No matter what happens, Brian Wilson can't seem to stay away from Baltimore for long. From 1984 to 1988, he was among the most popular radio personalities in town. Tomorrow, seemingly a dozen jobs and just as many addresses later, he returns to Charm City's airwaves, as the afternoon voice of WHFS-FM.
"It's like this elasticized umbilical cord," he says from the WSPD studios in Toledo, Ohio, where he'll continue to hold down the afternoon drive-time slot he's had since 2005. "I got out of town after '88, then snapped back in the early '90s, then left for New York, then boom, back to Baltimore. Then I'm out here, and Baltimore calls again. Maybe the fates are trying to tell me something."
For much of the 1980s, Wilson was half of Baltimore's most popular morning radio show on WBSB-FM (B-104). In the 1990s, after time in New York, he returned for a brief stint at WOCT-FM and became the most hated man in Dundalk, thanks to wisecracks that didn't exactly endear him to the local citizenry. In the early years of this decade, he was the regular fill-in when folks at WBAL-AM went on vacation.
Tomorrow, Wilson and his avowedly Libertarian views return to Baltimore's airwaves for the first time since 2004, when an effort to recapture the magic of the 1980s-era Brian & O'Brien Show fizzled on WQSR-FM. He'll be on WHFS-FM (105.7) from noon to 3 p.m., clearing the way for Ed Norris to shift his top-rated show into the more popular afternoon drive-time slot, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Even though his base will remain in Ohio, Wilson's new boss is confident his thoughts will have no trouble re-acclimating themselves to Charm City.
"Brian Wilson is a man who knows Baltimore as good as anybody," says Dave Labrozzi, vice president of programming for CBS Radio's five Baltimore stations, including WHFS. "Once you're a Baltimore guy, you're always a Baltimore guy. He knows what's going on."
Wilson says he's ready. If Baltimore is.
"I don't think anything has really changed in Baltimore," Wilson says. "You've got O'Malley - he's gone from mayor to governor, but he's still O'Malley. Maybe he's a little more liberal, a little more egocentric, a little bit more whatever he thinks he is.
"But the issues that Baltimore faces as a city, and the issues that Maryland faces as a state, aren't really all that different from most other states. They all have issues; it's just a matter of finding out which pot is boiling at any given time."
Wilson certainly sounds like a man anxious to get back on the radar screens of Baltimore's talk-radio fans. Just get him to start talking about taxes.
"You're going to see businesses leaving and people leaving ... if these taxes continue the way they do," he says. "There are right-to-work states that are blossoming and doing magnificently well. Why would you want to stay in a state like Maryland that's going to tax everything, from your haircuts to your computer services, when you can go someplace where they don't, and enjoy a higher standard of living and a better quality of life?"
Wilson, 59, will be in Baltimore this week for his inaugural broadcasts. He'll return to Toledo this weekend and continue doing his shows from Ohio. But he insists it shouldn't take anytime at all for him and his Baltimore listeners to get reacquainted.
"I don't think it's going to take all that long," he says. "I'll be flying in Wednesday morning, and I'll be doing the show from there Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is going to be the re-acquainting of myself with the market and the audience. ... I'll have an opportunity to actually sit and yap and have a beer and play catch up."