KROQ’s Kevin Ryder Speaks Out on ‘Cruel’ Firings: ‘I Was Really Livid’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Michael Schneider

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Kevin Ryder wasn’t planning on saying anything after being fired from KROQ after more than 30 years in the show’s morning drive time slot. But then he found out that the station also unceremoniously pink slipped his entire team — including the hourly part-time workers who could have easily been reassigned elsewhere. And they did it in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, with few prospects for new work.

To Ryder, one-half of the popular “Kevin & Bean Show,” and, as of January, the spinoff “Kevin in the Morning With Allie & Jensen,” that took it a step too far. That’s why, when he was given a chance to say farewell on-air Wednesday morning, Ryder decided to criticize management for showing an absolute lack of class.

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“I’m truly baffled by KROQ’s cold, heartless attitude toward the people who built this station,” Ryder said on-air, shortly before being escorted by security out of the station. “They’ll say it’s just business, but for a long time, it wasn’t. For a long time, it was family and no business.”

Ryder and Gene “Bean” Baxter joined KROQ at the start of 1990, and over the years “Kevin & Bean” was a springboard for talent including Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Carolla, Carson Daly, Ralph Garman, Mike Catherwood and others. The show eventually led as No. 1 in the L.A. market during part of the 2000s, and the duo was inducted into both the NAB Hall of Fame and Radio Hall of Fame.

Baxter left the show at the end of 2019 to move to London, but a rebranded “Kevin the Morning With Allie & Jensen” continued with co-hosts Allie Mac Kay and Jensen Karp, as well as producer Dave “the King of Mexico” Sanchez, production whiz Omar Khan, jack-of-all-trades Johnny “Beer Mug” Kantrowe and assistant producer Christine Fung.

All of them were fired on Tuesday, as were other staffers who worked on the show, including phone screener Ruben Dominguez Jr. and board operator Destiny Lopez. The timing comes as KROQ owner Entercom brought in a new program director, Mike Kaplan (who also oversees the company’s New York modern rock station WNYL) to replace Kevin Weatherly, who had overseen the station’s programming since 1992.

Ryder said he wanted to speak out because of how his colleagues were treated — and also address the larger issue of how this is par for the course in the radio biz. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “I didn’t realize that was going to be my crusade until 36 hours ago,” he said.

Variety‘s Michael Schneider, an occasional guest on the show, spoke to Ryder on Thursday morning, a day after the news of his firing came out, which led to plenty of reaction and outrage on social media (where KROQ was trending for much of the day). See the conversation below.

Walk me through what happened. The show was off Monday, and then Tuesday you did a truncated show with Beer Mug.

That was weird, because none of us were coming in on Tuesday, and then the program director called me and said, “Would you mind coming in by yourself?” And I said, “I’m happy to do that.” I texted him back and said, “is it possible to have Beer Mug with me, because he knows the controls better than I do?” He said sure, and so we showed up and did the show Tuesday. I didn’t know that they already knew they were going to fire me by that time. And so right when I got home Tuesday at 10:30 or so, they called, he and the general manager, and they said they were letting everybody go. Surprising. I don’t know why he had me come into work Tuesday if he knew he was going to fire me.

How did management frame it? What did they say on the phone call?

It was the same words they always use: “Decided to go in a different direction” All those generic, you’re-going-to-be-fired terms. “We appreciate everything you’ve done but we’re going to take it a different direction, we hope you’re happy.” I was like, well, I’m not happy, but I understand the business. I understand it’s a business world and sometimes those decisions need to be made. So then they called me back and they said, “Do you want to say goodbye?” And I thought, yeah, I’d like to say goodbye. I’d like to thank people. That’s a step not everybody gets. I thought I’d go quietly, thank people and not make a big stink about it and then move on and deal with it privately.

And then later that night I found out they fired all of our support staff. Everybody that worked on the show, including part-timers that were paid by the hour. I was just baffled. I called the program director who just fired me and I said, “Why would you fire part-timers? Why would you fire everybody? All they did was support us. And all of them worked way more hours than they were getting paid for. They were loyal to a fault, why would you fire them? That is really dumbfounding.” And he said, “Well, it needed to be done.”

All of that talent, they couldn’t have worked on the new show? They couldn’t have been reassigned elsewhere in the station?

Nope, you tell me why, I don’t know. They are proven, hard-working, loyal people who will just work their asses off because they love that place. And in return for that, they got sent out looking for a job now in this economy, with all these businesses closing. That’s when I lost it. The last straw was our board op, Destiny [Lopez], who we just hired two or three months ago. I said, “why would you fire her? She’s probably the best board op you have. You’re not going to need board ops? She hasn’t worked with us that long, it’s not like she has any bad reputation or anything. I don’t even get that.” And he said, and I quote, “Oh, we fired Destiny? That must have been the GM.” And I hung up, and that’s when I decided I needed to say something for all of the people that this place has mistreated.

I’m in a position where I know eventually something is going to happen and it’s probably not going to be good, just because of the industry that I’m in. But it’s been long enough, and I thought we’ve done well enough, that it wouldn’t turn out that way. And then I realized, oh yeah, it all turns out that way. When they started firing everyone else, I thought, this is unconscionable. I can’t just sit there and say nothing.

And talk about the timing of this decision. They seem to be taking advantage of the fact that everyone is distracted by the coronavirus crisis.

I will tell you this, there were two separate incidents. This was a week or two earlier. They had to cancel [KROQ’s annual standup comedy show for charity] April Foolishness at Microsoft Theatre. The reason was, they said, poor ticket sales. But we still had a month to sell tickets and we weren’t worried about it but they just canceled it out of the blue. This gave me a little window into their timing. They said, “look, everybody’s obsessed right now with coronavirus and keeping themselves safe. Just let it go and it will disappear.” And I was angry, and I argued with them then, and I was like, it does matter, people bought tickets for this. They canceled it, we dealt with it however we could, and then, they were happy because they were right. Foolishness went away, but it didn’t make a big blip. And I didn’t hear this from them, but I would bet my entire life on the fact that they saw it did work, no one really cared, everybody’s more distracted than they were, so let’s just get rid of the morning show now, and we’ll have cover because no one’s going to be paying attention.

Sounds like they figured it would blow over.

Yeah, “So people will be upset but they’ll get over it, and there’s a much bigger story going on right now.” No one told me that, but I’m not dumb, and I was also in on a lot of conversations, and I know that was their mode of thinking. I know Entercom did not want to pay anybody above minimum wage and I knew they were firing everybody that was making money, so I just assume, well this is going to be ugly. But it could have been ugly with me and Allie and Jensen. Still, it didn’t need to be done so cruelly. But the three of us would have been OK and we would just have had to move on with our lives. It would have really sucked and it would have been not fair. But I think we would have been able to deal with it a lot better if they hadn’t just started firing everybody. That just made us all crazy.

Especially because most of the “Kevin in the Morning” support team did a lot more at KROQ, right?

Dave mostly was just our producer, but Beer Mug was doing things for sales, and he was doing things for other people and he would fill in at times. Ruben’s a phone screener. Do you have to fire him? That just makes no sense to me. He could answer phones whenever. They didn’t need a phone screener, he’d be happy to do anything. He’s that type of person. They didn’t even think about it. They just wrote a list of names that had anything to do with “Kevin & Bean” or “Kevin in the Mornings” and they just fired everybody. It just seems needlessly cruel.

How much of this is the new management? Did Kevin Weatherly’s departure open the door for this?

I’m just guessing now, but I think they don’t like paying money and it’s a tough economy right now so I think they offered Kevin Weatherly, who had been my program director for 28 years, 25% of what he was making. He said no and he walked away. And then they brought in the new guy and he’s been there for two or three weeks. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had a new job but it’s hard for me to believe that a new program director would come in and three weeks later fire an entire morning show that’s been there for about 30 years. You’re still getting the lay of the land at that point, so I’m just guessing but assumed that’s why he came here, to change everything up at KROQ. We were having trouble, we were struggling in the ratings, and see if they could make something else work. And I think they sent him in there with that [mandate] and I think he knew in the back of his mind that they would support that move 100% and it just happened.

