Bill Buckmaster has been the definition of stability, in terms of his longevity and his broadcasting approach. For 23 years, he has anchored Arizona Illustrated, the locally produced news program that airs on KUAT Channel 6, the UA/Arizona Public Media-funded PBS affiliate.
That relationship will come to an end Jan. 1.
"It's time," Buckmaster said. "In 23 years, I feel like I've done as much as I could with Arizona Illustrated. I thought about this in April, but I wanted to make it through the political season."
Buckmaster has formed a corporation, and through that, he will broker (i.e., purchase) the 9 to 10 a.m. hour on KJLL AM 1330, aka The Jolt.
"This is a new challenge for me. I'm now a small businessman," Buckmaster said. "This is exciting for me."
The show will largely be a radio reflection of what Buckmaster established during his tenure at KUAT; think Tucson's version of Charlie Rose, a guest-driven program that will utilize Buckmaster's interviewing skills.
"I think there's a need for this show," said Buckmaster. "The Buckmaster show is not about what Bill Buckmaster thinks. It's about the guests giving their opinion and putting the facts out there, and the audience making the judgment. That's what I've been about my entire career."
While the topics will vary in scope Monday through Thursday, Buckmaster will spend a good portion of the Friday show discussing current events with a slew of politicians who will field questions from reporters—similar to Arizona Illustrated's Friday Roundtable. Afterward, he'll let the reporters take center-stage in a segment he'll call Media Meat. He'll conclude that day with fellow Jolt talk show host Matt Russell, who will provide an in-and-around-town-type segment to close out the show.
Buckmaster is also looking forward to reuniting Republican John Munger and Democrat Vince Rabago—both of whom lost bids for statewide office this year—in an issue-related face-off segment. Current Arizona Illustrated face-off guests Paul Eckerstrom and Bruce Ash will join the guest fold as well.
Other contributing regulars are slated to include Arizona Illustrated mainstays such as astronomer David Levy, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. John A. Wickham, and nutrition expert Dr. Victoria Maizes, the executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
"Buckmaster is one of those guys who has established himself as an institution. He has a tremendous amount of credibility," said Jolt general manager John C. Scott, who hosts his long-running local radio program weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m. and has participated in the Friday Roundtable forums. "I can't imagine anyone in Tucson, other than me, who has interviewed more people. I don't think he skews right, left or anything. (Republican state Sen.) Al Melvin thinks he does, but he'd be the only one. He'll have access to a heck of a lot of people we don't. His show is going to be filled with great information. I think he's going to be entertaining. I think it's just a huge coup to take one of the top television personalities and convert him into (the) morning drive (slot). He'll make a ton of money selling it. I think it's a win-win for him, and win-win for us."
Buckmaster already wants to expand the venture beyond his one-hour-per-weekday presence on The Jolt. His website, billbuckmaster.com, was scheduled to launch earlier this week. On that platform, he hopes to stream the show and incorporate a television presence.
"At the very least, we want to broadcast (the show) on the website, but maybe we can interest the local TV stations," Buckmaster said. "They have the extra digital channels, and so that might be a home for the new Buckmaster show. We haven't even started exploring that with the TV stations. We hope there will be some interest."
Buckmaster's radio experience dates back to 1972, where he worked for what was then KHFH at Fort Huachuca. Radio stints followed in Phoenix; Visalia, Calif.; Las Vegas; and the San Francisco Bay Area, where in 1979 he was among the first reporters to interview terrorists during the Iranian hostage crisis. That morning program was similar to what he hopes to do with The Jolt.
"This is like going back to what we used to do," Buckmaster said. "I have such fond memories of those days in radio."
Buckmaster will utilize the talents of Andrew Greeley, managing member of the Literary Partners Group, an organization which is backing the endeavor, as well as webmaster John Brown and Rosemary Brandt, a student graduating at the UA in December who worked with Buckmaster for 4 1/2 years at KUAT.
Buckmaster is scheduled to conclude his KUAT anchor stint at the end of the year.
"Why would you leave a very secure job?" said Buckmaster of the way his announcement was received at KUAT. "They were very surprised here at the station. My wife and I have our undergraduate degrees from here. We were early members of the President's Club. I'm a Wildcat through and through, and always will be. I had a nice message from (UA President) Dr. (Robert) Shelton. He's wishing me well and wants to be a guest on the new show. Certainly, the UA is going to be part of the new show."
Said Scott, "He's one of the most knowledgeable people to have anchored in the market, and certainly one of the most respected. He's placed a very high value on being fair with people and giving people their say ... and letting people make the decision about who he's interviewing and the content they have to say. We're really excited about it. I have no doubt it will be a long-standing run here at the Jolt."