Marc Bernier, a talk radio host in Daytona Beach for 30 years, died after a three-week battle with COVID-19, WNDB and Southern Stone Communications announced on Twitter Saturday night.
Bernier, 65, of Ormond Beach, has been remembered in recent days as a conservative who sought out and aired others’ points of view while airing a morning comment, three-hour afternoon show, weekend shows and specials, such as remote town halls and political debates. He interviewed countless governors, senators, mayors, sheriffs, journalists, historians and authors.
He also was an outspoken opponent of vaccinations.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, a longtime guest on Marc Bernier’s WNDB radio show, said a representative of the station confirmed to him that Bernier died Saturday night sometime after 6 p.m.
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“I’m numb,” Chitwood said. “To me, this is a death in the family.”
Chitwood said he had appeared regularly on Bernier’s show for the last 15 years, first as Daytona Beach police chief and then as sheriff. He said the two didn’t always agree on everything, but that never got in the way of their friendship.
“We had the ability to do that give and take,” Chitwood said. “You don’t have to agree with everything a person says for them to be your friend. I don’t think a lot of people get that.”
He added that every conversation with Bernier “started with how our kids are doing.”
Jim Rose, a retired attorney who hosted his own weekly show on WNDB for 15 years and was an occasional guest on Bernier’s “Volusianaries” segment, recalled Bernier as a good interviewer who made guests feel at ease.
“God, that’s a terrible loss to the community,” Rose said Saturday night.
On Facebook, political consultant and police unions representative Mike Scudiero called Bernier’s passing “one of the saddest days of my life. A friend, a mentor, a colleague of over 28 years. Trying to put it all into words, and there just aren’t any others.”
Liberals and conservatives say Bernier was fair
Prior to the news that Bernier had succumbed to his illness, The News-Journal interviewed several other friends, colleagues and listeners.
Justin Gates, a vice president at Sports Network International in Ormond Beach, said he first met Bernier when the radio host, a native of Rhode Island, was new in the Daytona Beach area some 30 years ago.
Gates was a listener who called in a couple of times and found himself getting a beer with Bernier. He ended up as best man at Bernier’s wedding.
They co-hosted the “Weekend Around the House” show for a time, and last December they reunited for a Saturday morning show where they bounced around to a wide range of topics and banter. Both are conservatives, but found themselves disagreeing on some issues.
“He gives all sides,” Gates said. “He’s not going to bully and throw punches or do potshots or do things for ratings. That’s why he’s so popular.”
One of his longstanding regulars on “The Volusianaries,” former Public Defender Jim Purdy, called the segment “great fun.”
Purdy, former chairman of the Volusia Republican Executive Committee, had his disagreements with Bernier over the years, but found the host to be open-minded, willing to listen to arguments.
“When I became public defender, I convinced him the death penalty should be abolished,” Purdy said. “I feel I’ve done some good there.”
Another veteran “Volusianary,” Pat Northey, called him a ‘dear friend” an “excellent provocateur,” but above all else, a host who has fun.
Northey, a Democrat who served on the Volusia County Council for 20 years, was among the liberals who were welcomed on Bernier’s show in a way that’s not done on many of the nationally syndicated conservative talk shows.
“I don’t think he’s as right-wing as what his show is,” Northey said. “I think he has an understanding of moderation. … I find he can be persuaded. He’s not dug in on any issue.”
For example, Bernier opposed the extension of the Volusia ECHO program, a vote for which Northey championed support. “We talked and had several conversations about it. I convinced him maybe we need to do this, and he became an advocate.”
On air, Bernier said he wouldn’t take COVID-19 vaccine
Bernier had issues with vaccines for years.
Mel Stack, an attorney and friend who regularly advertised on the program, said Bernier’s anti-vaccination views were not based on politics, but personal experience based on how he believed vaccines had impacted people near to him.
Bernier’s concerns extended to the COVID-19 vaccines.
When Bernier reunited with Gates for their pilot show on Dec. 19, the Pfizer vaccine had only gotten its initial approval about a week earlier. Gates asked Bernier whether he would get the jab.
Bernier responded: “I’m not taking it.”
Gates: “Come on!”
Bernier: “Are you kidding me? Mr. Anti-Vax? Jeepers.”
Advertisers: Listeners were ‘loyal fans’
Stack said those who listened to Bernier’s show often became longtime fans.
“My experience has been that the people who listen to Marc Bernier are very, very loyal fans,” Stack said.
Bill Gallagher, president/CEO of Solar-Fit, a Holly Hill business that markets home solar-energy systems, said the Daytona Beach community has long benefited from Bernier’s wit and knowledge on local and global issues.
“If you have been a long time listener to WNDB, as I have for decades, you know that there has been a recognizable void in both the morning and the afternoon radio shows,” Gallagher wrote in an email to The News-Journal.
Chitwood said the best part of Bernier’s show was when it went to commercial and the two traded commentary.
“The off-the-air banter during the show when the commercials were on was priceless,” Chitwood said. “The things we would talk about, laugh about, the jokes we would exchange — that was a great stress reliever for me during those breaks.
“To see how funny he could be, and how we’d try to one-up each other with funny anecdotal stories. More than anything, I will miss that.”
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