From San Diego City Beat:
The life and times of well-traveled San Diego radio host Stacy Taylor
By David Rolland 01/01/2008
Stacy Taylor recalls a conversation back in the summer of 2004 with Cliff Albert, Clear Channel’s San Diego operations manager.
“I think the first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know, when we do surveys and research, the word that comes up most when your name is mentioned?” Taylor says. “And I said, ‘In terms of what?’ He said, ‘In terms of your political position.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t have any idea,’ and he said, ‘Progressive.’
“I said, ‘Progressive—what exactly does that mean?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m not exactly sure.’”
Taylor had described himself as “populist,” but never as “progressive.”
He’d been doing a 6 to 9 p.m. show on the conservative talk station KOGO. And there had been some rumors that Clear Channel was planning to turn its KPOP station at 1360 on the AM dial from an adult-standards music station into a liberal talk format. But in the “typically slippery ways of Clear Channel,” Taylor says, “nothing is ever explicitly said,” so he really didn’t know what the meeting was about. “You never know what they’re doing. You never know what they’re planning,” he says. “You hear more in the halls than you hear from management.”
Weeks later, on a Monday, management told Taylor that in three days’ time, KPOP was going to become KLSD, and they wanted him to do the morning show. His KOGO show had run its course, Taylor says, and he jumped at the chance to do morning drive time.
He asked Albert, “‘What am I supposed to be? Tell me about being progressive.’ He said, ‘I don’t care what you are.’ He said, ‘Just be you.’”
Taylor’s on-air persona was a matter of debate. A few weeks after his show launched, one commenter on a local blog said, “Stacy Taylor seems extremely uncomfortable in ‘pretending’ to be liberal....” Another responded, “… I think the Stacy on KLSD is closer to his real politics than what you used to hear.”
In truth, throughout a career that has spanned nearly four decades, Taylor’s been a radio humorist who’s simply responded to a series of opportunities. His politics were always more libertarian than liberal or conservative. He’s a mixed bag: pro-union, anti-gay-marriage, pro-gun, anti-George Bush.
In his last incarnation, he became a darling of San Diego liberals. He offered a bully pulpit to people like City Councilmember Donna Frye and City Attorney Mike Aguirre, and he provided a forum for rage and ridicule at Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, as well as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michael Savage—until Clear Channel pulled the plug on KLSD on Nov. 12, 2007, and turned 1360-AM into a sports-talk station.
The debate over who Taylor is can begin anew this week; on Jan. 3, Taylor will start his new job, hosting a talk show daily from 4 to 7 p.m. on 1700-AM, a station owned by The Broadcast Company of the Americas, which formed in 2003 and also owns XX Sports Radio (1090-AM and 105.7-FM), the flagship station of the San Diego Padres.
His new show will take shots at any public figure who displays “weakness, compromise or mendacity,” Taylor says. “Expect me to infuriate both sides of the aisle.”
Listeners who heard Taylor only on KLSD might think he’d been political-minded all his life. They’d be wrong.
He grew up in Coudersport, a tiny north-central Pennsylvania town of about 1,800 people near the southern border of New York. Located where the Allegany River is little more than a creek, Coudersport is a place for rich folks from Philadelphia “to kill animals and catch trout.” He and his brother would pass the time catching crawfish; Taylor described the setting as “idyllic.”
Taylor’s father, Walter Taylor, had been the editor of Dance magazine in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, but he considered it no place to raise children, so he moved the family to Coudersport, where he took a job as editor of the weekly Potter County Enterprise.
Taylor’s brother, Lex, followed his dad into the print media business, becoming the editor of the now-defunct Washington Star, then a Middle East correspondent and Beijing bureau chief for U.S. News and World Report. But from his view of his dad’s career, Taylor didn’t like the look of print journalism, so he pursued a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Florida. He loved the production process of broadcast media, having been inspired by a professor who Taylor says helped male students steer clear of the draft board. He’d call them in one by one and ask them what grade they thought they deserved and what grade they needed to avoid the draft. He’d give each young man the latter grade. Taylor considered that a pretty sweet deal.
After graduating in 1971, Taylor moved to Oregon, Ohio, where his family had since relocated. Needing a job, he sought assistance at an employment agency, where an agent asked young Taylor what his interests were and, upon hearing his answer—broadcast media—found just the thing: overnight projectionist in an East Toledo porn theater.
