By Michael Harrison
Many years ago, I received a late-night call from a legendary radio talk show host who had just been let go by management at the iconic major market station where he had been presiding over the airwaves for several decades. His ratings had begun to downtrend a bit, but he still was a big draw for audience and advertisers. He was one of the biggest names in talk radio history and his still-sizable audience loved him. Thus, the unexpected news of his severance blindsided him with a wallop and surprised the heck out of the biz. Everyone was buzzing about it.
The usually jaunty and confident personality asked me in an uncharacteristically despondent tone of voice, “Why do you think they fired me?”
My initial response, “I don’t know.”
He answered, “C’mon, you know everything… why do you think they fired me?”
“What does it matter what I think? I’m not sure you really want to know my opinion about this.”
“No I do, I do… tell me the truth.”
Tapping into Aaron Sorkin, I quipped, “You can’t handle the truth!”
“No I can! Dammit! Tell me what you think.”
I took a deep breath and answered, “In my opinion, they let you go… because they don’t like you.”
“What?” he replied with irritation. “You’re kidding!!”
“No, I’m not kidding. They don’t like you and they’re using your minor ratings downslide and the subjective determination that you are no longer a fresh new voice as an excuse to get rid of you.”
I then attempted to explain to him that quite often in this business, when the question arises, should he stay or should he go, whether it is a matter of ratings, budget, or heated controversy – it comes down to the margins. Do they like you or do they dislike you?
“That’s not true!” he blurted with anger, “They LOVE me! I’m very popular with management and my co-workers. When I walk around the halls the people adore me!”
“I’m afraid they don’t… you are disliked at the station. That’s what I hear.” And that was the last time we spoke.
Fast forward to the two major buzzes currently emanating from FOX. Everyone’s speculating about why the company dumped the mononymic talker widely known as Tucker. IMHO, it comes down to the moral of the above tale. They don’t like him. Or more specifically, among the widespread rumors of “they,” Rupert Murdoch doesn’t like him. So much for the adage content is king. In today’s media business and perhaps all the way back to Gutenberg, platform is king. Or at least co-king.
And by the way, also IMHO – in a related story – the simple reason FOX settled with Dominion? Murdoch didn’t want to go through the discomfort and inconvenience of personally testifying in court. Everything else is filler.
Michael Harrison is the publisher of TALKERS. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can meet Michael Harrison at TALKERS 2023 on June 2 at Hofstra University.