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.