Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Money Talk Radio

>Sonny Bloch was unique. He had a personality that was reassuring to the callers and listeners. He gently handled people who called his show with financial questions and financial difficulties. In todays world of talk show hosts pushing the edge with their flaming commentary, calling people twits and use of hot button topics, I've wondered if a program with the on air qualities of Sonny's could survive.

Sonny always appeared to be at your service.

I was impressed by the fact he would suggest mutual funds to review for purchase. And he named them. This was one of the first times I heard a talk show host do that. Traditionally hosts would use words "find a good growth mutual fund" and let you guess what they were talking about. Hello! I was a rube from the hustings. Sonny named them, told their minimum investment amounts, talked about load funds vs no load funds and 12-b1 fees. All without becoming overly technical.

As a person who had no idea what mutual funds were all about, that was a huge breakthrough for me. I now had a realistic benchmark to work from.

Two funds that were often mentioned were Financial Industrial Income and the Fidelity Contrafund. Both were quality funds in the late 80's and early 90's. Money Magazine was a big fan of both funds. But here was someone who had a comforting personna and what appeared to be the heart of a well meaining teacher. Fidelity Contrafund is still one of the better funds out there. Financial Industrial Income got absorded into another group and I've lost track of it. I own Contra to this day.

Sonny taught me to what to look for in a Morningstar report. Where to find the information for free (this was before the internet revolution). He suggested term insurance over whole life. Although he talked about leveraged debt, he wasn't a huge debt proponent. All that information laid the foundation for the knowledge I have today.

I became a huge fan of his program. A financial rube from Ohio was getting an education. I envied his ability to connect with is listeners. If he was connecting with me, then he could connect with anyone.

The station in my town that carried his show would often cover it with sporting events since the show aired from 5-9 pm. I would turn on my old tube Zenith radio and dial in the show. At first it was WABC and then later WOR both from New York City. Because they both are 50kw stations, their signals bounced to Ohio in the evening sky.

Often I would listen to learn. Other times, I would listen to try to learn to emulate his on air presentation. Man, was it smooth.

I eventually had the opportunity to meet him at his home in New York City on East 63rd Street. Yes, I called one evening and he invited me to his home while on a trip to the City. Simply because I was a fan. Not many hosts would do that.

And despite all the good things Sonny taught me and the hospitality he showed me, he was a crook.

Besides some solid advice, Sonny was also promoting via advertisements wireless cable, precious metals from a dealer who was selling, or rather selling but not delivering the goods. He also began selling unlicensed securities in broadcast properties that he bought to air his show as well as other shows he had syndicated on a network he had ownership.

By 1994, the walls were caving in on Sonny Bloch. Prosecutors say Mr. Bloch and others used the "Sonny Bloch Show," broadcast on 170 stations, to promote investments in unprofitable radio stations and marginal wireless- cable operations.

He moved his operations to the Domican Republic to avoid prosecution assuming he was safe from extradition.

Not a smart move. He was extradited.

By October of 1996, Irwin H. (Sonny) Bloch, who had been host of one of the nation's longest-running financial talk shows, was sentenced in United States District Court in Manhattan to 21 months in prison for personal and corporate income-tax evasion and lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also was to serve 750 hours of community service all from a plea of failing to report $263,000 in personal income tax in 1991, 1992 and 193.

Mr. Bloch, 60, who previously pleaded guilty to seven counts, was also sentenced to three years of probation during which he would provide 750 hours of community service.

In his plea, Mr. Bloch admitted that he failed to report $263,406 in personal income in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

While in prison, news reports noted he was assisting the prison staff with financial matters.

But it soon all came to an end. By March 10, 1998 Sonny Bloch was dead of cancer. He reportedly told the court in his appeal to the court to die outside the confines of bars that the cancer was retribution for his acts. He was allowed to go live with relatives under house arrest as he was only expected to live no longer than 6 months. The court allowed him to die in peace with family.

From portion a New York Times article reporting on his death in July of 1998 noted

On his show, he dispensed financial tips with folksy warmth -- advice that was, by all accounts, solid and sometimes sophisticated, especially concerning real estate. A self-described consumer advocate, he produced several seminars and six books of financial advice.

''He was everybody's friend -- we felt he knew us all,'' said Jean Goldsmith, an 89-year-old widow who lives on the Upper East Side and invested $35,000 in the radio and cable securities. ''Everybody simply adored him. He gave some wonderful, wonderful advice. He made a lot of money for people.''

Sonny Bloch taught me my first lessons in finances. Thankfully, the lessons I learned taught me to stay away from the frauds advertised and promoted on his show that cost many other listeners in some cases their life savings.Irwin "Sonny" Bloch.

In the late 80's I first heard his radio show returning from a business trip to Detroit. I was hooked.

No comments: