Now that it’s official that Ralph Barbieri was let go by KNBR, let’s take a look at what this huge change will mean to the local radio stations. The Razor’s termination will surely have a ripple effect throughout the market. It’s already had an effect on Tom Tolbert, who was very emotional at the start of today’s show.
1. Why was Barbieri let go now?
Without a way to contact him directly, we’re left to speculate. Barbieri’s attendance record has always been spotty, with plenty of tardies marking his tenure. Recently, I can remember several times where Barbieri showed up anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes past the show’s 3 pm start time.
Also, Barbieri’s aggressive negotiating ploy (telling everyone he has Parkinson’s shortly before his contract expired) couldn’t have made the suits at Cumulus very happy. They were in a position where letting Barbieri walk would make them look cold-hearted, and possibly even open themselves up to a potential discrimination lawsuit. After renewing Barbieri’s deal shortly after the Parkinson’s story came out, Cumulus was probably documenting every single time Barbieri showed up late, called in sick, spent over 2 minutes asking a single question, etc. Plus, Barbieri was making a ton of money. There’s always that.
2. Will Tom Tolbert go solo from 3-to-7?
It would seem doubtful, as the station has gone away from solo acts on the radio except late in the evening (Sportsphone 680) and on their sister station (Damon Bruce, who they tried to pair with Gary Radnich). Based on how KNBR usually does things when there’s instability in their lineup, they’ll probably set up a rotating group of co-hosts to work with Tolbert, like Ted Robinson, Ray Ratto and Kevin Lynch.
Another option is to move Bruce back to 680 and pair him up with Tolbert, who’d surely handle the situation much more gracefully than Radnich did back in August.
3. Where does Barbieri go from here?
The early guess by many is he’ll be a prime candidate to move over to 95.7 “The Game.” Signing Barbieri would be a huge coup for the upstart sports talk station, since even though many people disliked Barbieri either for his voice, politics or long-winded interviewing style, Barbieri’s a fiery guy. Just hearing what he had to say about KNBR on the competing station would be must-listen radio.
A few things stand in the way of Barbieri heading to the FM side of the dial. First, Barbieri’s used to a pretty high salary, somewhere in the six-figure range. There’s no way Entercom would pay Barbieri what he’s used to making. Second, would the station touting themselves as the youthful alternative to the stodgy AM station hire a 66-year-old who was KNBR’s preeminent host? Third, which time slot would Barbieri get, and who would be his co-host? The Game’s lineup seems pretty well set — it’s pretty hard to imagine a scenario where they move Brandon Tierney to another slot and put Barbieri with Eric Davis, and it’s impossible to imagine Tierney and Barbieri working together.
4. Will KNBR experience any backlash?
After 25+ years working for the station, it seems pretty harsh to kick Barbieri to the curb and call it a “management decision.” Forget the Parkinson’s issue for a second — Barbieri was the station’s first sports talk host (correction: he was one of the first, but he was preceded by Dave Newhouse). He and Tolbert had the best ratings of any KNBR program besides Giants games. While fans have a love-hate relationship with him, others who’ve worked with him, such as Dan Dibley and Bruce (who ended his show talking about Barbieri and said, “There was substance to Ralph Barbieri … I deeply respect Ralph and I feel for him terribly.”), have voiced their surprise and dismay.
Remember, KNBR’s parent company (Cumulus) is already hated by many after they gutted KGO at the end of 2011. If they don’t get out in front of this issue, Barbieri’s going to let everyone know how poorly he was treated in the end. As much as everyone likes to complain about radio hosts, Barbieri is now a sympathetic figure to many, and his absence won’t be forgotten.
5. Who’s next on the chopping block?
Radnich is off on his normal spring break vacation, and is scheduled to return on Friday. Bob Fitzgerald and Rod Brooks aren’t exactly the most popular hosts in the world; Fitz in particular has several detractors. After cutting ties with their longest-tenured and most famous host, is anyone else in danger of losing his job? I haven’t heard anything, but anyone making big money has to be a little nervous today.
6. What about Amici’s?
It sounds like a joke, but there isn’t a host-sponsor relationship in the region that compares with Barbieri’s marriage with the East Coast pizza outfit. His name’s on the box, and his passionate, rambling spots for Amici’s are what a lot of people brought up on Twitter in the minutes after the news broke. Will Amici’s turn to another host to talk up their pizzas, pastas and salads? Or will they help grease the runway (yes, pun intended) for Barbieri to get another job elsewhere?
In all seriousness, this is a weird day for Bay Area sports and local media. We’ll keep tabs on this story and where Barbieri ends up. I doubt we’ve heard the last from The Razor.