What Taylor saw there was “grotesque,” he says, adding that the stuff nearly turned him away from sex altogether. He held that job for about six weeks.
Smoking pot in his room in his parents’ house late one night, he was messing around with the Akai reel-to-reel tape recorder his parents had given him as a graduation gift, speaking stream-of-consciousness into the machine, adding weird sound effects and whatnot. On a whim, he sent the tape to the program director of WGLN, a jazz station in Berkey, Ohio. The guy called Taylor the next day and offered him a midnight-to-3 a.m. on-air shift. After about six months, though, the station was bought out and Taylor was laid off.
“That was my introduction to the ‘Screw you’ version of radio,” he says.
During the next year, Taylor did radio at stations in Bryan, Ohio, and Huntington, Ind., but he wanted the big time. He wanted to be at WOR in New York. So, he and his wife Donna—they’d been married for about three years at that point and remain so to this day—packed up the car and headed to the big city. He managed to get someone at WOR to accept his tapes, but when he went to open the locked briefcase his friend had loaned him, he forgot the combination—his friend’s birth date. And that was how his first lunge for the big time ended.
The Taylors then made their way south: Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Va.; Wilmington, N.C. The couple liked North Carolina. Taylor got a job there as morning host at a country-music station—he went by the on-air name of The World Famous Dan LaRose—followed about six weeks later by a promotion to program director.
“I realized right away in radio two things were facts: First of all, most people were idiots and I wasn’t,” he says. “And secondly, the attrition rate, because of the pay and the hours, and being jerked around, and the moving, was extremely high.”
Like every job he’d had in radio, he eventually got fired, for refusing to do a late-night live show at the Wilmington Armory.
Taylor moved to another station in town, where he went by the moniker The World Famous Sal Paradise. Then it was off to Evansville, Ind., where he worked at a hybrid talk-music station. The eccentric owner brought in a myna bird, mic’d the cage and left it there, figuring that would make for some entertaining radio. “But the fucking myna bird never said a word,” Taylor recalls.
The owner finally came in and got the bird to say something, Taylor says, “and the bird—on mic, on air—finally said the one and only thing it ever said, which was, ‘Nobody smells worse than you.’
“We ended up killing the myna bird,” Taylor says. He and a colleague went into the station late one night, “probably drunk,” and gave it some chewing gum, “and the next day the bird was dead.” Again, Taylor was fired.
Next up was a gig as program director for a station in Winterhaven, Fla. It was there that Taylor decided he’d had enough of being a deejay; talk radio was his future. He parlayed a one-off weekend show for WPLP in Tampa into a temporary job in Columbus, Ohio, which, in turn, he parlayed into his first full-time talk show in Ann Arbor, Mich.—from which he was, of course, fired.
His next gig, a late-night show at WING-FM made Stacy Taylor a household name in Dayton, Ohio—not just among radio listeners but also folks who watched the nightly news.
As Taylor tells the tale, two narcotics officers with the Dayton Police Department, Bob Clemmer and Nick Zukowitz, had become the fall guys in a department scandal. Yeah, they were pocketing money from drug busts, but they maintained that the corruption went much higher than just a couple of narcs. They went to a local paper with their story, and the first article of what was supposed to be a multipart series was published. But, Taylor says, the paper unceremoniously spiked the series. One of the cops called Taylor’s show one night and asked to meet him.
“So, I met him and his buddy, and they told me that story, and they said, ‘We’re being hung out to dry right now, and we’ve got no place to turn unless you’re willing to take a risk.’ I said, ‘Fuck yeah.’
“So, every night for probably six months, I’d have one of these guys on, or another cop that was sort of tangentially related to it, started hanging around with these guys—a wild bunch of characters,” he said, recalling nights of hard drinking and random discharging of weapons. “These guys were the craziest SOBs I’d ever met.”
Taylor helped form a group aimed at helping defend his news friends, organizing events and generally selling these guys to the public as a bit more saintly than they really were. An FBI agent was assigned to try to glean whatever information could be gleaned from Taylor, who found himself on the local news when he testified before a federal grand jury.
In the end, neither Clemmer nor Zukowitz was convicted of any crime, Taylor says, “and yet everybody in the command structure of the Dayton, Ohio, police department—from the rank of sergeant on up to just short of chief—was ultimately federally indicted and convicted of corruption.” But Taylor had become “scared shitless” living in Dayton; at one point, he even hired a bodyguard.
