Veteran radio personalities Gary Owens and Al Lohman, whose morning radio show on KFI-AM (640) was a combination of verbal banter, improvisation and music, were let go Wednesday because of the station's shift to a format heavy with news, talk and so-called "shock radio" elements.
"I guess they felt we just didn't fit the direction they wanted to go," Lohman said. "You can call it shock or schlock radio whichever you prefer."
However, both Lohman and Owens called it an "amicable parting" and emphasized that the station's switch last year from an adult contemporary format to news-talk made their morning show appear out of step with the rest of the station's programming. The two had first gone on the air in June, 1987.
The team's last show together was Wednesday morning, and Owens appeared alone in their time period on Thursday. He will continue as the morning show host until a replacement can be found, according to station publicist Mike Venema.
Said Program Director George Oliva: "My interest at this point is in continuing to build not only a highly entertaining but also a highly informative, topical profile for KFI-AM's morning show."
The team filled the air waves with their unique brand of humor from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday.
"Everything has to fit contextually, I guess," Lohman said. "We became a sore thumb. . . . I think we were the right act at the wrong station."
"It's not an ogre of a corporation saying 'You scum, get out,' it's just a change in format," Owens said. "I'm not unhappy about the situation. It's not a bad thing at all."
Owens, who owns several radio stations in other parts of the country, has acted in several movies and has a film production company, said he is looking forward to other ventures.
"Right now this may be fortuitous for me because it will give me a chance to segue into other things," Owens said.
Both men, whose contracts had time left, said they received "generous" settlements from the station when informed that they were being let go.
In a prepared statement released Thursday, Oliva said: "In the two years that Gary and Al have hosted mornings at KFI the station has undergone a complete format change, from that of a full-service adult contemporary station to a talk-radio format with an emphasis on news and information. We have been making increasing efforts to become more competitive and need to lend more continuity to KFI's programming day. Clearly this is no reflection on Gary and Al who remain two of the finest talents in the broadcast industry."
Both of the broadcasters said they saw this action coming.
"I sensed the station was changing," Lohman said. "Normally the station follows the tone set by the morning show. I sensed it was changing around us. . . . The rest of the station was more of a sensational station, and that is not our gift. Gary is a great punster, and I like to do my funny little fantasies."
The two, who met shortly after beginning on radio more than 30 years ago, said they enjoyed the pairing. Though both are wise-cracking funnymen, competition never seemed to get in their way. In fact, they seemed to make the other laugh--and often.
"It was an immense amount of fun," Lohman said.
"Everybody there at that station are such enormous fans of Gary and Al," Venema said. "This is no refection on anything negative. . . . If the format had remained adult contemporary, this would be perfect. But it's a completely different station than it was when they signed on."
No replacement has been named, but Venema said the show's content "will definitely be talk and news information."
The station has faced a good deal of publicity since switching last July to a news-talk format. In March, KFI show host Geoff Edwards resigned over the station's promotion of the destruction of Cat Stevens records organized by fellow talk-show host Tom Leykis. Newsman Dan Avey and several production personnel were let go in the wake of Edwards' resignation.
In April, rival talk station KABC-AM 710 filed suit against KFI over the use of the trademark "talk radio" which both stations used to describe their formats. That suit is still pending.