I was fired from KHFM in January 1988.
Why? The simplest answer would be to again point out that that’s the nature of broadcasting. As elsewhere in the business, new owners took over.
Months before my dismissal, there had been rumors to that effect. As 1987 drew to a close, it was announced that the New York-based Concert Music Network was buying the station. This was not the same as the Boston-based Concert Network, the owner of the early WNCN, where I had the overnight show (see way above: “A Big Break”).
Despite our personal friendship, Bill Weinrod had told me nothing about why he and his ownership partner, Phil Hart, were selling until the official announcement was made to the staff and the newspapers. Of course, Bill may have wanted to make sure that nothing went public via me, but you’d think he would have trusted me to not reveal anything.
At an October staff meeting we were all introduced to Peter Besheer who would become one of the new owners. He was executive v.p. of the Concert Music Network. There was no actual network in the sense of linked broadcasts of programs and, evidently, the group is long since gone. Besheer in person seemed rather cold and unapproachable. New York state of mind? Perhaps. But maybe that was his reaction to me, knowing that he had staff changes in mind, wanting to not be misleadingly congenial. Or maybe he’d heard me on the air and didn’t like what he heard. Who knows?
In any case, he, Bill, and Mike all assured us at that meeting that Besheer had no staff changes in mind. Given familiarity with past ownership changes, I didn’t take them at their word.
Mike met with me in January, and, not surprisingly, spoke about why I was on my way out. Despite an evaluation report full of praise the previous January, this time in his mild, reasonable-sounding way, without anger or rancor, he cited that I’d never been easy to get along with, was too independent, not enough of a team player, etc. He said nothing complimentary.
Nonetheless, he wrote an excellent letter of recommendation. It referred to “a very professional manner” and being “interactive and communicative” in staff meetings, “freely sharing…ideas.” You could read between the lines, of course. He further said that I was being dismissed due to “a change in sound…desired by the new owners.”
Certainly it’s possible that the cause (“sound”) could have been my far-from-conventional morning show for such a format, both in music selections and in indulging in comedy bits. And although my interactions with the staff could have been the reason, as Mike had said, it is equally likely that my salary was a factor. By New Mexico standards, I was expensive talent. The morning show was taken over immediately not by someone newly hired, but rather by Program Director Phil Dougherty who, therefore, got extra duties for, presumably, a pay adjustment. Maybe none. I listened to him a few times, and he sounded both bewildered and inept. He was fired very soon thereafter. He was replaced by Suzanne Bernadette, the part-time secretary and part-time announcer who’d always seemed dippy on the air, but at least she knew what she was doing.
Mike’s letter of recommendation said our parting had been “amicable” and that I was welcome to use the studios for any production work which I might want. That was generous. And certainly valuable to the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, given that I continued to produce their broadcasts on the station as well as radio commercials for the market.
Consequently, through November 1990 I was in and out of KHFM studios as a producer, always welcomed in a friendly manner. And I never attempted to file any kind of lawsuit about being fired. That was in my interest and the Symphony’s.
As for what to do on radio thereafter, seeing the possible change coming, I auditioned in October as a newscaster at Albuquerque’s KKOB, the top-rated station in town. It had a full-time news staff of reporters and anchors. Given my daily wire-copy, self-edited newscasts on KHFM, I’d had recent experience. So I was added to the staff as if part-time or for relief work; thus, through the rest of 1987, there were a few assignments depending on my availability. And with the new year, of course, there were more. Within a year, I was hired full-time.
Being fired again turned out to be more instructive than ever. In a short time, I discovered that through my own efforts I’d never again be equally vulnerable.
Through the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra’s principal oboist Darrel Randall, a radio fan who also taught at the University of New Mexico, I contacted the chair of the Music Department proposing a jazz history course. I started one in the fall. It was a credit course.
One of the highlights was inviting our friends, local jazz saxophonist John Magaldi and his singer/wife Joan Steele, to perform for and talk to a class.
Through another friend, Beth Gard Salimbeni, I connected with the head of Continuing Education and started teaching Italian.
Combining these activities with the work I was doing for the Symphony and the part-time reporting and anchoring on KKOB meant satisfactory earnings, albeit not substantial.
Plus, I contacted KUNM (a function of the University) and volunteered to host a jazz show. By April I had one, for three hours every week.