Taylor calls the radio business a game of Chutes and Ladders, and an escape chute out of Dayton came in the form of a job offer from KING-FM in Seattle, where he and Donna lived for a little more than half a year before Taylor got a job offer in 1986 from KSDO, the San Diego talk-radio station.
At KSDO, Taylor’s show aired from noon to 3 p.m. and followed Roger Hedgecock. “He and I owned the airwaves for three years,” Taylor says, “pulling down impossible ratings numbers, like 12 and 13 shares. Today, the top stations rarely draw five shares.”
Following Hedgecock was “like shooting fish in a barrel,” Taylor says. He says he’d simply counter much of “Republican talking points” the former mayor would deliver on such Reagan-era topics as trickle-down economics and the U.S.’s role in Central America.
Nonetheless, the pair became friends, partying and camping together, bar-hopping in Tijuana and off-roading in Baja.
“I was actually thrown in the Tecate jail for an afternoon because a cop down there thought I’d called him a puerco, a pig,” Taylor says. “I’ll have to say, Roger and I shared the same passion for partying just a little outside the law.”
Taylor recalls all-night parties at his home in Point Loma. “Radio was a blast in those days,” he says. “Money was good. Talent was king. We thought we were movie stars.”
But Taylor left San Diego in 1989 after a contract dispute with KSDO, only to get “snookered” into signing a memorandum of understanding with the ABC-owned AM-station WLS in Chicago—he thought it was an offer sheet that he could take back to KSDO for a match; WLS’ lawyers considered it a binding contract. KSDO couldn’t match it anyway—it was for $1.5 million over five years. A protracted legal battle with ABC followed, but Taylor finally gave in and endured more than two years in Chicago, where he never wanted to live, until ABC let him out of his contract early.
By April 1992, he was back in San Diego, this time working at KFMB, where he did a satirical show for seven years before getting canned—for union activism, he says.
A temporary job at KOGO led to a permanent show, which he did until KLSD launched in 2004.
By then, Taylor had become tired of his KOGO show.
“As things progressed, I became less and less tolerant of most of the KOGO listeners and callers,” he says. “At that point, I just wanted to have fun with the audience, because they were idiots. By and large, they were idiots.”
Taylor had been parodying right-wingers by having comedian Russ T. Nailz play extremist roles on his show, such as a sexist advocate for wholesale mountain-lion hunting. “Nobody ever seemed to get it,” Taylor says.
It was no wonder that Clear Channel management told Taylor that he was testing “soft” among KOGO listeners on such things as President Bush, Jesus and Muslims: “I wasn’t pro-Bush, I wasn’t pro-Jesus and I was too pro-Arab.
“After a while, if you poke fun at your core audience on a regular basis, for months on end, they eventually can turn on you, and they clearly had begun to turn on me,” he says. “It was almost like the last off-ramp of that particular freeway before you hit the dead-end sign, and so it seemed to me kind of convenient, all of a sudden, at the very last second, to look up and veer off on KLSD.”
Another escape chute had opened.
He and producer Scott Tempesta, who’d been his producer at KOGO, now had a free pass to lampoon conservative crazies. As Taylor puts it, it was “open season on nut jobs.” Taylor and Tempesta immediately took aim at the religious right. But a funny thing happened: liberals began to take offense, so they brought on Madison Shockley, pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, as a regular Friday morning guest to serve as “a counterweight.”
Having been born in 2004 and perished in 2007, KLSD’s entire life was contained within the span of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, so it’s not surprising that the conflict was issue No. 1 on Taylor’s show and each of the syndicated shows that followed throughout the course of the day. Taylor’s position against the Bush foreign-policy apparatus was candy for his listeners and callers.
But he and Tempesta began to grow weary of talking about it day in and day out. They didn’t want a whine-fest. They wanted to have fun. Ironically, they found themselves poking fun at their core liberal audience just as they’d done at KOGO with conservatives.
“Any time we wanted to branch off onto something that was kinda fun—you know, that was not hardcore hating Bush or [the] Iraq War, something like that—we had an inside joke there that was, like, it was ‘a distraction,’” Taylor says. “Somebody would always call up and no matter what the issue was: ‘Well, you’re distracting from the real issue, and the real issue is—fill in the blank—Karl Rove, the erosion of the Constitution, the war in Iraq, etc., etc. And so we actually began to make fun of them with a little game that we started called ‘Wheel of Distraction,’ based on Wheel of Fortune. We would just spin the wheel of distraction and come up with a Britney Spears story and we would refuse to not talk about it.”
