Longtime KABC-AM (790) talk-show host Ira Fistell has been dropped from his nightly 11 p.m.-4 a.m. show and replaced by Art Bell, who had a midnight to 5 a.m. slot on sister station KMPC-AM (710).
A KABC spokesman said Thursday that the firing was unrelated to Fistell's legal problems. Fistell is charged with leaving the scene of a two-car collision last February that left a 15-year-old girl dead. His wife, Tonda, is accused of aiding and abetting her husband by telling police she had been driving when, in fact, she pulled up in a cab after the crash.
"We feel Art Bell is a great fit for KABC," said station spokesman Bill Lennert, "and he'll do a more effective job in holding on to the audience and advertisers" of former host Ray Briem. Briem retired from the night-owl program last December.
Bell's late-night slot on KMPC will be filled by repeats of Tom Leykis' afternoon drive-time show.
Fistell said Thursday that he was surprised by the move because he believed management had been pleased with his ratings. He learned of the decision when he reported for work Wednesday night.
Fistell, who had worked at KABC once before, said he did not believe he was fired for anything other than cost-cutting reasons. "The station has been very supportive of me all along, and I've been very happy with their support," he said.
In late August, Municipal Court Judge Elva Soper ruled that Fistell and his wife should be charged with misdemeanors rather than felonies. The judge explained that their sentences would probably be the same either way if convicted.
Police have said that Fistell was making a turn when a speeding car driven by a teen-age boy hit him. A girl riding in the other car was killed. Fistell, who investigators said was not at fault, left the scene about 30 minutes later to report to his job at KABC.