Two very popular, very local radio personalities have bounced back from well-publicized blowouts from their long-term employer, Clear Channel Communications, and have migrated to new mics.
Both Uncle Nasty (whose signature gravel voice long rocked the Rockies on KBPI, 106.7-FM) and Keefer (a fixture behind the scenes and on the air at “World Class Rock,” KBCO, 97.3-FM) endured the latest Clear Channel purge and now have new gigs.
“There is life after Clear Channel,” Nasty said.
But how do you recover from being fired by the biggest name in the radio industry? How do you reinvent yourself as a new brand when you’re no longer a shiny 20-something? And what does the whole experience teach you about the future of the struggling radio business?
Nasty (legally known as Gregg Stone) is doing voice-over work for Jack (KJAC, 107.1-FM) and hopes to launch a new show elsewhere this summer — not music-related, and not as raunchy as his old style; it will be geared to the PG-13 audience.
Keefer (known to the government as David Fulgham) is serving as promotions coordinator and host for Colorado Public Radio’s new alternative music station Open Air (KVOQ, 1340-AM, in stereo online). He’s on-air less than he used to be but is learning new skills.
How have they managed to evolve in an industry threatened by Pandora, Internet and satellite radio, as well as generally strained economies?
“Karma works in weird ways,” Keefer said. He suggests a certain amount of grief has come around for corporate radio giant Clear Channel, while an equal amount of good fortune has come his way.
“To fall into this was amazing,” he said of CPR’s Open Air.
“Their loss was my gain,” said Open Air boss Mike Flanagan.
“National Firing Day”
Clear Channel, the largest and most financially successful radio company in the nation, has fired or laid off thousands of workers in recent years, shifting to a more centralized format run out of its San Antonio, Texas, headquarters. During the first week in December 2012, Clear Channel held what staffers have come to fear as “National Firing Day.” In a practice repeated throughout the country as well as at Clear Channel’s eight Denver stations, executives called personnel into their offices one at a time, told them to pack their things and had them escorted from the building.
A corporate statement at the time equated job eliminations with “evolving” as a company.
As the staffers know too well, Clear Channel has been pushing its iHeartRadio app as a way to stem the losses from old-fashioned terrestrial radio advertising. The cash hasn’t materialized from the social media platform, however, and the company instead is turning to its syndicated service, Premium Choice, to make up the difference. The strategy is fewer live bodies, more syndicated fare in the name of efficiency.
“I was given one-month severance — after 15 years!” Nasty said, a package he called “insulting.” Luckily, and unlike many radio folks, he saved well, with a 401(k) and IRAs.
“I feel a lot more creative now,” post-Clear Channel, he said. He works out of his home studio doing a feature called “Nasty News,” which Jack airs several times per hour. His month-to-month contract affords freedom and flexibility.
“They (Clear Channel) don’t want individuals, they want everybody to be the same,” he said. A formula applied across the country can maximize impact.
He remains in touch with other Clear Channel veterans, some now scattered around the country such as former KBPI program director Bob Richards, now in Atlanta.
“I hope somebody buys (Clear Channel),” he said. The debt-ridden company partially owned by Bain Capital has been for sale for years. The company’s reported $16.4 billion debt comes due in 2014.
In his time as the infamous misogynist of hard-rock KBPI, Nasty said, “I was pretty nasty. There’s a bit of me in that guy.” And, clearly, vice versa.
Now, at 45 with three kids aged 10, 14 and 22, he’s still got the gruff voice. But he’s been sober for eight years and is a proud regular at the gym.
“I gained control over certain demons,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nasty sings/growls with his metal band Horse, doing 12-15 shows a year. He tries not to be bitter, but it seeps out around the edges when he recalls the amount of community fundraising KBPI accomplished on a daily basis.
“We made it look cool. They (management) did not appreciate what I had done for them. The audience did.”
The radio business “is like swimming in a shark tank in the best of times,” according to Keefer. These days, in an era of technological change and financial strain, it’s extra tough.
He knows his dismissal wasn’t performance-related. “Our local managers would have fought to keep us,” he said, but orders came down from San Antonio. Keefer was lucky to have spent a relatively brief two months unemployed.
He recalls the stressed looks, clenched teeth and gallows humor he encountered in the halls of KBCO leading up to the blood-letting and suggests noncommercial radio is a different animal.
“It’s a 180-degree turn,” Keefer said.
The biggest difference is the pace: “In commercial radio, it’s full-tilt boogie. In public radio, they think things over. I have to tap down my primal commercial instincts.”
The advent of streaming Internet radio is changing everything, he notes. “We’re coming to a time where your phone will sync up with your dashboard … Nothing can replace the nice, warm feel of FM, but on the other hand, (with Internet delivery) we’re not so beholden to (radio ratings tool) Arbitron.”
As for the music, much of what Open Air plays is what Keefer says he would seek out personally, from Iggy Pop to Loretta Lynn to the Black Angels.
Right now, Keefer does weekends and fill-ins for Open Air, but most of his work is off the air. In his role as promotions manager, he writes proposals for concerts that Open Air might sponsor but has no illusions about the power of little 1340-AM to compete with the huge commercial stations. He also schedules ticket giveaways, writes liners for the deejays and books bands into the CPR performance studio.
“I’ve had to become way more organized than I’m used to,” Keefer allowed. His programming expertise (he previously programmed five iHeartRadio stations) is mostly in the background these days.
Invoking karma again, Keefer says he has no ill will toward KBCO or its corporate owner Clear Channel.
“It was my dream job, and I had 13 wonderful years. I have no animosity — plus, it’s a small world and getting smaller. Who knows what might happen?
“Local radio might make a comeback — like vinyl.”
Joanne Ostrow is the Denver Post Television Critic. For more TV news see Joanne’s blog.