Hadn’t they just brought in a team of consultants to work on the morning show and put you through this exercise?

That was Kevin Weatherly while he was still here. So we had three days of meetings and we went through all the kind of things we needed to change because people are listening differently and you’ve got to get to stuff more quickly, and the clock was changing. We fine-tuned everything, and we were doing everything that he said and we were like, “OK, this feels weird but we’ll get used to it.” Then Kevin left, the new guy came in and we were gone.

When Bean decided to leave, what were the conversations like in how the show would change? What did the company want to do? How did you end up with “Kevin in the Morning With Allie & Jensen”?

That was my, and all of ours, decision, and Kevin Weatherly was in those talks and he was great with it. Look, it took us two or three years, I think, when Bean and I started, to get people to stop full-time hating us. It’s a really long job arc to make it in L.A. radio in the mornings. You have to really dedicate time to it. I thought they’d give us at least a year. And I knew they didn’t want to pay us. And I was like, I love the challenge, I want to try and see if I can make it work so that they have to pay us when they need to. But that was never in their plans apparently, because we got three months. That isn’t even a chance. So clearly that was never going to be an option. You spend a lot of time trying to figure out, how can I keep myself mentally sane and emotionally happy and not be hurt because I poured my life into that place for over half over my life? And I was sort of fine with everything, because I knew the uglier side of radio. And I knew a lot of people get fired, it’s not a horrible thing to get fired in radio, you can go get another job. But I didn’t want to work anywhere else. So I sort of knew all of that was around the corner, but I just had hoped they would give us a shot at trying to make it work.

In this environment, isn’t it odd they’d want to have to launch a new show from scratch, rather than try to grow one with a pre-sold audience?

Here’s what Mike Kaplan, our new program director, probably doesn’t know. When we let Lisa May go, we made a huge mistake, and none of us had any idea what we were doing. But it was an honest mistake. She was let go in a very, very poor way. It was just so disturbing, everything about that was wrong. And then we were dumb enough to bring in Allie the next Monday. She took so much crap from so many people for so long because Lisa was treated so poorly. It had nothing to do with Allie, it had to do with [the fact that] people loved and were loyal to Lisa, and she was treated terribly, and then Allie was brought in way too soon, not having any say in that, she just came in and was ready to start working. And it was our huge mistake to bring her in then, because people needed more time. And they were pissed at us, and we couldn’t say much and we made that huge mistake. But he wasn’t here when that happened. So what happened to Lisa is exactly what’s happening to us and they are already bringing Stryker & Klein in. To me, boy, that’s a recipe for disaster. And I love those guys. I think they’re great, I think they’ll do fine, I think the company is setting them up to fail by moving them right in.

It feels like they’re throwing them to the wolves.
Yeah, and why would they do that? They’re really good people. So everything about this feels like being “really good people” is not a part of any of the decisions that were made.

You addressed this in your farewell, that management seems to constantly shoot itself in the foot. Old management, new management, that’s the one consistent thing: they seem to always do these transitions so poorly.

Yeah, why? I was mad when it happened to Lisa, I was really mad when it happened to Ralph. Ralph was here for 15 years and they did nothing for him. That was really hard. And they were like, “you can’t say anything.” We go, “all right.” This time, between the time when they asked me if I wanted to say goodbye and then the time I actually said goodbye, I found out that all of our part-timers were fired as well. And I was like, somebody needs to say something. I really wrote it out because I wanted to say it right. And I was very tame. Because I’ve been there for so long, and I’d seen so many people mistreated like that. Obviously not everybody, obviously a lot of time it was fun and we had a great time and we were creating and there were hurt feelings along the way. But there was some ugliness that happened and I hated it every single time and I didn’t understand and finally I just thought, if they’re going to do this again and radio just goes, “yeah, no one gives a crap, and we’re just going to treat you like dirt,” I at least need to say something.

