Larry Wachs teared up during his opening monologue on the Regular Guys show on Rock 100.5 Tuesday morning, the first day after Eric Von Haessler had been fired.
"Who knew we'd be successful for 18 years," Wachs said. "It's an incredible run, a remarkable relationship we had. That's what made it work. We had vast differences but had a common kind of crazy."
Wachs understands the strong reaction he's seen and heard so far since the news broke yesterday. "We have a deep fan base," he said. "I heard shock from the Internets. What you're saying is you care. That means a lot...but I ask you when it has never been crazy here? Eric just didn't want to be here. It became obvious to every level of this company."
Wachs said Von Haessler's future is bright. He watched his former colleague's documentary about Drivin' n' Cryin' twice. "It's that good," he said. "He has skills. He'll find his way." At that point, he started crying. "I suspect that we will cross paths again either socially or professionally. I want you to know that."
In the second segment after a commercial break, "Southside" Steve Rickman joined Wachs. They took calls. Elizabeth from Kennesaw, a listener since 1998, said "you make me laugh. This morning, you made me cry." Her favorite moment was Von Haessler getting drunk on the air. Rickman said he's the "weakest guy when it comes to getting drunk."
Wachs acknowledged that the show's ratings were not at their peak. (The most recent Nielsen Audio ratings had the show ranked 18th overall, 16th among 25 to 54 year olds and 8th among 18 to 34 year olds.) "Our numbers," he said, "while not bad, were not anything to brag about. We're underperforming. The reality is: we work for a company that pays our salary. We have to play by the rules."
His boss John Dickey yesterday told me that the station is trying to broaden its appeal to women. When a caller asked him about this, he said this doesn't mean the Regular Guys will imitate the Bert Show or Steve & Vikki. He noted that their bonuses are based on rankings with men 25 to 54. "We've put all our efforts into that," he said. "We forgot about the wider culture." He said outside their first program director, they haven't had a lot of direction from their bosses before.
The goal: "Make it more palatable to an adult audience.... We'll try to appeal a little more broadly so we can compete in the marketplace."
Von Haessler's signature "news jog" will continue with fill in guests for now. "You will hear some new voices on the show," Wachs said. "We'll experiment.... We'll shuffle people around to get them in the right places." (The first sub was a woman, which implies that they may be open to adding a female to the team.)
He compared the Regular Guys to a reality show. "You'll see the crazy and we'll have fun doing it but not a lot of fighting and bickering. That's the hallmark for the Regular Guys show but people get tired of it. It tastes like a**. I love ravioli but not 18,000 times. So we're going to change some of the dynamics. We'll keep some of the favorites and discard stuff that doesn't work anymore."
Wachs said his on-air comments are the only things he's going to say about Von Haessler, that he won't be doing interviews. (He proceeded to call me a "lazy junk reporter" but a "good person." I'll take that. He and I have a long history. I interviewed him when he was a night jock at a top 40 station in 1985 as a 10th grade English class assignment on Long Island. I got a 97 and at the time, he said he felt he could do a Howard Stern-type show and thrive. He has.)
During the third segment of the 6 a.m. hour, he also noted without being specific that his bosses at Atlanta-based Cumulus Media "gave Eric a solid. And they didn't have to." (That makes me think Eric was compensated fairly for getting cut before the end of his contract in January, 2014.)
In the fourth and final 6 a.m. hour segment, a caller named Chris said he felt Wachs interrupted Von Haessler's thoughts too much. "It seemed like you really picked apart what he was saying," the caller said. "Eric was a foundation of the show. I loved Eric. He's one of the reasons I listen to the show. I loved his dry sense of humor. I have a feeling that you had some part in him being let go."
"We all did," Wachs responded. "Look. Including Eric. He made a choice. We all make choices in life.... People change and relationships change. That's what happened here. I couldn't move him off the show. Throughout the years, my experience has been that all the companies that hired us said, 'You guys better get along. We hired both of you.' They wanted Larry and Eric. That's the message I've gotten." (That is, until now.)
Michael Parnell, a fan of the show, gave a cogent reason why he liked the show the way it was to program director Troy Hanson. He .cced me on the entire sequence. Here it is:
Hi Troy -
While I'm sure you're getting a lot of angry, ranting e-mails from The Regular Guys Show's lowest common denominator of fan, I wanted to drop you a more serious line.
