The Metheny Post-Mortem

From all the reaction coming out after a certain piece of big radio news from Chicago last night, you’d think Kevin Metheny had killed a man.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Metheny “exited” (was pushed out the door, etc.) as program director of Tribune talk WGN/720, just weeks after his former Clear Channel colleague and Cincinnati-area resident Randy Michaels left as CEO of Tribune.

Out the door with Metheny is WGN’s newly installed evening host Jim Laski, a long-time powerful local politico who ran afoul of the law. (Descriptions of his style, and his acts, remind us of Cleveland’s own Jimmy Dimora…the outgoing Cuyahoga County commissioner facing his own extensive legal morass.)

We’re talking about Metheny, of course, because he was once a key player right here in Cleveland…as VP/Programming at Clear Channel’s Cleveland cluster.

You could probably get Metheny to admit that some things did not work at WGN, and some things did not work spectacularly (Laski would probably head up that list).

But the enmity we’re seeing this morning in the Chicago radio community is unmatched, in our experience, and comes with a strong “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” theme running in the background.

First up in the parade is veteran Chicago media observer Robert Feder, the former Chicago Sun-Times columnist now writing for public radio WBEZ’s website. (And contrary to what Michaels said, calling Feder “an out of work blogger”, Feder does get paid for his work by WBEZ owner Chicago Public Radio.)

Here’s a pretty salient quote from Feder’s post on Metheny last night:

Arrogant, aloof, stubborn and contemptuous of the legacy he’d inherited, the man known as “Pig Virus” nearly destroyed one of the greatest brands in American broadcasting by alienating hundreds of thousands of loyal listeners and breaking bonds of trust that had endured for more than 80 years.

Ouch.

Now, in his role as The Unofficial Protector of Chicago Radio Glory, Feder goes a bit over the top at times.

But we respect and admire his long legacy of media criticism in the Chicago market, and really, it’d be hard to characterize – even by Metheny’s defenders – his turn programming WGN as a “success”.

(And Metheny certainly has his defenders, particularly here in Northeast Ohio.)

Not everything Metheny did was undone last night, and the station, in a statement by its once-again-in-charge VP/GM Tom Langmyer, seems to be moving forward with other Metheny-started lineup changes, including the addition of former WLW/700 Cincinnati voice Mike McConnell.

Quoting Feder:

Laski was a joke. Others he brought on had no affinity for Chicago whatsoever, with morning host Greg Jarrett from San Francisco and midday host Mike McConnell from Cincinnati topping the list. Their angry, aggressive posture seemed utterly at odds with the civility and honestly that the station had always represented. (Only by a quirk of luck was WGN spared a right-wing wacko named Bill Cunningham, whom Metheny also tried to hire from Cincinnati.)

We haven’t heard all of Mike McConnell’s repetoire, but “angry” and “aggressive” are not words we’d use to describe him. We still think McConnell is a good fit for a WGN that’s seeking to broaden its demographic base, perhaps now even more so under different oversight that could make the transition less, well, jarring.

We don’t believe Cunningham, a talented broadcaster with a well-defined “schtick”, would have been a good fit for WGN, and had he made it to Chicago, he’d probably have been out the door with Metheny and Laski last night.

One Metheny trait was more than evident in Chicago…his belief that he can create talk radio stars.

We saw it actually happen here in Cleveland, where Metheny (as CC’s lead programmer) nurtured and grew the career of WTAM/1100 afternoon driver Mike Trivisonno…a man with a questionable grasp of the English language who became the market’s dominant AM talk radio host.

(We’re not sure who actually HIRED Triv at WTAM, but he clearly thrived, career-wise, with Metheny in charge.)

But we also saw curious Metheny experiments here.

Remember, he was proudly the “talent coach” for Air America/Clear Channel syndicated liberal talker Jerry Springer (who once put a crater into WTAM’s ratings), and even said so on the air. On his BEST days, TV trash talker Springer was a bad political radio host.

And then there’s “the French guy”.

