Chuck Booms, as usual, is putting on a show. He's got a Michelob in his hand, a smirk on his face. His hands run through his hair; his mouth just runs.
The topic: People who flee cops. Booms's answer: Shoot 'em.
"If people do not pull over, the police should be allowed to blast them," he says. "How many chases do you think you'd see after that?"
This, it turns out, is vintage Booms: part comedian-provocateur, part perpetual teenager, part pseudo-fascist wingnut. It's a mix familiar to anyone who ever tuned in to The Kiley and Booms Show, which the Euclid native hosted with Kevin Kiley on Fox Sports Radio. It's shtick that made him "The loudest, wordiest, most wickedly uproarious gas-bag in sports talk radio," as one newspaper put it.
It also happened to work. Launched two years ago, Kiley and Booms quickly became the franchise show for the fledgling network. Heard weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. (locally on Akron's WTOU-AM 1350) -- and syndicated to 75 stations nationwide -- it was fast and fresh, as likely to offer yakking on foreign policy as it was about Carmen Policy.
Booms "was the show," says Cleveland sports radio vet Les Levine. "You could replace Kiley, but you couldn't replace him . . . It was the most entertaining thing on the air in the afternoons."
Yet on this winter night, Booms's soliloquy isn't originating from a studio. It's coming amid the mess of his suburban living room. Mail is piled high on a coffee table. Christmas decorations are still gathered in plastic bags. It doesn't look like a house so much as a junk drawer with a big-screen TV. "Can you tell I've been depressed?" Booms asks.
It's no wonder. On December 6, executives from Premier Radio Network, which owns Fox Sports Radio -- both of which are owned by Clear Channel -- told him they would not be renewing his contract. After two years, Booms was tossed like a mattress on the tree lawn.
Fox has offered little in the way of explanation, simply putting out a Kremlin-worthy press release noting that Booms "will no longer co-host the program." A Premier spokeswoman says the company does not comment on contractual matters.
Booms, however, has been far less reticent. The troubles, he says, began in June, when both hosts' contracts expired. Kiley was re-signed; Booms was not. Instead, Fox execs asked if they could hold off until September. "I said fine," says Booms. "I thought they were bargaining in good faith."
But he didn't get an offer in September. Or October. Or November. "Each month, they had a different plausible excuse for where they'd been: 'We're backed up on contracts. You're on the list. We're coming,'" Booms says. "Knowing that there was no way to do the show without either one of us, I never thought twice about it."
Then, on December 5, Booms's agent got a call. An offer would be coming the next day, he was told. Booms -- who made more than $250,000 a year -- figured he'd get a slight raise. He got a pink slip instead. The show was "moving in a new direction," the agent was told.
There are plenty of theories why Booms was canned: that Fox was losing money, that it didn't want to -- or couldn't -- pay two expensive hosts. But Booms is still mystified. "To take your No. 1 show and kill it? It's bullshit."
He isn't the only one who finds the move hard to fathom. "I'm angry," says John Malone, program director for the Fox Sports Radio affiliate in Peoria, Illinois. "They've stolen my top show. I've never seen anything like it. It's ludicrous."
Indeed, at its best, Kiley and Booms could be irreverent, profane, and very funny. Fueled by the vast and genuine differences in its hosts' personalities -- Kiley is a family man and vaguely liberal, Booms a bachelor and acutely conservative -- the show never took sports, or itself, too seriously. "It was a sports show that was accessible to a mainstream audience, whether you were a sports fan or you didn't know the difference between a baseball and a basketball," says Malone.
But what made Kiley and Booms a success may have helped to pull it under. For all of his talent, Booms didn't stop being a wiseass when he was off the air. "I think Booms is an entertaining force of nature," says Kevin Metheny, director of programming for Clear Channel Radio in Cleveland. "He holds his views strongly, and he's often intolerant of views different from his own. But he rightfully recognizes that he has a rare gift."
Which is a polite way of saying Booms can be a pain in the ass. Booms's response: "That's just a corporate way of saying, 'Please don't point the finger at us for fucking up.'"
Yet Booms's absence has only reinforced how entertaining the old program was. The new show -- co-hosted its first week by veteran radio talker Steve Mason -- seems like a parody of bad talk radio: contrived arguments, convenient outrage, lame humor. Concludes Levine: "It's unlistenable." (Kiley did not respond to interview requests.)
Listeners seem to agree. With the help of the Internet, irate fans have staged an ad-hoc revolt against Fox, flooding the network with calls and e-mails. Even car-parts chain Auto Zone, a sponsor of the show, has become a target. "I just got off the phone with the people at Auto Zone," one plotter reported on a pro-Booms message board. "The guy I talked to said, 'We have been buried today with calls about the Chuck Booms situation.'"
Despite Booms's shivving of his former partner -- he calls Kiley's decision to remain with Fox "disloyalty at its worst" -- he says he would "absolutely go back" to the show. But fans shouldn't hold their breath.
Metheny doubts that will happen. "My understanding is that [Fox] had a show with an intolerable expense structure," he says. Besides, "I've spent a fair amount of time on the phone with Fox executives, with Kevin Kiley, and with Booms, and I personally don't see any going back. I don't know how they mend those fences. My sense is that nobody sees what the benefits would be."
Nobody except listeners.
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