After nearly five years of comedy and community activism, Steve Harvey ended his tenure as a morning radio host Friday, signing off his formerly top-rated program on KKBT-FM (100.3), better known as "The Beat."
KKBT general manager Sue Freund said Harvey wanted to give up the grueling schedule of morning radio and spend more time with his family. On Monday, former NBA star John Salley, co-host of Fox Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period," will take over the program, which airs from 5 to 10 a.m. weekdays.
"His ratings were suffering, but we weren't trying to get rid of him," Freund said. "He'd still be on the air if he didn't want to leave.... Steve Harvey's done a lot for us as a radio station."
KKBT was in the ratings doldrums before Harvey's debut in September 2000. Within six months, his was the top-rated English-language morning show in the Los Angeles-Orange County market. For the winter 2001 ratings, he claimed 4.8% of the audience 12 and older, more than doubling the station's share of listeners for the same time slot a year earlier.
But Harvey's once sky-high ratings have been dropping, and in the winter 2005 ratings -- the most recent figures available from Arbitron -- his show was tied for eighth place among morning programs.
Harvey couldn't be reached for comment Friday. In a statement released by the station, he said: "My last day on air will be a painful one, and as I close the door on this chapter, please know that the people of Los Angeles have made me a better person, and I thank them for that."
Freund said Harvey was in talks to work on future radio and TV projects with KKBT's parent, Radio One Inc. The company, which is based in the Washington, D.C., area, owns 69 stations and co-owns a cable TV network, TV One.
This week the WB network canceled a third season of the variety show "Steve Harvey's Big Time." Harvey, co-star of the 2000 film "The Original Kings of Comedy," last year appeared in "You Got Served" and "Johnson Family Vacation."
When Harvey started the KKBT show, he wasn't in it strictly for laughs. He was serious about using it almost as a pulpit, preaching to his listeners about education, violence and responsibility. When he started in 2000, he said, "I come to uplift. I come to raise you up in the morning. You've got young people going down the wrong path."
Among community activism efforts, Harvey started the "Hoodie Awards" to honor African American leaders and groups and a charity golf tournament to raise money for schoolbooks.
"The station's not going anywhere as far as community effort," Freund said, adding that KKBT and Salley will continue charity efforts. In fact, Salley will debut by broadcasting live Monday from Harvey's celebrity golf tournament in Tarzana.
Freund said she couldn't pinpoint why Harvey's ratings declined, but radio observers say programs often suffer among local listeners when they syndicate to other markets. Freund agreed that Harvey's show had become more "mass appeal" since it started also airing in Dallas in April 2003. "If you're talking about the Santa Monica Pier, people in Dallas don't care about that," she said.
Harvey had started syndication in Dallas because his family still lives there and he wanted to be able to travel and do the show from there, Freund said. But that also required that he get up at 3 a.m., she said. Harvey asked to cut back his involvement in the Dallas show about two months ago, then soon asked about leaving the show altogether, Freund said.