First published in the City Lights section of the San Diego Reader, August 29, 1991
Written By Thomas K. Arnold
MIXING IT UP
San Diego radio station KRMX-FM ("The Mix") has just been sold to Anaheim Broadcasting for $10.1 million, not much more than the $9.67 million Sandusky Broadcasting paid for the station in 1985. Former staff members say the minimal appreciation is due to the wacky soap opera that's been playing at the station for the last 18 months -- not on the air, but behind the scenes. During that time, the Mix lost nearly three-fourths of its audience.
The station, then known as KKYY-FM (Y-95) loses its highly rated morning team, Jeff and Jer, to soft-rock rival KFMB (B-100). Start the suds: General Manager Carolyn Howe had been dating Jeff Elliot, but after a few months, they had broken up and Elliot started going out with the promotions director. Jerry St. James, meanwhile, was dating program director Pam Finn. Within weeks of Jeff and Jer's departure, the promotions director is fired and Finn resigns.
Howe hires the husband-and-wife team of Ron Stevens and Joy Grdnic to fill the critical weekday morning slot (good ratings in the morning invariably lead to good ratings overall). Steven and Grdnic's comic bits have been syndicated nationally, but their East Coast humor doesn't fly in San Diego. What's more, the station spends almost no money to promote the new morning team; there are no billboards, no bus boards, no TV ads.
The first quarterly Arbitron survey since Jeff and Jer's departure comes out. Weekday morning ratings have slipped from a 5.2 percentage share of avaiable listeners to a 3.1 share; overall ratings are down from a 4.2 share to a 3.0 share.
The summer Arbitron book shows an even further decline in listenership, to a 2.6 share mornings and a 2.2 share overall. Sales reps report several complaints from clients about Joy Grdnic's laugh and the duo's obscure comic routines. Y-95 still refuses to promote the morning show. "The station wouldn't even pay a couple of hundred dollars for [Stevens and Grdnic] to have autographed postcards printed up to send to their listeners," says one former staff member.
Y-95's ratings continue to drop, with the fall Arbitron book reporting a 1.8 share mornings and a 1.7 share overall. Stevens and Grdnic are fired, and afternoon jock Jeff McNeal is tapped as a temporary replacement. General manager Carolyn Howe calls a staff meeting and delivers a stirring pep talk; the next day, Sandusky president Norman Rau calls a second staff meeting and announces that Howe is no longer with the station. "I remember walking in and seeing this strange man sitting in her chair," recalls a former employee.
The "strange man" is new general manager Bob Visotcky. His first day on the job, he fires program director Robert John. A week later, he fires Jeff McNeal, morning show producer Jimmy Baron, morning news anchor Gayle Newman, creative services director Tom Hayes, and general sales manager Jim McCarthy.
February 8, 1991
Bobby Rich takes over the morning show and resurrects the Rich Brothers, who in the mid-'80's, when they were on B-100, were the highest rated morning team in town. A huge billboard, proclaiming "Bobby's Back", goes up at the corner of West Mission Bay Drive and Mission Boulevard in Mission Beach. As a publicity stunt, Rich spends an entire weekend on top of the billboard, broadcasting live. One of his first on-air statements is "Let's forget the war [with Iraq] and have fun." A group of kids take offense at his remark and start throwing water balloons at the billboard. Visotcky gets punched in the face when he tries to intervene.
February 11, 1991
Y-95 becomes the Mix. The name change is announced on five billboards.
February 18, 1991
The sales department's promotion for Mission Foods tortilla chips, an advertiser, is a dud. Listeners had been asked, over the air, to fax in their favorite dip recipes; the ten most creative entries would earn their senders a free box of tortilla chips. Alas, only two entries were received. The Mix's retail sales manager, desperate for a good showing to please her client, circulates a memo to all staffers, asking them to participate. Promotions director Leslie O'Neal tells Visotcky this "contest-fixing" is unethical and illegal. His only response was to turn her comments into questions at the bottom of the memo. "Is this illegal? Is this unethical?" But he doesn't veto the idea.
February 20, 1991
During a staff meeting, Visotcky announces his idea for the station's entry into the upcoming St. Patrick's Day Parade: A group of midgets dressed up as leprechauns, carrying surfboards with the Mix's logo. O'Neal objects, telling Visotcky she finds the use of midgets "inappropriate".
February 25, 1991
Visotcky fires O'Neal, accusing her of insubordination. He threatens to withhold her severance pay until she signs a "Settlement Agreement and Release." One of the stipulations is that O'Neal "specifically covenants not to release or otherwise disclose to the press" the circumstances surrounding her termination.
Lawyers for B-100 send the Mix a letter demanding that Rich stop airing parody songs from The Rich Brothers' Funny Song Album, which was recorded during Rich's tenure at B-100. Several more staffers are fired, including the general manager's assistant and virtually the entire sales staff.
The Mix's ratings hit an all-time low, with the Winter Arbitron book giving the station a 1.1 share in the mornings and a 1.1 share overall. Later that month, newspapers report that a "smoking bandit" is going around town with a can of spray paint, scribbling "Smoking Kills" on cigarette billboards. "Bob and some other management people were saying it would be a very good publicity stunt to have the same phrase show up on one of our billboards," says one former employee, "and a few days later, it did."
Visotcky orders the Rich Brothers to stop playing their "Rufus the Weather Dog" bit, in which an imaginary dog barks out unintelligible weather reports and jokes that Rich and co-host Scott Kenyon then "translate". When Visotcky leaves town for a week, the Rich Brothers put the banned routine back on the air; Vitoscky finds out about it and suspends Rich for a week. "I still can't believe it," Rich recalls, "getting suspended for doing a bit my boss didn't like. It's ridiculous -- he's an immature control freak". When the suspension is over, the spring Arbitron book comes out. Rich's much-ballyhooed return to San Diego hasn't helped the Mix much: a 1.3 share in the mornings, a 1.7 share overall. The next day, Rich and Kenyon are fired, becoming the 30th and 31st staffers Visotcky has canned since his January arrival.
The Mix's sale to Anaheim Broadcasting was announced in late July, followed two weeks later by the hiring of a new morning team, Dean Goss and Erin Garrett. The new owners have yet to decide on Visotcky's fate, although he's optimistic they'll keep him on board. "I think we can turn it around," he says. "Right now, it's a pretty good, cleaned-up radio station."
Visotcky won't comment on the mass firings, other than to say, "I've been accused of being a hatchet man, but that's the nature of the beast. Radio is like Darwinism -- only the fittest survive." He denies all the other allegations ("I swear to God, I don't know where you're getting that stuff") except for the altercation at the billboard. "There was a fight, that's true," he says, "but I didn't hit anybody.