The King of Seattle Talk Radio has been dethroned.
In an abrupt end to a remarkable 17-year run as one of Seattle's most controversial talk show hosts, at the end of his shift Friday Dori Monson (KIRO-FM 12-3p) was given ten minutes to gather his things. Then, carrying a suitably little box of his desk's contents, Monson was escorted out of the Bonneville radio complex on Eastlake by building security, his long reign over.
A source inside Bonneville says Monson will be replaced, starting this Monday, April 2, by former KIRO host Ron Reagan. After his one-hour KIRO show (12-1p, immediately preceding Monson) was cancelled in 2007, Reagan hosted a national show on Air America until its 2010 demise and then, in 2011, published a memoir of life with his father. Reagan lives in Seattle and has a number of miscellaneous free-lance radio and TV gigs that he will reportedly continue to do along with his KIRO show.
"Management wanted the anti-Dori," says the source, explaining the choice of the genial, mild-mannered Reagan. "It wasn't any one single thing...his ratings were stagnant, and they were just sick of Dori's act. Salt Lake feels that, in this market, bile isn't a sustainable business model. Every other daytime show KIRO is now airing is light, positive, fun.
"Monson's schtick is sustained outrage. It just didn't fit any more, and Larry [new KIRO PD Larry Gifford] was at wit's end trying to pair Dori with foils who would soften his image. Dori wanted none of it, and did everything he could off air to make their jobs miserable.
"Eventually the decision was made that the negatives outweighed the positives. And frankly, when the news broke just about everyone in the building privately cheered. The guy's a prick."
If the source is right, and Monson - who is reportedly still under contract to Bonneville - was bounced because he didn't fit KIRO's move to lifestyle-oriented talk, it's telling that the suits didn't simply move him to conservative sister station KTTH (The Truth). KTTH has been languishing in the ratings of late, with its only local show a peculiar one-hour afternoon stint by former morning guy Dave Boze (KTTH, 3-4p), who was also subbing for Dave Ross last week. Either Monson's contract is up; he was fired with cause; or management decided that the hassle of dealing with Monson's outsized ego so outweight the boost he could give their struggling conservative talk franchise that they would rather pay him to go away. (Hint to anyone in the know over at Eastlake: We'd love to know which it is. E-mail us at email@example.com. Anonymity assured. We especially want to know if he was in a car accident while on a Twinkie run during a news break.)
Left unaddressed by this is the contrast between Monson's often hyperlocal schtick - he could spend entire shows venting about a local politician or a minor news item from Maple Valley - and Reagan, who is a national figure. During his last stint on KIRO, Reagan showed no interest in doing anything but national topics. Will that fit on the new KIRO?
Monson's dismissal creates some other issues for KIRO as well. Monson padded his six-figure salary by doing personal endorsement deals with just about any local company that would have him, and his ubiquitous voice during commercial breaks means a lot of commercial accounts will need new spots (and perhaps new air talent endorsement deals) in the coming weeks. Monson has also, since 2002, played key roles in the Seahawk football broadcast, doing pre- and post-game and halftime hosting and analysis on the Seahawk network. The Seahawks employ Monson and their other announcers separately from Bonneville. Will the team still want the irritating, jock-sniffing Monson after he's no longer on their flagship station?
Aside from his undoubtably bruised ego, which takes up about 80 percent of his body mass, Monson himself is sitting pretty. In the short term, he's financially comfortable, and Bonneville may still be paying him for years. At age 50, he still has plenty of working years left. Monson would doubtless have more opportunities had he not spent so many years being a colossal jackass to so many people; and his future prospects are handicapped by being short, Icelandic, and having a girl's name. Still, somebody will want him, if only for his notoriety.
But not in broadcast radio. Unless it's on infomercials, it's hard to see where else he'd go on air in Seattle. A home boy (he trades heavily on being from Ballard, though he actually lives in Lake Forest Park), Monson's occasional efforts to expand his audience outside Seattle have been dismal failures. And outside KIRO and KTTH, nobody else in Seattle really does commercial political talk any longer.
Monson probably has a standard non-compete clause in his contract that will keep him off Seattle's airwaves for either six months or the length of the contract. But even then, where would he go? KVI's conservative talk is long gone, replaced now by a vapid mix of syndicated and local lifestyle shows with dozens of listeners (on its better days). KOMO's midday talk shows (former "Commentators" John Carlson 9a-12p and Ken Schram 12-3p) are a cheap way to use air talent already under contract without having to spend any money on programming; and KOMO is also big on the genial, happy-talk approach. They're not about to pay out big bucks for the incendiary Monson.
Sports talk is also a non-starter. Bonneville, which just fired Monson, also has one of the two sports-talk stations in town (KIRO-AM, aka ESPN 710). The other, KJR, just eliminated its local evening show for budget reasons and has three decade-plus station veterans parked in its daytime lineup. Even KKOL is gone from the talk stable. The odds are, unless someone undergoes a format change or Dori decides he wants to do a morning show on a music station (think Bob Rivers, only without the likeability), Monson is done in Seattle.
Moreover, he might not be the only one. Given KIRO-FM's move away from acerbic commentary, our source noted: "One of these weeks John Curley is going to wander in to do his show and find that his key card doesn't work any more."
Lastly, under Gifford's watch, KIRO's move has been to not only a softer-edged, politically tinged lifestyle approach, but to having a second voice - either a co-host or a newsie or producer as foil - on each of the daytime shows. Who will bat around the day's entertaining events with Reagan? And will Reagan make his opportunity stick this time?
Tune in Monday at noon to find out.