So I wrote it out and I said exactly what I wanted to say. And I thought, man, that took a lot of restraint. I wanted to say so much worse. And then people were texting me, “Yeah! Burn the place down!” And I was like, what are you talking about? I tried desperately not to. I was really restrained, and it was very difficult because I’ve known a lot of the people who they’ve treated like that. And you’re right, different management and even different companies that owned us. But the same treatment. And that part of the business just made me crazy. You can do business and you can fire people without treating them like dirt and being cruel to them. I don’t know why that’s not a possibility in radio.

It does seem like what happened with both Lisa and Ralph really damaged the standing of “The Kevin & Bean Show.” Ratings-wise, you guys didn’t quite recover from it.

Nope, that’s true. I don’t know how to really talk about it, you’re right, it really hurt us, and it should have hurt us. Neither of the way either of them played out was any of our doing. And we were livid. Lisa’s worked with us forever, how can you treat her like this? And every time they said, you can’t say anything. Can’t comment, can’t talk to anybody, can’t go on social media, can’t reference it. It didn’t exist. And we would have to swallow that. And then we had to sit there and watch Allie get tortured for years because Lisa was treated poorly. And then the way Ralph left was handled really poorly. A guy who had given us 15 years and was a major part of our success, they just treated him like dirt. And we got the same thing: Can’t say anything, can’t comment, can’t talk to anybody, can’t respond on social media. It has to be like nothing happened. And that became a trend. This has got to stop, I don’t know if it will, but that was the only chance I was going to get to address it.

You said your farewell on Wednesday, and then what happened?

I came back to the station to say goodbye, and I was really livid at that point. Omar, Beer Mug and Ruben came in, and they were all just like, let’s figure out how to get through this. And they were fired, yet they were there when I got there to work. I was like, this is why I don’t understand why you got treated so poorly. But they were there and I didn’t want to say anything. I said I’m just going to say goodbye at 7:05, I’m not going to say anything until then, I’m not going to say anything afterwards. I wanted to say it right because it was a big injustice and if I could do anything to correct it, I wanted to. I have a way of screwing up words so I wrote it all out to make sure that I was saying what I wanted to say. I said it and I left, and I came home and it was 8 a.m. on Wednesday and I went to bed. I woke up from my nap and I had 64 texts from people, and everybody was outraged, and I was so pleasantly shocked that people cared that much. There’s a lot of love on Twitter.

But my goal is not to take down KROQ. I want them to step up and be better people. But I don’t want people to boycott them or stop listening to them, or whatever. So I woke up and saw the response and turned it off immediately just because it was hard enough for me to be in a good mental space without seeing people outraged, because then it made me more outraged. I turned off my phone and went about my day. My daughter called me and said, “Did you see all the online stuff?” I said I’m not going to read it for a while. She said, “Why don’t you just go back to it in a week when you get angry and depressed and read it?” I said that’s what I’ll do.

The reaction was overwhelming.

It’s always weird for me, it’s been like family in the studio. We argue behind the scenes and we talk about things and we create stuff, and we sort of try to have a super lighthearted attitude. And it’s hard for us even when people come up and say, “You guys really mean a lot to us.” I have never known how to handle it, so when I saw that online I didn’t know how to respond or not respond, or what to say or not to say. My plan was not to say anything, until they fired everybody. I was really happy, by the way, that Bean didn’t have to go through that. I was happy we got to celebrate somebody and say goodbye. And that was one of my first thoughts: “Wow, Bean had it so much better.” And I wasn’t jealous, but I was happy he didn’t have to feel that. He texted me immediately. It’s been a long road.

Bean’s final episode was, in some ways, at least a chance to look back at the show and have a bit of a farewell on air like that.

