AT WQAM, WHO’S ON FIRST, WHAT’S ON SECOND? (March 23, 2002)

AT WQAM, WHO’S ON FIRST, WHAT’S ON SECOND?
Sun-Sentinel – March 23, 2002
Author: TOM JICHA TV/RADIO WRITER
The most outlandish soap opera on the air isn’t a daytime drama or prime-time serial on TV. It’s the never-ending turmoil on WQAM (AM 560) radio.
Since the beginning of the year, the predominantly sports station has had to reformat and retitle its critical morning drive show twice — once because its host pleaded guilty to a federal crime two weeks after the show’s debut. It also has seen its play-by-play voice for University of Miami sports quit, been involved in a controversial decision to replace the voice of the Dolphins, and tried to negotiate a new contract with the Marlins, one that wouldn’t cost the station the millions of dollars the old one did. A week before the start of a new baseball season, a deal hasn’t been signed.
These normally internal matters have become a staple of the station’s talk programs, with management being ferociously pilloried by the employees — when they aren’t taking shots at each other.
Then there are the normal dealings with Neil Rogers, which are never normal. Rogers isn’t high maintenance, he’s intensive care. WQAM general manager Greg Reed says he doesn’t lie awake at night wondering what Rogers will demand next. He should. Last year, Rogers negotiated for the entire summer off. That’s in addition to his regular vacation. This year, he talked the station into building studios in his apartments in Toronto and Amsterdam, so that he could originate his shows from there eight months a year.
The first retooling of WQAM’s First Team morning show was comical, the second sad. Joe Rose opted in October to concentrate on TV as a full-time sports anchor for WTVJ-Ch. 6, starting in January. Reed, in a fit of pique, fired not only Rose but also Rose’s two co-hosts, Jeff DeForrest and Steve Goldstein. The Rose firing was puzzling since it came after the former Dolphin had handed in his resignation. In either case, Rose, as well as DeForrest and Goldstein, remained on the air.
Reed scoured the nation for a new First Team, only to decide the strongest candidates were the holdovers from the old First Team. So he unfired DeForrest and Goldstein and even put DeForrest’s name in the title of the new morning show. To replace Rose, Reed added Ron Hersey and Caroline Castano but cut the program back an hour to 6 to 9 a.m. What Reed didn’t know was DeForrest was negotiating a guilty plea to a mail-fraud rap involving a Miccosukee Casino official (a deal that has nothing to do with WQAM).
If DeForrest had come to him, Reed says, he and the station’s attorneys might have been able to help. DeForrest, who was in denial, says he kept his predicament to himself in the hope the criminal investigation would go away. When it broke big in the media in January, Reed felt he had no choice but to let DeForrest go.
With the linchpin of the program missing, the morning show became a cacophony of voices with separate agendas. Reed axed Hersey, whose humor didn’t fit a sports program, started looking for a new anchor to work with Goldstein and Castano.
This search landed Howard David, who has national credentials as the radio voice of Monday Night Football as well as being the former play-by-play man of the New York Jets. His talk-show background is sketchier, but anyone with his experience calling games (he also was the voice of the Boston Celtics) has the knowledge to handle the dolts who make up the majority of callers to sports shows. David came to town vowing to diversify the program from “all Dolphins all the time,” and he has kept his word.
David’s reputation is such that the Dolphins seized an opportunity to do something they’ve wanted to do for several years. It rankled the football team that its play-by-play voice, Bill Zimpfer, lives in Pennsylvania and would not relocate. When David showed up in the market, the team offered Zimpfer’s job calling the games on WQAM to him.
Zimpfer then went on the station to charge that David stabbed him in the back, which David vehemently denies. “I was the pursued, not the pursuer,” he says. “Bill knows the Dolphins wanted someone who lives in the market. I’m really [ticked] at having my name dragged through the mud.”
It hasn’t helped that Dolphin color commentator Jim Mandich, who will have to share a booth with David in the fall, has sided with Zimpfer on the air. As angry as David is, he expects things to cool down by football season. “Jim’s a character. I know that. But we’re both professionals. We’ll meet in the middle.”
It’s ironic WQAM would become embroiled in this controversy just as Rogers is moving his 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. talk show not only out of the market, but out of the country. Rogers has successfully reinvented himself several times, but his latest reincarnation might be his greatest challenge. He became the dominant talk personality in the market by essentially acting as the voice of his audience, complaining about South Florida’s weather and traffic, his neighbors, his merchants, his doctors and co-workers. Most of that will be lost with him thousands of miles away.
Rogers argues he can keep up with South Florida via the Internet and faxes of the local newspapers. But it’s difficult to get an accurate fix on the mood of a community at second hand. In the two weeks he has been in Toronto, Rogers’ program has changed in noticeable ways. He spends an inordinate amount of time, which previously might have been devoted to carping about the local scene, reading newspaper and magazine articles. Also, his producer and fill-in, Jorge Rodriguez, has become almost an equal partner in the broadcast.
Maybe Rogers is priming the pump to have Rodriguez do the show, with him calling in as the whim takes him. Crazy? That’s the norm at WQAM.
Tom Jicha can be reached at [email protected]
Caption: PHOTO
Staff file photo/Taimy Alvarez (color) Where’s neil?: Amid WQAM’s game of musical chairs, Neil Rogers is now doing his show from outside the country.
Edition: Broward Metro
Section: LIFESTYLE
Page: 1D
Column: TOM JICHA TV/RADIO WRITER
Index Terms: COLUMN; RADIO
Record Number: 0203220576
Copyright 2002 Sun-Sentinel Company