It seems that now would be a good time to talk about the Reno radio market. It’s a sordid, incestuous situation full of conspiracy and intrigue. Well, maybe not quite, but there’s still a lot of interesting things going on.
First, what is the story behind the shakeup at KOH? Bill Manders was laid off from KKOH in November. There is very little information about what happened – pretty much just a few paragraphs on RGJ.com. The article states that Bill Manders was laid off on November 11th and was replaced by Dan Mason. The story quotes Manders as saying, “It certainly wasn’t shocking, and it wasn’t a surprise. But it’s caught me a little off guard.”
While declining to comment, Andrew Perini, general manager at KOH, made the following comment: “We’re going to refrain from any comments. It’s too complicated of a situation.”
The lack of reporting on this story is a little odd considering Manders’ popularity and KOH’s huge audience. KOH commands about 10% of the market share in Reno radio. Manders was KOH’s voice for the after work rush. His fans deserve more information than “It’s too complicated.”
The whole Reno radio market has become very strange. Dan Mason, program director at KOH, appears to be in the middle of a lot of things. Dan Mason was hired as program director around 1995. He is considered to be the brains that helped launch KOH into the number 1 spot. He is known and recognized throughout the radio industry for his achievements. There’s no doubt that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to running a radio station.
In the midst of all his achievements, though, there appears to be trouble when it comes to hosts. You may remember that in 2003 Rusty Humphries tried to leave KOH to move to Washington. He explained that his wife was very ill and he felt that he had “exhausted all of the doctors in this community.” He also wanted to be with his family in Washington while dealing with his wife’s illness. In the face of this horrible situation, KOH refused to let him out of his contract and actively interfered with Rusty’s efforts to find other employment. Rusty final brought a civil suit against KOH and the judge issued a restraining order and ordered “Citadel Broadcasting Co. not to interfere with Humphries’ job-seeking efforts.” His wife died just 5 years later in 2008.
A couple of years before the situation with Rusty Humphries, KOH was involved with another controversy when they fired popular Saturday host Ira Hansen. In the months leading up to the 9/11 attack, Hansen had been critical of the relationship between the United States and Israel. According to Hansen, the station warned him that he could only speak favorably about Israel. Following the attack on the twin towers, the subject was renewed and Hansen again made comments critical of Israel. John Farahi, a big advertiser on KOH, threatened the station and Hansen was ultimately fired as a result.
I am sympathetic to KOH’s situation regarding Ira Hansen. Loss of a big advertiser would certainly impact the station significantly. Ultimately, the station needs to make a profit and pay their employees. What makes the situation interesting is that KOH tried to censor Ira Hansen and fired him when he failed to comply. Dan Mason is quoted numerous times in Brian Jenning’ book Censorship: The Threat to Silence Talk Radio. As a matter of fact, the book contains essentially an entire chapter dedicated to Dan Mason, Bill Manders and Harry Reid. It surprises me that someone who is quoted as an authority on talk radio censorship should censor his own hosts.
So, Bill Manders is gone and we now have The Dan Mason Show. Was this the plan all along? Or has Dan Mason finally given up on trying to find a host? Or was he jealous of Sean Patrick’s show? Remember, Sean Patrick used to be the producer for Bill Manders’ show before he had his own show on 99.1 FM Talk.
It’s been a while since we’ve reviewed the market ratings, but KOH was the only talker to lose market share in the Spring 2011 report. What’s more, since I started watching the ratings in 2007 KOH has only dropped below 10% twice – once in Spring 2010 and again in Spring 2011. Did this have anything to do with Bill Manders? I doubt it. The ratings were strong for years with Bill Manders. I think people are finally discovering that they have other choices.
In part II we’ll look at some of the changes made at 99.1 FM Talk.