Dees’ morning reign is over

Times Staff Writer

A week after teasing his listeners about a “life-changing announcement,” disc jockey Rick Dees abruptly announced on the air Tuesday that he’s leaving the morning drive time show he has hosted for more than 20 years on KIIS-FM (102.7), effective immediately.

“It’s been decided that I will no longer be doing the morning radio show at KIIS,” Dees told listeners on what he called his last show. Dees, who started at KIIS in 1981 and is the station’s most recognized and promoted personality, later said in an interview: “I would love to say this was my decision. But it was not.”

Clear Channel Radio, L.A., which owns KIIS, declined comment on Dees. But sources said television and former radio host Ryan Seacrest would be taking over Dees’ slot in a few weeks. Singer Britney Spears is expected to announce Seacrest’s hiring on his nationally syndicated “On Air With Ryan Seacrest” afternoon television show. Seacrest, who used to be the afternoon drive time host of KYSR-FM (Star 98.7), also hosts Fox’s “American Idol” and recently replaced Casey Kasem as host of the syndicated countdown radio show “American Top 40.”

During an emotional address, Dees, 53, also announced that he would continue with his own nationally syndicated Top 40 radio show. Roy Laughlin, co-regional vice president of Clear Channel Radio, said a statement about that show was expected today.

“We are continuing to try and negotiate a multiyear relationship with Rick to extend the Top 40 show,” he said.

Dees, a Greensboro, N.C., native who had a No. 1 hit in 1976 with the novelty song “Disco Duck,” was the top-rated morning personality in Los Angeles radio in the late ‘80s. He was eclipsed in the 1990s, first by the arrival of more outrageous Howard Stern, then by Spanish-language stations. But as recently as spring 2000, Dees had the top-rated English-language morning show in Southern California. In 1990-91 he also hosted the late-night ABC talk show “Into the Night With Rick Dees.”

But Dees, who was reportedly making more than $2 million a year, has remained among the most listened-to radio personalities, with ratings that have remained steady and reliable. He was still a favorite with advertisers, and Dees claimed his show was the top revenue-earning radio show in the country. Neither Dees nor Clear Channel would discuss what caused the split.

Dees’ show featured a steady stream of comedy, prank phone calls, characters and segments called “Deesleaze” that focused on celebrity news items.

“It’s a real testament to his longevity that he’s made it through all these changes,” said Adam Jacobson, radio editor of the Radio & Records trade magazine. “A lot of his listeners weren’t even born when he started. That might have led Clear Channel to believe that a change was needed. It’s a tough decision, but it needed to be made.”

Dees on Feb. 2 warned listeners that he was going to make an important announcement the next day. But he instead made an innocuous statement about Clear Channel after being ordered by management to back down from saying more on the air. Sources said he was still in negotiations. He was later criticized for staging a stunt.

But he said after his Tuesday show that he was serious. “This is my final show,” he said. “I will not be back in June. Or July.”

He said plans might include more involvement with cable TV’s Fine Living network, which he co-owns. He also said the Top 40 countdown takes a lot of time to properly produce.

But his first love remains daily radio: “I love creating a magnified theater of the mind through sounds, storytelling and characters....This has been such a huge part of my life, and I don’t plan to go away or stop doing it.”