Cumulus wants Ralph Barbieri to take a pay cut

Can you imagine KNBR without Ralph Barbieri, the station’s first sports talk host? Well hold onto your Amici’s box, because there’s a chance the Razor might not be around much longer.

I have to admit I check out Rich Lieberman’s website every now and again, and I was surprised by what he wrote on Monday about the happenings in Cumulus land, since I hadn’t heard anything about the following being a possibility:

So I asked one of the sources about Barbieri’s future at KNBR. “If they don’t renew his deal, it’ll be ‘ugly.” Barbieri’s current contract, said to be around the $350-400K salary range, is up at the end of the year. Barbieri has been at the station since 1984, KNBR’s senior air personality.

While he’s still a big name in the local broadcast market and his ratings with co-host Tom Tolbert are the tops in the 3-7, afternoon time slot, Barbieri’s exorbitant salary, (by Cumulus standards) may not be worth it all. Reasons? Numerous off days. Too much coziness with certain local sports franchise heads. The natives, (corporate, may be tired, and the high compensation is a factor.)

“One thing is for sure–Tolbert will stay,” said one source close to the station. “And Tolbert can handle a solo job.”

Unlike some, I’m not opposed to giving credit where it’s due. When Lieberman reported that Barbieri might be on the outs, I checked around to see if there was anything to it — and indeed there is. From what I’m told Cumulus isn’t exactly against renewing Barbieri’s contract, but they definitely want him to take a significant pay cut.

While Barbieri’s attendance record and frequent tardiness might annoy Bill Bungeroth and other Cumulus execs, that’s probably not the major sticking point. Even though “The Razor and Mr. T” performs well in the ratings, Cumulus knows that Barbieri doesn’t have a ton of options. He’s firmly rooted in the area, and his act wouldn’t play nationally anyway (or in any other local market, for that matter). In years past perhaps he would have jumped to KGO or at least threatened to, but they’re owned by Cumulus now, as well. And it’s hard to imagine 95.7 FM “The Game” would offer Barbieri anywhere near what he’s making now, seeing as they already have a full lineup and presumably know Barbieri’s bargaining position — which right now doesn’t seem all that strong.

CSN Bay Area doesn’t really seem like a fit either. They don’t have a radio station, and while it’s possible a PTI-style show featuring Barbieri and Tolbert could perform relatively well — actually, Tolbert already kind of does this with Ray Ratto and others on “Chronicle Live Blitz” — would Comcast want to pay Barbieri $400K or whatever he’s currently pulling as a host at KNBR?

Chances are we’ll never find out. For as many people complain about Barbieri’s insanely long questions and his, err, distinctive voice, KNBR without Barbieri doesn’t seem possible. He’s been there since 1984 and he gets people worked up on a regular basis. Radio stations aren’t looking for people whose voices drift into the background, they want people like Barbieri who provoke some sort of response — positive or negative.

My guess: they’ll get Barbieri to take some sort of pay cut (not that we’d ever find out for sure, since Cumulus wouldn’t announce it and neither would Barbieri) and the suits will keep a closer eye on him. Bungeroth already made it clear to Lee Hammer that the days of wearing Giants gear to work are over — if Barbieri’s contract was renewed Cumulus would probably make it clear that he needs to work at least four days out of every five, and that strolling in at 3:48 pm is unacceptable.

And who knows, maybe Barbieri will even be forced to do ads for companies other than Amici’s, too. Naaahhhhh…

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