One of San Diego’s best paid media figures has just been removed from the airwaves, and this time it had nothing to do with bad behavior.
Mikey Esparza once anchored the top-rated Mikey Show on Rock 105 where he was paid a reported $300,000 a year. In 2010 he was wooed to work mornings at FM-94/9 following an offer for more money. That relationship ended about a year and a half later when he brought a gun to work, according those he worked with at the time. Many 94/9 listeners didn’t think his weekly 15-minute religious preaching segment was appropriate for an alternative rock radio station. Esparza was previously suspended from a San Jose station after making a joke about the disposal of the body of a girl who was murdered.
After being off the radio airwaves for five years, Esparza was brought back to be an afternoon DJ at 100.7 KFMB-FM in 2017. That ended two weeks ago when his contract was not renewed.
“I heard Mikey knew it was coming because he saw the memo that congratulated the other DJs at 100.7 over their ratings, but ignored him,” said one radio insider.
“There are no new Mikey issues,” explains Alberto Mier y Teran, manager of the KFMB stations which includes Channel 8, CW San Diego/Channel 6, AM 760, and 100.7 FM. “He is a good guy, a total professional, and we wish him luck. It’s just that we are moving towards a more female-based audience, and Mikey fit us better when we were playing harder rock.”
The move to play more pop-rock by Soft Cell and No Doubt has clearly benefitted the other two full-time DJs at KFMB-FM 100.7, Chris Cantore (mornings) and Robin Roth (mid-days).
The big story in the June Nielsen ratings released last week was that the Cantore morning show beat the DSC show (named for founders Dave Rickards, Shelly Dunn and Cookie Chainsaw Randolph) in the lucrative 25-54 age group, the most sought-after demographic by ad agencies.
DSC represents the last of the highly paid morning show ensembles that once included the Jeff and Jer show. DSC is now in its 30th year on the local airwaves, first appearing in 1990 on KGB.
The news that Cantore and his on-air sidekick Meryl Klemow and producer Ted Woods could out-perform the well-entrenched, seven-person DSC machine, surprised many who work in the radio and advertising businesses.
KFMB boss Mier y Teran says it didn’t hurt that Cantore gets daily on-air cross promotion exposure with live drop-ins on the Channel 8 and CW San Diego/Channel 6 morning shows. He also says the billboards put up promoting Cantore with his surf van didn’t hurt. “This isn’t rocket science, by the way. It’s all about the marketing and content. And Chris is just a likable, relevant, transparent guy who happens to do a radio show.”
Unlike the DSC crew, Cantore does not appear to put much effort in show preparation. Klemow often jokes with him on air about his slacker attitude. Much of the content of the Cantore show relies on TMZ-type gossip. On July 16, for instance, he wondered on-air if Shawn Mendes dating fellow singer Camila Cabello was real or just a PR stunt since Cantore suggested Mendes might be gay.
Cantore, who worked mornings at 91X, FM-94/9 and KPRI, was not on the commercial radio airwaves when KFMB brought him out of radio retirement last summer to replace DSC when DSC left KFMB to rejoin KGB. Some wondered if KFMB boss Mier y Teran blew it by not paying DSC what it wanted in order to keep them from slipping away from 100.7.
Mier y Teran admitted it was a tough time when DSC flew the coop. “We could have put our head in the sand and said ‘Oh my God, we’re screwed.’ But we didn’t. We stayed the course. If you stay the course and don’t panic, good things will happen.”
A year later, the three-person Cantore show is now topping the better-entrenched DSC show. But some insiders wonder if Cantore’s ratings success may have more to do with the performance of the long undefeatable DSC juggernaut.
When DSC left KFMB to return to KGB last summer, Shelly Dunn was dropped from the DSC lineup, even as the team kept the DSC handle.
“Maybe losing the S out of the DSC show was more impactful than people thought,” says Mier y Teran who wonders if the loss of DSC namesake Shelly Dunn was such a good idea.
Another radio industry insider wonders if, in this current political climate, it is simply not a good idea to get political.
“This is not a red city anymore,” says a local full-time radio employee who did want to be identified. “It is not good to be political on a rock station, and if you’re a rightwing wingnut like [DSC sidekick] Chris Boyer, it’s even worse. He’s a radical troll on social media…When I’m on the air I never mention politics because people are so polarized now. You do not talk politics unless that’s your shtick…like if you do conservative talk radio like Rush Limbaugh.”
Then there’s that DSC formula that has served it well for 30 years. “It might be that the show has sort of run its course,” says the insider.
For the record, DSC anchor Dave Rickards only had this to say about Chris Cantore’s success on KFMB-FM: “Good for Chris. He earned it.”
Mier y Teran, who grew up in Tijuana, admits the 91X legacy looms large over 100.7. Roth and Cantore each worked over a decade at 91X. Much of the music now played on 100.7 drove 91-X in its 80s and 90s glory years. “I’m almost 52 and I grew up with 91X in my teens,” says Mier y Teran.”
KFMB 100.7 FM is currently looking for a permanent replacement for Esparza in the afternoons.