from this organization contacted us regarding that,” Williams says. “I find it hard to believe that no one from that organization picked up a phone and contacted [the other Hall of Fame inductees] … The fact that I had to make the one phone call to them—it astounds me.”
In the end, Reilly realizes mistakes were made.
“I’m sorry that Jeff and I never talked,” Reilly admits. “We probably could have worked this out.”
Despite the failings of the NYSBA, Williams says it doesn’t take away from his father’s award.
“I don’t feel that it taints the honor,” Williams says. “It unfortunately shows that there are people who use occasions like this to insert themselves into the spotlight where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”