FIRED LATE-NIGHT RADIO
HOST STAYED AWAY FROM THE LIGHT
Eric Zorn 03/27/2000
If you listened closely, you heard the firing of Mike Malloy coming for months.
After he'd spar at some length with hostile callers to his radio
hear him say, "See? I don't hang up on people with an opposing point of
view," as though speaking directly to his bosses. And when the conversation
got heavy, he'd quip, "I hope this isn't too `dark' for you."
Then, several weeks ago, he began closing his daily, 10 p.m.-1
a.m. shift on
WLS -AM with, "I'll be back tomorrow night . . . I hope."
And there was what you never heard: Proud announcements from WLS
promotions department when Malloy's ratings soared in 1998, when he was
named one of the top 100 hosts in America by Talkers magazine for the second
year in a row recently, or when he won a prestigious Achievement in Radio
award as best local nighttime talk personality.
These were among clues that station management did not like Malloy,
journeyman broadcaster whose red-meat liberalism was an antidote to the
windy conservatism of syndicated midday host Rush Limbaugh. Those who heeded
these clues were not surprised at 12:25 a.m. Saturday when, in a halting
voice, Malloy read a prepared statement saying his three-year run on the
station would be over in half an hour.
I did like him. I liked his politics and I liked him personally.
disclosure: I made unpaid appearances on his show every couple of months,
traded news tips with him off the air and in the past discussed with WLS
doing fill-in shifts; my wife works at another radio station in town and my
employer owns WGN-AM, where I've recently guest-hosted a couple of times.
But it's mostly as a listener--a guy who frequently taped his program and
listened to it the next day while exercising or puttering- -that Malloy's
firing disappoints me.
Officially, the parting was an "amicable . . . mutual agreement"
Malloy to "pursue other opportunities." He, the station and parent company
ABC are now contractually bound to repeat this lie. But Malloy often told me
in recent months of his belief that management was sharpening the ax because
he refused to be an obsequious house liberal.
Station operations director Mike Elder declined to comment Saturday,
recently blasted Malloy's "very dark and mean-spirited approach to talk
radio" in e-mail sent--perhaps in error--to listener Bob Miya of Glenview
and forwarded to me. He accused Malloy of continually cutting off callers
who disagree with him, making "name calling . . . a major part of (his)
performance" and creating "an environment of disgruntlement." Admittedly,
Malloy was not merry or equivocal (see mikemalloy.net).
But he was no more
mean-spirited or short with argumentative callers than Limbaugh, the king of
radio name callers, snippy Laura Schlessinger or several other right-leaning
hosts heard on WLS . And in the 11 Arbitron ratings periods of Malloy's tenure,
he beat or tied the station's overall rating among its target 25- to 54-year-old
demographic eight times, including in the most recent period.
"We will take some heat from his followers and die-hard liberals,
one of Elder's e-mails. "But for the direction WLS is going, it's time to make a move."
That move was to offer Malloy a severance bonus in exchange for
his silence about
his opinion of WLS management. Left-leaning iconoclast Jay Marvin will at least
temporarily expand his 7-10 p.m. show into the first two hours of Malloy's old shift;
a syndicated program about the supernatural will fill the third hour.
And what direction is the station going in? Perhaps not so much
righter as lighter.
Malloy's program tended toward the serious-- topics plucked from the Nation magazine
or Mother Jones instead of Cosmo and People--and did not shy from troubling (dark?)
issues involving the environment, foreign policy and corporate irresponsibility that
other hosts rarely touch. His firing is consistent with recent reductions in hours on
weekends for the serious, brilliant (though misguided) conservative Tom Roeser and
the provocatively progressive team of Nancy Skinner and Ski Anderson.
Malloy was not perfect, but he added texture, balance and depth
to Chicago radio.
Name calling isn't nice, I know, but in the case of those who ran him out of town
on false pretenses, I'm willing to make an exception.