You’re Outta Here

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Radio consultant Fred Jacobs wrote a thing last week about whether radio jocks who are being fired should get the chance to do a farewell show. This, as you know or can guess, is extreeeeeeemly uncommon. But he notes how many fired jocks have made graceful farewells on social media, and he wonders if stations might not consider giving more such people a chance to say goodbye on the air.

Some fired jocks can’t be trusted to make a graceful farewell, however. The most famous case of a farewell-gone-wild (that I know of) was in 1976, when WCFL in Chicago made its fabled format change to elevator music. The station announced the move in advance, and all the jocks on the staff went quietly, except for morning hosts Dick Sainte and Doug Dahlgren. On the day after the announcement, they spent 3 1/2 hours setting fire to their bosses (even making an on-air call to morning rival Fred Winston at WLS) before they were finally yanked off the air.

(Highlights of the final show are here; the video also includes a Chicago Tribune column about their stunt.)

But the number of jocks who’d go as far as Dick and Doug is pretty small, I think. I am also guessing that the number who’d actually want to do a farewell show after getting fired is small, too. Even in those cases when you can smell it coming like a thunderstorm on the wind, being fired is traumatic, and traumatized people tend not to be all that great on the radio. But if time and circumstances permit, some jocks would certainly welcome the chance at a formal on-air goodbye.

I got to do a post-firing farewell show once. I said goodbye to a large and loyal local audience instead of just vanishing into the ether, so there was a bit of closure for them, and for me. Another time, when my boss showed up at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon while I was on the air, there could be only one reason why he was there, so I ended my last break by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a pleasure.” The stupidest and least justified of my firings, the famous industrial espionage incident, was the one time I’d have been justified in going full-Dick-and-Doug on the people who ran the place. They didn’t give me the chance, of course, and I wouldn’t have done it anyway, because I was young and green and trying to be professional, and hoping to protect whatever future prospects I had in that market or elsewhere. The last time I got fired, I was deep into burnout without realizing it, and the owner did me a favor by cutting me loose. After the shock subsided, what I felt mostly was relief. I probably could have done a perfectly fine farewell show there, but I didn’t want to.

(To newer patrons: yes, I got fired a lot. Nearly every radio jock gets fired sometime. It happens. You have to go out in some spectacularly illegal fashion before there’s much stigma attached to it. Even Dick and Doug weren’t blackballed from the industry.)

But radio companies are generally risk-averse in the best of situations, and so most of them would not for one second consider letting a fired employee back on the air. (The more humane ones might let you clean out your desk unsupervised and leave the building without being walked out by security.) So it seems likely that fired jocks disappearing without a trace will be a thing forever. But farewell shows, in addition to providing a modest sense of closure for the jock, can also offer closure to the audience. For listeners emotionally invested in a favorite station, it’s extremely jarring to find a familiar personality suddenly gone without explanation. (After one station of mine suddenly turfed a popular veteran jock, we got calls about them for a year afterward.) And even after decades of success at KROQ in Los Angeles, our friend Bean Baxter periodically reminded listeners that it was entirely possible that they would tune in one morning and find that he and Kevin Ryder were gone without warning.

It’s true for all of us, because that’s how radio is.

9 thoughts on “You’re Outta Here

  1. Gene Baxter

    It’s true, and the rest of that morning show was indeed canceled suddenly, just three months after I was lucky enough to retire on my own terms. KROQ gave my former co-host the opportunity to say goodbye and he did, but not without torching management on that last show. I’m certain they regretted permitting a last show.

  2. Didn’t the Roby Yonge/Paul McCartney show on WABC happen after Yonge was told his contract wasn’t being renewed? There’s an example of why you should tell people they’re gone and then respectfully show them out.

    I feel like a farewell tweet or a Facebook post is different from a three-hour show. The show, I imagine, gives people more opportunity to get emotional and/or angry – more time and opportunity to do something that all parties will at least mildly regret.

  3. Speaking strictly for myself, I’ve always been allowed a goodbye (if not a whole goodbye show) when I’ve left a place under my own power.

    But knowing how I felt the last time, when I found out three years ago that I was one of the 1500 iHeart employees who were now ex-iHeart employees….well, I’d love to tell you that I’m the pro that could have done three hours on the air that day, and I wouldn’t have trashed the company, but I’d have been in a fair amount of shock punctuated by how much I was going to miss working with my co-anchor and friend, and it probably would not have been my best work.

  4. spinetingler

    Here’s my last hour-ish on the LP that I started/ran on behalf of the Charleston Public Library system for a few years before a new director came in and cancelled it in a “I didn’t think of it” move. Later turned in the license, too, and then fired me when I asked them to transfer it to a non-profit that I was part of. I’m kind of rambling and I can certainly feel the sadness and anger in my voice. https://wyla.s3.amazonaws.com/WYLA+Last+Hour-ish.mp3

  5. Tim M

    Because the place leaked info like a sieve, Glen and I knew five days in advance that we were being fired in the purge of November 2008. We did our last show without a mention of what we knew was coming. At 9:52 AM, the last commercial break of the show, the powers that be sent Murph in to the studio to pull me out. I simply refused, as he sputtered and squalled about “YOU HAVE TO!” I told him I’d report to the front office for firing at 10 AM, after the show was done. He was red-faced and apoplectic as the break ended and Glen and I went back live, so he exited the studio and stood watching in the producer’s booth. At 10, just before we tossed to network news, Glen and I both simply said, “Good Bye.” Then we left the studio, and I went down the hall and got fired.

  6. Wesley

    I’ve always known about the reality that you could get yanked off the air suddenly for any reason in radio (switch in formats, ratings, manager is a jerk and so on). It’s why I never decided on a career as a disk jockey even though I admire those who do. Well, that reason plus the relatively low pay, the bureaucracy, the inflexible playlists, the … eh, I’ll leave it there. Another great blog here, jb.

  7. mikehagerty

    When KFWB in Los Angeles went all-news in March of 1968 (a move that had been made public two months earlier), Lohman and Barkley did a final weekday morning show (the station played music through Sunday at midnight, went off the air for five hours and returned as all-news at 5:00 a.m. Monday).

    They spent the final hour discussing what their last song should be, making their own suggestions and taking suggestions from KFWB staffers. But the discussion was constantly being interrupted by a series of events that killed each of their cast of characters (most voiced by Al Lohman), one by one.

    One last character remained, buried in the floor of the studio, the airhole blocked by the severed limb of another character who was blown apart by a stick of dynamite that was inside a third character’s bra and lit without being removed first.

    At that point, L&B, who hadn’t played any music in the preceding hour, said “Well, what are we gonna play for our last—oh. We don’t have any time left. This is KFWB, Westinghouse Broadcasting for Los Angeles. Goodbye.”

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