I agree, and be celebrated, and the magic of that show is we didn’t plan a second of it. Bean wouldn’t let us. So we started winging it. And people called and they were spaced apart like we had produced it or something. We were winging it, and I don’t know how it turned out that well, that was a miracle. We’ve spent a lot more time planning shows that have gone straight south. And we don’t spend any time planning that, and it went really well.

I know the team communicates on WhatsApp. How’s everyone doing? What’s the conversation been like?

It’s a lot of going back and forth and making light of the situation and talking about what happened, and responses that we’re getting. And we’re making fun of each other, trying to stay lighthearted, because it really does suck to come to that kind of an end. But, if you were to tell me before I took the job that this is how it would end, I would have taken the job because it was great. Even though it really sucked how it ended, we’re trying to focus on what an amazing run we had. I called Jensen and was like, “Dude, I’m so sorry.” And he said, “You know what? It was a great opportunity and I had a chance to do it, and I would have been mad at myself if I didn’t. So I’m just happy that I tried.” We talked the entire day Tuesday, and we were all good. It hurt. People were like, “burn the place down!” But if I were trying to burn the place down I want another shot at it. Because I know so much stuff. Honestly there’s a lot of negative stuff about me too that people know, so I didn’t really want to, but I was really softballing it. And I was surprised by how much response there was.

You guys had been there for 30 years, but it didn’t seem like you could throw your weight around there.

Honestly, we could for a while. But also during that time, things were really good, the economy was good, the ratings were good. So it all kind of changed. We did as much as we could. I went in and battled for Lisa and lost, and then went in and battled for Ralph and I lost. I don’t mean just trying to get them to stay but trying to figure out a way to treat them as human beings. And no one paid any attention. So that was sort of on the backend of all the success and everybody else. We had a lot of say, leading up to the last four or five years. After that, less and less. Until now, almost none. But that’s how it works.

It’s probably way too soon to discuss what might be next, but might there be a possibility of trying to move the show elsewhere?

There hasn’t been up to this point because we didn’t want to go anywhere else. To me, the dream was staying at KROQ. Once that’s gone, I’m still trying to process and getting some rest. I assume we will, we’re all creative people, I like being creative and I know we’ll do something, maybe in the podcast world, I don’t have any idea. Maybe another radio station. But right now I’m in recovery mode and getting my mind right, getting positive, getting rest. And then I can move on in two or seven years, whenever that happens.

Have you heard from KROQ management since your farewell statement?

From anyone who’s still employed there? Of course not. But I heard from Kevin Weatherly, our former boss who left a month ago. I was talking to him last night and he was like, “Listen. I’m angry too. It really sucks the way it happened but try to put things in perspective. Think about the 31 years, think about the crazy cartoon life you had for 31 years because of this, and all the highs and lows. It’s a major achievement.” Actually avoiding what happened two days ago for 31 years is a miracle for me! To be in Los Angeles at a station as great as KROQ and be able to just avoid being fired, even if I didn’t accomplish anything is a miracle. Because no one does that. No one’s able to. Because radio is such a cutthroat, short-attention span business.

Those early years, could you ever imagine making it to No. 1 and sticking around for 30-plus years?

Oh God no. I’ve said this before, my dream was to make it six months before we get fired. We were going to get fired. But if I could make it to six months, I could write in my resume that I worked at KROQ for six months. And that’s as big as I could ever dream. And then we did break through, but only after three or four solid years of trying did we stop getting made fun of and people started actually listening. It’s a long, hard road in L.A. radio in the morning. It’s very difficult and people have the shows they’re comfortable with and they don’t change a lot. When we first started, Mark & Brian were huge and everyone was calling us Mark & Brian wannabes. And we were like, “we haven’t really heard them, we’re not from here. But we’re just going to keep doing our thing and see if we can make it through.” And we finally did, but it was only because we had the time to do it. It was a different day.

It was an incredible ride.

It was really crazy. My daughter said, “Yeah, you really have had a cartoon life.” That was a perfect way to say it. The highs are way too high and the lows are way too low, and it’s all a roller coaster, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. But I sure am tired.

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