Taylor and Tempesta also grew disenchanted with some of the other KLSD offerings. The lineup after their show included Al Franken (eventually replaced with Tom Hartman), Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Mike Malloy, Jon Elliott and Bill Press. They found much of it tedious and predictable, particularly Rhodes’ show. They appealed to management to freshen things up and bring in some “young turks,” but if the advice was ever heard, it certainly wasn’t heeded.
When Taylor’s contract was nearing expiration last summer, he met with Bob Bollinger, Clear Channel’s San Diego vice president and general manager.
“I suppose you’ve heard the rumor,” Taylor says Bollinger said to him,” referring to talk of yet another format change for 1360-AM, this time to sports talk. Taylor hadn’t heard that one. Bollinger said the company was about “70 percent” sure the switch would be flipped. Bollinger told Taylor he could see him doing sports talk and asked him to “marinate” on it.
Taylor did some marinating and then went to Bollinger and told him he could see himself doing an “observational” show, sort of like broadcaster Dan Patrick, who, Taylor says, “can make a story about having dinner after a game at Madison Square Garden be more interesting than his description of the game.”
Taylor says he asked Bollinger: “Could I bash the Chargers?’” Clear Channel carries Chargers games on radio.
Taylor says Bollinger told him that if the team “stunk up the field on Sunday,” it would certainly be fine to talk about that on Monday. But, he said, criticism of the Spanos family, which owns the Chargers, was off-limits.
What about the stadium issue? Taylor asked. That would be fine if the conversation was “balanced,” Taylor says Bollinger responded.
“It was sounding less and less like something that would be fun,” Taylor says.
Conversations about the station’s fate dragged on for months. Clear Channel fired Tempesta for reasons Taylor says remain unclear to him. Factions in the building started choosing sides—sports talk or progressive talk. Taylor says he believes Cliff Albert was in favor of keeping the progressive format.
No matter—the decision was in the hands of the bean counters at Clear Channel headquarters in San Antonio.
Nevertheless, numerous listener rallies, cheered on by Clear Channel management and featuring folks like Frye, Aguirre and liberal TV-news personality Bree Walker, were held in the company’s parking lot.
Were the company’s efforts to support the rallies merely—
Taylor finished the question himself: “Cynical ploys to placate a pissed-off audience? The thought occurred to me.”
But he insists that he believed the format could be saved if the protests were passionate enough.
There was talk of Air America helping to subsidize the format. “We were the fourth largest market in the country to carry Air America—there was New York, L.A., San Francisco, San Diego,” he says. “So they had a vested interested in keep the format the way it was.”
And there was talk of putting the progressive format on a digital sub-channel, but Air America balked at being subjugated to a lesser realm wherever it was underperforming.
The announcement that the station would be switched to sports was made in early November, and Taylor’s been engaged in talks with Clear Channel about returning to KOGO ever since—that is, until last week, when he cut ties with Clear Channel and accepted the offer from 1700-AM.
A week or so before making his decision, Taylor sits on the patio of a new North Park eatery and ponders modern radio. It’s clear he doesn’t think much of the industry that’s employed him since the early 1970s.
“Radio in San Diego is like radio everywhere—it’s monotonous and not very local,” he says. “You’ve got your local morning shows and a bunch of piped-in shit the rest of the day.”
The industry “has become controlled by the accountants, and talent is now subservient to accounting and cost-cutting and maximizing resources,” he adds. “The only thing radio has going for it now is it’s free. [But] if radio was still satisfying a need, would there be two satellite companies out there, where people are actually paying that kind of money to have something installed in their car to listen to commercial-free whatever?
“It’s the chicken-and-egg thing, really,” he continues. “Is radio reacting to the marketplace by becoming watered down and shitty and cost-cutting, or is the marketplace reacting to the fact that radio has become shitty and watered down and cost-cutting. It’s really kind of hard to tell.”
But not too hard. The industry would claim that it’s reacting to the marketplace, he says, but if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s the other way around.
With that in mind, how’s he feeling about beginning a new show on modern radio?
“As Kevin Spacey said in American Beauty, ‘I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.’”