Over 15 years on three different stations in Atlanta, the Regular Guys have always included Larry Wachs and Eric Von Haessler.
As of Sept. 20, 2013, Von Haessler is out. He posted this Facebook message at about 1:20 p.m. that day:
At about 10:05 this morning I was “officially relieved” of my on-air duties. In plain English that means I’m no longer a Regular Guy. The last 15 years in Atlanta have been quite a ride. And the years in Los Angeles before that were even crazier. Through it all there have been great, great fans of the show and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of that community. Strangely, I don’t feel bitter or angry. Obviously, Cumulus and the other members of the show felt my presence was holding them back and keeping from being able to grow. I disagree with that assessment but wish them the best of luck. Go Bills!
John Dickey, the co-chief operating officer for Rock 100.5’s Atlanta-based parent company Cumulus Media, said he couldn’t say exactly why the station let go Von Haessler but said the station is trying to be more female friendly. Since the new program director Troy Hanson arrived a month ago, the station has excised a lot of its heavy-leaning acts such as Halestorm, Pop Evil and Beware of Wilderness while adding cuts by Muse, Fall Out Boy and Alice in Chains.
The Regular Guys “is a venerable brand,” he said. “It’s a venerable brand that can live beyond any one individual person. That’s our premise.”
Dickey did say Von Haessler “is a talented guy and had a long run. Life goes in chapters and at some point, a chapter reaches its conclusion and a new one starts.”
Von Haessler could only surmise why he was released. He said he noticed in recent months that “every time I tried to speak, someone else was speaking. There’s no worse radio than people talking over each other so I pulled back. It got more and more difficult to find clearance to get a point across, much less the ability to have a follow up.”
He also said it used to be about the “tension between Larry and me. Now it’s more about the tension between Larry and Steve,” as in “Southside” Steve Rickman.
Wachs and Von Haessler have had a working relationship going back to 1989 at stations in Rochester, N.Y., Hartford, CT and Los Angeles. Since they came to Atlanta in 1998, they have always been part of the Regular Guys, be it at 96rock (for two stints), WGST-AM (for a month) or Rock 100.5 (since 2008).
They were an interesting study in contrasts with Wachs the neurotic, sardonic lead host and Von Haessler the laid-back Libertarian news junkie. But they were never friends. It was a bit like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. As Von Haessler had noted, tension is what drove the show’s success for many years.
Von Haessler said this firing doesn’t feel as bad as the last two at the now defunct 96rock. The first one, in 2004, came after Wachs tried to tape a “backwards porn” bit with a porn star to mock the Janet Jackson brouhaha at the Super Bowl but due to a producer’s snafu, the actual porn itself was heard over a car ad. (Yes, I heard it myself.) In 2006, Wachs taped a sister station Viva 105.7’s morning show duo Yogi & Panda in the bathroom stall gabbing with each other and made fun of them. He ended up getting sued by the morning team and the Regular Guys were summarily thrown off the air a second time.
Rickman was a secondary character on the show during its peak ratings years in the early 2000s. He re-joined the Regular Guys at Rock 100.5 in 2008 as a full-fledged Regular Guy. Tim Andrews, who is adept at celebrity voices, joined the show around 2005 but only became a Regular Guy in 2009.
The Regular Guys at Rock 100.5 have never able to match their best ratings at 96rock, though part of that may have to do with a weaker signal. The morning show has, at times, been in the top 5 among 18 to 34 year olds and top 10 among 25 to 54 year olds. The most recent Nielsen Audio results covering mid-August through mid-September has the show ranked 16th place with a 2.6 rating among 25 to 54 year olds and a tie for 8th among 18 to 34 year olds with a 4.2 rating. Those are typical numbers for the show in recent months.
Von Haessler said at 10:05 a.m. today, he was told there was a meeting and knew it was trouble the moment he saw the HR person with Hanson, the program director. As soon as he figured out what was going on, he quickly shook their hands, wished them luck, and walked out of the offices without saying goodbye to his former cohorts.“You don’t want to be that guy in the hallway,” he said. At the moment, “I don’t want to talk to anybody on the show. Time will heal that. The time for that is not right now. I wish them the best of luck. And I wish me the best of luck.”
On top of that, “there was no way I was going to reason my way back into a job. I’m a grown man. I didn’t want to be a douchebag. They made their decision. I don’t think it was a good one.” (Many of his fans agree. One has started a Facebook page on his behalf called www.facebook.com/savevonhaessler. As of 6:47 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, 126 people had signed on. By 11:19 p.m., that number had gone up to 736.)
He said recently, he felt he had maybe a 50/50 shot of getting his contract renewed January 14, 2014. The fact the new program director met with the other Regular Guys one on one but didn’t meet with him made him nervous. The only comment Hanson made to him was that he liked Von Haessler’s “role” on the show, which he felt was faint praise at best.
Von Haessler said he still feels he has “a lot to offer. I’m not nearly through with radio. I think I can command an audience. Hopefully, I’ll get that opportunity.”
“It’s an end of an era,” he added. “They’ll go on without me. It’s kind of strange.”
He wouldn’t say but I presume he will be paid through the end of his contract. He didn’t say how long his non-compete clause is but standard is six months, which means he probably won’t be able to go back on Atlanta radio until July 14, 2014.
Von Haessler said he’ll be okay financially, even after spending $100,000 on that Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ documentary that aired at the Atlanta Movie Festival in March.
Wachs didn’t return a text message but Rickman, who was “shocked and floored” by management’s decision, said Wachs was deeply emotional about his colleague’s departure. Rickman said the show will address Von Haessler’s absence Tuesday morning and for now, they will use guests to do the news until they find a replacement.
On Wachs’ Twitter, he made it clear to fans this was management’s decision, not his.
A fan @GHShelton wrote: “You just lost a lot of listeners. I know it was a corporate decision, but EVH was a major part of the show.“
Wachs responded: “Our goal is to win you back by just doing a better show with some new and old faces. Peteetong!”
GHShelton: “no problem with you Larry. Still like you and SSS. You survived 96 Rock and you’ll survive this. Good luck.”
Wachs: “We are all invested in making the show better which needed to happen whether Eric stayed or not.”
To another fan, he wrote: “There really is no ideal time to unemploy someone. It sucks. We heal.”
To another: “All we can do is adapt to the reality.”