In the latest round of shake-ups at KFI-AM (640), a producer, newsman and associate producer who worked on radio personality Geoff Edwards' morning show have been fired.
While the three said they were not given reasons for their terminations, a station publicist said Thursday that they were fired to make way for a syndicated talk program that will be airing in the morning slot. New York-based Rush Limbaugh, known for his conservative views and and combat-radio style tactics, will be featured as the host of the 9 a.m.-to-noon talk program, beginning today.
Limbaugh will replace Edwards, who resigned last Friday, a week after having been suspended for saying on the air that he would not be party to KFI promotions on his program of afternoon talk show host Tom Leykis' planned destruction of the recordings of Cat Stevens, who had endorsed the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death sentence against "Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie.
Newsman Dan Avey, who co-hosted a portion of the morning talk show with Edwards, producer Paula Shuster and associate producer Elaine Klein initially were re-assigned to other duties following Edwards' suspension. Then on Tuesday, they were fired by program director George Oliva.
"They got rid of everybody having to do with Geoff's show," Avey said.
"When I asked if there was something wrong with my work, he didn't say anything," Avey said. "He just said, 'You know this is a fickle business.' "
All three said they were not given clear reasons for their terminations.
"I just feel kind of like a witness to a train wreck," said Avey, who had worked as a sports announcer and then as a news anchorman at KFWB for 10 years before joining KFI in 1987.
"I'm almost being penalized for something I have no control over," said Shuster, who had started at KFI last September after six years at a radio station in Phoenix.
However, KFI publicist Mike Venema said the three were terminated because Limbaugh's program--a syndicated talk show based in New York covering national and international issues--would not require any production work from the local studio.
"I know (the firing of Avey, Shuster and Klein) was a very tough decision . . . but the (Limbaugh) show was already packaged," Venema said. "What do you do with folks when there's nothing really for them to do?"
Although Avey, Shuster and Klein said they had heard Edwards' on-air outburst about the proposed record burning, each said they did not expect him to resign over it, nor did they expect to be fired.
"I should have seen it coming, but I didn't," Shuster said. "I was very surprised. I didn't think it was going to be this big a deal at all."
On the day of Edwards' resignation, a memo written by vice president and general manager Howard Neal was distributed to employees urging them to "remain silent and confidential on any rumors or innuendoes that normally is (sic) discussed with such a parting."
"In the event that any further discussions take place among you, regarding rumors, innuendoes, hearsay, etc., it could be grounds for immediate dismissal," the memo said.
Neal would not comment on the memo or on the firings and referred calls to program director Oliva. Oliva did not return repeated calls to his office.
After Edwards blasted the record destruction on the air, Avey remained silent.
"All I could do was admire him," Avey said. "I thought he was a little impulsive, but what he said needed to be said."
"We talked a lot about integrity on that show, the integrity of politicians and others, and apparently Geoff felt his integrity would be out of line if he didn't say something," Avey said.
Edwards and Avey are looking into the possibility of creating a talk show with a similar format on a cable network, Edwards said. Shuster and Klein are both looking for radio production jobs.
Meanwhile, newcomer Limbaugh, 38, expects that his blend of humor and politics will take some getting used to for KFI listeners.
"At first people are going to be mad as hell," Limbaugh said in an interview Thursday. "They're going to be offended, they're going to take it all too seriously. Then after a month there will be unabashed love."
"Some people consider the show brash and outrageous," Limbaugh said. "It is not rude, it is not obscene or offensive. I never hang up on anybody. I never make fun of callers."
But he does indulge in some occasional hyperbole.
"If you listen to my show you'll be on the cutting edge of societal evolution," Limbaugh said.
On recent shows he has held "safe talk" sessions by stretching a condom over the microphone and playing explosive bomb blasts during discussions of the "peace movement," which he heartily ridicules.
"I like to illustrate absurdity around the country," Limbaugh said. "There are no guests, there are no themes. There's never a dominant issue. It's strictly open-line and spontaneous. I never know what's going to come out of my mouth."
Some of what comes out of Limbaugh's mouth has offended listeners in other parts of the country. His show is carried on 109 stations.
Recently he heard from legions of angry listeners about his "phone abortion" tactic, which consisted of running a vacuum cleaner on the air and hanging up on listeners.
"I like to illustrate my opinions rather than just articulate them," Limbaugh said. "A lot of people were upset with that. But in New York they love it." He calls Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis "the loser" and insists that all callers use that label, instead of the governor's name.
Descended from a long line of Missouri Republicans, Limbaugh said he believes there is an audience that wants to hear the views of younger conservatives on the radio.
"I think I'm reflecting the conservative side of my generation on my program," he said. "This is a gold mine for a responsible, unabrasive conservative program that is also entertaining. We expect to own Orange County in a week."
When KFI changed to an all-talk format last year, it sought to differentiate itself from rival talk-station KABC-AM (790) by using the slogan "We're talking Southern California" to emphasize that all of its programs were locally oriented.
That motto won't apply with Limbaugh's show, Avey noted Thursday. "To be 'talking Southern California' by carrying the audio out of a station in New York seems a little strange," he said.