Who wins and loses after the Zone Mayhem firing?

Steak Shapiro on CNN

The asteroid in the form of a poorly conceived radio skit hit hard yesterday.

Now it's time to study the wreckage of the "Mayhem in the AM" firing. People continue to debate if the firing was an over reaction or a proper punishment over the Steve Gleason/ALS bit.  Media professionals I interviewed tended to show more sympathy toward Mayhem's plight than folks who have family members who died from ALS. That's understandable.

Ultimately, who are potential winners and losers?


* 92.9/The Game. Whenever one station loses key personalities, direct rivals might be able to steal away listeners. Fans of Mayhem of the AM will scatter if the replacement show (whatever that may be) is lacking. Perhaps they'll sample the Game's morning show featuring Randy Cross, Rick Kamla and Kristen Ledlow. The eight-month-old FM station, despite its strong signal, has been slow to pick up listeners and could use anything to get a lift. 

"They don't seem to have enough compelling personalities," said Mike Rose, a former WGST program director and now a mortgage banker. The Game's best month to date has been January. In May, it drew a mere 0.7 share (ranked 23rd) and during the day, lagged behind the Zone and the Fan. But at least its ratings went up from April and its morning show among 25 to 54 year olds was only slightly behind Mayhem.

Terry Foxx, the program director for the Game, declined to comment.

* The Rude Awakening on 680/The Fan. Christopher Rude has helmed a successful, stable morning show on rival Fan for more than a decade. He just signed a three-year extension last week. His ratings have been competitive with those of Mayhem. Among 25 to 54 year olds this year, Rude has averaged a 1.1 share through May while Mayhem had a 1.0 share. Mayhem's departure can't hurt them. "People know what they get with us," said David Dickey, his boss. "Quality programming and responsible talk show hosts."

* The Regular Guys on Rock 100.5. Mayhem in the AM shares listeners with Rock 100.5's the Regular Guys, which may not delve too much into sports but provides a comparable male-centric point of view. In their younger days at what was then 96rock, the show got fired in 2004 and again in 2006 for different transgressions. But since they returned to the airwaves in 2008 on Rock 100.5, they've kept themselves out of trouble. Ratings have gone up and down, with the younger listener audience (18-34) growing in recent months since Rock's music mix began skewing younger. Host Larry Wachs talked about the situation this morning on the show and given what happened to him, he was empathetic towards Mayhem. "If they [in this case, Lincoln Financial] want to dump your contract, they'll come up with some flimsy excuse," Wachs said. "And they're on a signal that's prehistoric." Co-host Eric Von Haessler dismissed the whole to-do as "phony outrage."

* ALS awareness. For folks who don't know much about ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), they may know more now. People may give money to Gleason's charity, too. There's no doubt: it's a horrible, deblitating disease nobody would wish upon their worst enemy.


* Chris Dimino, Nick Cellini, Steve "Steak Shapiro." In the near term, they no longer have their primary source of income. That's got to hurt. They were likely fired for cause, which means zero severance.

Dimino still has a gig with Comcast Sports Southeast, though I'm not sure if CSS will keep him. Shapiro runs his own shop Atlanta Eats. I'm not sure what their noncompete clauses say but they may force the trio off the radio airwaves for six months even if someone else wanted them.

The big question is: will they ever work again in Atlanta radio? Chuck Dowdle, former veteran Channel 2 Action News sportscaster, said he thought they all could find jobs down the road: "I'd love to see them have another opportunity. I do think they're all very talented." They all have deep experience in the business and established fan bases. (Shapiro has an especially strong anti-Steak base as well, but that type of intense negative feelings doesn't necessarily stop people from listening.)

Of the people I interviewed, Dimino received especially high marks. "He's got something special in the way he interviews people," said Bill Hartman, a Channel 2 Action News sports anchor. "I hate it for those dudes," said "Southside" Steve Rickman of the Regular Guys. "I'm not a Steak fan. I love the other two. Dimino is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He helped with me when I did my first Braves spring training in 1995. I was with Cellini on a TNT junket. He was great." Wachs, on the air, called them all "credible sports guys. They have a lot of talent. They were caught in a political game. Their station is in dire straits." 

Dickey of the Fan didn't say he would never hire them but didn't give them a ringing endorsement either. The Game's Foxx, as noted, didn't comment. Clearly, we'll see how people see things in a few months time. The Regular Guys were able to get back on air after getting dropped twice so you never know.

* 790/The Zone. Station management has not responded to inquiries about who will replace Mayhem in the AM. Shapiro, Cellini and Dimino were integral parts of the Zone for their entire run going back to 1997. Shapiro owned the station for 13 years. Losing the trio is a blow to the station's image, no matter what the circumstances. It's unclear what Lincoln Financial's intentions are down the road for the Zone. The station is in the weakest position among the three sports talk stations simply because it has the weakest signal and Lincoln has not found a suitable FM simulcast signal like the Fan has. They will save some money in the short term via salary, but their ability to draw endorsements may be weakened.

* The Falcons. The team has a long-term flagship deal with the Zone. Sure, the Falcons had zero to do with this, but it's more negativity by association. The Falcons want people to hear them on the Zone and if fewer people are listening to the Zone as a result of this mess, that can't help the team.

On an ancillary track, I asked Marshall Chiles, a stand-up comic and owner of Laughing Skull Lounge, about the joke itself, which featured Cellini playing Gleason in a computerized voice and doing knock knock jokes asking them to kill him and going to hell.

"It was not funny. The reason it wasn't funny, it was based on being malicious. You can do jokes in my opinion about pretty much anything as long as you're not malicious. They had a bully mentality. It caught up with them. You can laugh at someone falling down the stairs as long as they don't get hurt. They violated what people consider appropirate good human behavior."

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