It took oldies station WMXJ six months of hard looking to find a new morning man after the legendary Rick Shaw announced his retirement in November 2006. And now the man who replaced him, Bruce Kelly, has barely lasted longer than the search. Kelly was sacked Friday moments after finishing his regular morning show at 10 a.m. "My feet were too little for the big shoes of Rick Shaw," Kelly told me sardonically. "Well, you know what they say about guys with little feet. So it was either a firing or an implant."
Kelly's one-year contract was up for renewal (his first shift on the air was finishing up the final hour of Shaw's farewell show last May 11) and WMXJ boss Bob Hamilton told him it wouldn't be renewed. "It was the old 'we-want-to-go-in-a-new-direction,'" Kelly said. He thinks the cause was ratings, which he says boomed initially but then flattened out. He brought some innovations to the station that have already been widely imitated in the industry, including a daily YouTube show and Friday hour where listeners get to play their old 45s on the air. But it was sometimes a hard sell to Shaw's old listeners. (One irate caller, demanding Shaw's return, sputtered to Kelly: "You have the personality of a dead worm!" He put the call on the air.)
"After first couple of months, the we-hate you-or-anybody-who's not Rick calls subsided," he said. "It was all good. But it takes time and patience to build a radio show. It's like when Jay Leno replaced Johnny Carson. You have to change the look of the set, the nature of the humor, and be patient with the audience that wanted Johnny and not Jay. And you've got to promote it right, too.But you stick with it, and after a while, Jay is doing as well as or better than Johnny. That's the patience and promotion I didn't get."
But, he added: "This is not a diatribe about anyone at Majic. This is the nature of the beast of radio
in this day and age -- they want instant results."
I've put in some calls to WMXJ, but haven't heard from anyone there yet -- though Kelly's bio has already been removed from the station's website, which now refers to the 5:30-to-10 a.m. show as Majic in the Morning rather than Bruce and Donna in the Morning. ("Doesn't surprise me," cracked Kelly. "This is radio -- it's worse than the Kremlin.") No word on the fate of Kelly's broadcast partner Donna Davis, who was on vacation Friday.
The obvious question is whether WMXJ will change formats; oldies stations are disappearing around the country at a rapid clip as programmers search for something to lure younger listeners. WMXJ for the past couple of years has sometimes seemed to be in the midst of a slow-motion format change, dumping first the music of the 1950s and then the early '60s, while adding more '70s and even a few '80s records to the mix. "The media year for the music now is probably 1969," admitted Kelly. Nonetheless, he doesn't expect a format change. "They'll just hire a new morning man," he said. "Or maybe they've already got somebody in mind."
As for Kelly, he's not sure what he's going to do. Moving his family to Miramar from the Washington D.C. area, where he was working as program director of several of the oldies channels on XM Satellite Radio, wasn't easy, and he's not anxious to leave leave the Miami area again. (In his first stint, from 1979 to 1981, he was a program director and DJ at Y-100 and the old 96X top 40 stations.) Oddly playful for a guy who just lost his job, he mused that he probably lost his job "for playing Clambake and They're Coming To Take Me Away one time too often" in defiance of the computerized WMXJ playlist.
Then he fastened on a new culprit: Me. I've been a telephone guest on Kelly's show a few times, talking about TV. "Every time you started to talk, we could see the needle dropping to the floor," Kelly told me with a straight face. Man, I hope so. Now all I've got to do get booked as a contestant on Survivor, American Idol and a couple of other shows, and I can really clean up TV.
But that's not going to help Kelly. "Let's just say my contract didn't run to the year 2525," he said.