So you understand the demographic, I'm 32, single, have a graduate degree, and am a management consultant. (I only say this because I think some industry folks believe that TRG is not a white collar show, and I'm proof that it is, or was, rather.)
I've been a loyal, devoted listener since the first time I stumbled onto The Regular Guys Show in 1999. I've been heartbroken every time these guys were fired, and elated every time they came back.
I am disappointed with the decision to part ways with Eric Von Haessler. I understand it was a business decision. I've listened to the show long enough to know there may have even been some personal reasons as well. All that said, I believe it was a poor business choice. I certainly cannot be the only long, long time listener of this show who feels his loyalty wasn't considered in the decision. Maybe it's not worth as much as I think it is, but I can certainly guarantee I won't be listening to this show anymore.
Mr. Von Haessler's voice and contributions to the show were what brought me back day after day. In my humble opinion, his daily opinion on current events was the best and most insightful point of view I could find anywhere. No national talk radio show, no political talk radio show, no cable news network, no news blog, no politics website, no Wall Street Journal or NY Times opinion piece could touch him. He was frequently days or weeks ahead of opinions that would find their way in mainstream media. This is no small feat, and I believe that his talent will be found far more valuable elsewhere.
In addition to being knowledgeable about news and current events, he provided balance and wit, and did a phenomenal job showing levity and respect to the listeners in a room full of strong egos and personalities. He laughed at the same things that would make me laugh, and was lightening quick with reactions to anything happening around him. Not easy at 6 AM. With him at the mic, I truly felt that I was sitting in the room with them every time I listened. Without his presence, there really isn't much reason for me to listen anymore, sadly.
I have tremendous respect for Larry, Steve, and Tim, and certainly wish them all the best. I know this isn't the first time in radio this has happened. After fourteen years, I feel like I know this show and its personalities very well. I beeve this was a poor decision, and it will be a long road ahead in bringing what remains back on top. For you to choose to partially rebuild a listener base, in the condition the radio market is in today, I really cannot understand.
Here's what Hanson wrote (and it was apparently a "canned" response he sent to multiple fans)
Michael – Much thanks for taking some time out of your day to shoot me a note about the programming on Rock 100.5. I’m always appreciative, regardless of content or comment when someone takes time out of their busy day to sit down and write me a note about what they like or dislike (hey we can’t like or love everything ya know!!). It tells me that you care, and I like that – a lot!
We of course wish Eric well in his future endeavors, and hope that you will give the show a chance to find its way. The show will very much continue to exist and all your favorite players from the show remain. In fact, we look forward to some new additions being thrown into the mix to make the show an even stronger part of your morning connection to all things funny, informative & pop culture driven. I’d like to ask that you absorb the show over the next 30-60 days and shoot me back a note with your thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc. We very much value your opinion as a loyal listener of TRG & Rock 100.5. I look forward to hearing back from you Michael and thank you once again for sending me this email.
My best - th
Program Director Rock 100.5 Atlanta
Cumulus Media Inc.
Michael's response to Troy's response:
I appreciate the thoughtful response; and on a day like to day it must be tough to reply to each e-mail. I also appreciate the invitation to listen, but at this time that is something I simply cannot and will not do. Your description of the show as "my morning connection for all things funny, innovative, and pop culture driven" sounds like a boiler-plate description of the typical morning drive-time radio show that can be found on thousands of radio stations across the country. I could not be less interested in a show like that. I want a show that is intelligent, thought-provoking, and uniquely funny.
The Regular Guys Show was more than the sum of its parts and anyone who has listened to this show when one of these gentlemen was absent would be able to tell that's the case. It was not just another morning show for a top 10 market, despite the fact that it struggled to take hold in syndication. I'm very sorry that you weren't able to see that. There's a reason Larry and Eric found themselves linked together over and over and over despite their personal differences. Chemistry is chemistry, and you can put someone else in the man's chair, but it just won't work the same way.
Perhaps in the new year, I'll give it another listen, but I can't imagine it will make me a 14-year listener. I used to talk about this show to anyone who would listen. How often does a radio show get evangelism like that? I suppose we'll soon find out