Metheny inexplicably gave a regular WTAM weekend show to French-born advertising executive Simon Badinter (“Simon Rendezvous”). When Metheny landed in Chicago, he brought Badinter to the WGN weekend lineup.

We’re willing to believe that Mr. Badinter is a nice, decent guy…but neither Clevelanders or Chicagoans warmed up to a show hosted by a radio novice with a very, very thick French accent. We wouldn’t be surprised if “Simon Rendezvous” was gone from WGN as soon as this weekend.

Metheny’s departure from the WGN programming job is an excellent opportunity to catch his podcast with Margaret Larkin, who runs the “Radiogirl” series of Chicago-based podcasts. The podcast in question was done back in May, and we believe Ms. Larkin also has relatives in Northeast Ohio.

Despite the “piling on” from the Chicago media community after his departure from WGN, Metheny will dust himself off and move on, and probably acknowledge that the WGN gig was not a good fit for him…

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8 Responses to The Metheny Post-Mortem

  1. Tim Lones says:

    I wouldnt consider myself an expert in the radio business at all, but even I had the sense that Michaels and Metheny wouldnt work at a place like WGN. The over the top “confrontational” style just doesnt work at a place like that without phasing it in gradually..Too many changes too quick, In my opinion..

  2. Secondary Editorial Voice (tm) says:

    Gary Bruce was the program director that hired Triv at then-WWWE/1100 to host “Sportsline” back in 1994. It was part of a massive schedule overhaul for “3WE” by Bruce that included Chuck Meyer, Jaz McKay, and also Jeff and Flash for afternoon drive.

    Of course, Norman Wain and Bob Weiss were responsible for putting Triv in front of a microphone for the first time. Back in 1987, they wanted an ‘average Joe’ to do the morning sports reports for WNCX, and had in mind Triv’s shtick as “Mr. Know It All” during Pete Franklin’s show, so they hired him.

  3. Neil says:

    That blogger had it wrong. Metheny was not called “Pig Virus”.

    His nickname–given by Howard Stern–was “Pig Vomit”.

    • Secondary Editorial Voice (tm) says:

      According to the PD’s Michael Norman (click here), Metheny was originally nicknamed “Pig Virus” by Stern, but was changed to “Pig Vomit” for Stern’s semi-autobiographical movie (that character – played by Paul Giamatti – was a composite of Metheny and another WNBC-AM executive). Obviously, both nicknames stuck and are still applied to this day.

      Don’t get me wrong – Feder has had a very colorful career covering Chicago radio. And if he doesn’t like something, you’ll know about it. Just look up his articles on Shane “Rover” French when CBS moved his show to Chicago back in 2006…

  4. ml says:

    Thanks for the mention and link. My parents are from Northeast Ohio and I had a lot of relatives in that area and in central Ohio, though not so many now due to moves and passing on. My parents talk about Ohio all the time, and my dad was even offered a job at a Canton radio station out of high school but turned it down to join the navy in WWII.

  5. Martin says:

    “Pig Virus” was what Stern called Metheny. “Pig Vomit” was a band that did Stern’s theme song at the time. In “Private Parts”, the character was named Vomit as an ode to that band. But the character was based on Metheny all the way.

  6. Aaron says:

    Neil, Metheny was called “Pig Virus” in the book “Private Parts”. It was changed to “Pig Vomit” in the movie adaptation because Paul Giamatti’s character was an amalgamation of Metheny and John “The Incubus” Hayes.

  7. Me says:

    True that Gary Bruce hired Trivisonno at then WWWE. It was Bobby Hatfield that moved Triv to afternoons and built him into a ratings monster. By the time Metheny got on the scene, the Trivisonno juggernaut was already rolling. I have it on good authority that Metheny and Trivionno barely tolerated each other. Metheny couldn’t fire him because his numbers were so big.

    Kenny, the character inspired by Metheny, was called “pig virus” in the book “Private Parts’…. “pig vomit” in the movie.

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