Neil Rogers, for three decades one of South Florida's most popular radio voices as well as one of its most controversial, walked away from his job Monday with a fat buyout check and a declaration that his broadcasting days are over.
Rogers, 66, and WQAM-AM 560 jointly announced that he is leaving the station and that
his 10 a.m.-to-2 p.m. slot will be filled with a sports-talk show. His last show aired Friday.
"WQAM decided they wanted to go with an all-sports format, all the time," said Norm Kent, Rogers' attorney. "They made an attractive offer on the balance of his contract, and Neil took it."
Though Rogers technically remains employed as a WQAM consultant, his website, www.neilrogers.com, declared the buyout an "early retirement," and Kent said his client has no intention of returning to the air.
"It's well known how much money he's made on radio over the years, and he's talked on the air for years about retiring," Kent said. "When WQAM made its offer, he decided, ‘Why not?' If he wants to come back, there's no noncompete clause in the contract. I could get him a deal at [radio chain] Clear Channel tomorrow. But he's not interested."
Rogers had more than five years left on his deal with WQAM, which was just renewed -- at an undisclosed cut from his previous $1.5 million annual salary -- in April 2008. His show was the only non-sports programming on WQAM.
Officials at neither WQAM nor corporate parent Beasley Broadcast Group were available for comment Monday. In a press release, though, Beasley vice president Joe Bell noted that ‘‘Rogers was a ratings leader in Miami for years and we’re happy that we could reach a new accord that works well for both parties."
Rogers was pulled off the air for a day last month after WQAM's seven-second delay failed while he was reading aloud a listener's e-mail that included a deadly four-letter word. But Kent said the incident had nothing to do with Rogers' departure from the station.
The more likely trigger is a change in the technology that the radio-ratings company Arbitron uses to track audiences. Arbitron has always compiled its ratings from written diaries kept by listeners, who often write down the names of familiar shows rather than keeping careful track of whom they actually listen to.
But now Arbitron is equipping its South Florida sample listeners with devices it calls ‘‘portable people meters'' that clip onto a belt or pocket and -- using computer codes embedded in the broadcast -- record exactly what station or show is being listened to. The meters have jolted the radio world wherever they have been introduced.
"There are personalities all across the country, major names in major markets, who've lost jobs because the meters showed something the stations didn't want to see," said Perry Michael Simon, the news-talk-sports editor of www.allaccess.com, a website that reports on the radio industry. "And South Florida stations are starting to see results from the meters."
Kent acknowledged that WQAM executives mentioned the meters during the talks over Rogers' future that began about three weeks ago. "They said they needed to juice up the station's ratings as the meters started," he said. "They said they wanted a five-day-a-week host this summer." But Rogers, whose contract requires him to work only two days a week during the summer months, refused, Kent said.
For more on Rogers, read the story I wrote with colleagues Robert Samuels and Elinor J. Brecher in Tuesday's Miami Herald.