Radio: December 2, 2016
“I’m getting a little tired talking about me,” quips legendary DJ Shotgun Tom Kelly. “Let’s talk about you ... Have you heard my show?”
It’s one of my favorite Shotgun lines. Unfortunately, as of late last month, I haven’t. Or perhaps the better word is can’t ... as KRTH (101.1 FM) let go of Kelly as part of a pre-holiday CBS bloodletting. In addition to Kelly, KRTH let go of longtime mid-day personality Jim Carson, who had been with the station for 22 years, while Tami Heide was cut from sister stations KCBS-FM (93.1) and KROQ (106.7 FM).
Obviously the cuts are aimed at making the stations more desirable to potential buyers; the spinoff of all CBS-owned radio stations that was expected to happen next year has been moved up to as early as the end of this year. I’ll be watching this and letting you know the details as they arrive.
Kelly had been with the station as afternoon drive personality for 18 years until almost exactly one year ago when he was moved to weekends, combined with new duties as the station’s “ambassador.” Duties included live appearances with listeners, meeting with clients, and generally helping to make the station stand out in the eyes and ears of the listening and advertising community.
“I was very pleased to become the ambassador, and I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend the last year meeting with clients and listeners,” Kelly told me. “Meeting with fans of me and the station ... signing autographs ... hearing stories about them listening to me and the station for the past (almost) 20 years ... it was a hoot.”
Officially, CBS is eliminating the position of ambassador. No other reason was given, though Kelly has two years left on his contract so presumably the cut doesn’t necessarily mean savings for CBS. What it probably does do is shift some costs away from the station (and presumably the same can be said of Carson and Heide’s situation ... and any similar cuts from CBS stations nationwide), to the parent company, making the station group more appealing to a potential buyer or buyers.
For his part, Kelly has no hard feelings. “I had quite a run,” he told me. “Almost 20 years at K-Earth, the longest run of my career, was a tremendous experience. And everything I’ve experienced here has been amazing. From receiving radio awards” (he received personality of the year multiple times) “to being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame ... I am humbled. Most of all, I'll miss speaking with those incredible listeners daily.”
I’ve been listening to Kelly since I discovered radio and heard him on KCBQ (1170 AM) in San Diego back in the early 1970s. This is one of the few times in my life that I haven’t been able to hear him. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily last long.
I don’t plan to retire,” he says. Right now he’s working on a television pilot with friend and former KRTH programmer Jhani Kaye entitled “Shotgun Tom Kelly’s Neighborhoods,” which takes viewers on video tours of areas around Southern California -- using modern production technology including drones -- not done as entertainingly since the great Ralph Story highlighted Los Angeles decades ago. See a sample of it on YouTube (http://tinyurl.com/KellyNeighborhoods).
Along with commercials, voiceovers, announcing and more, Kelly plans to stay active. Is radio out of the question? “Absolutely not,” he said. “I’d love to be back on radio of the right opportunity came up.” As one of the nicest, most knowledgable ... and talented ... people in radio, I hope that opportunity comes up soon.