I know. I am not supposed to be here. But as they said in Godfather III: "Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in." And when New Mexico's dominant radio personality leaves the microphone after a quarter century it's enough to get me to stop whining and start writing, so here is the exclusive, behind-the-scenes story on the departure of KKOB-AM radio legend Larry Ahrens as reported by the top media Alligators.
First the facts. Larry is off the 50,000 watt powerhouse, 770 KKOB-AM, effective today. He is 54 and was behind the morning mike for 24 years and nine months. He will go to work soon for the AGM radio group in Albuquerque doing a morning talk show. He will not replace morning oldies legend Bobby Box on KABG-FM. He will be on another AGM station.
Now, the inside story. "Joe, this one was about money. Larry was pulling down $140,000 a year plus thousands more in extras. He wanted a base salary north of the $160,000 the station offered and management balked. That's a huge sum for a personality in a market that ranks 71st in the nation. Why Larry is leaving has a lot of people baffled," said a top media insider close to the situation.
Ahrens, speaking to me from his ABQ NE Heights home just after KOB-TV broke the news of his departure, said he believes two other radio morning personalities in the market were making more than him and that he wanted to get as much as them. "I just wanted a level playing field. I did have the number one show." He offered.
But other media hounds maintained Larry was already top dog and may regret leaving KKOB, a part of the New Mexico fabric for 80 years. "It will be tough for him to take any sponsors to his new station. It will not have the power, prestige or reach that KKOB gave him," analyzed another media executive.
Other speculators said the Ahrens vacancy will give KKOB an opportunity to hire a younger host who might be able to attract a similarly aged audience. "If KKOB is smart they will hire a guy in his 30's, the same age Larry was when he took over. They are skewing old and it is costing them money," said a veteran media player.
THE AHRENS ERA
All the media mavens, including Ahrens, agreed that his leaving will not have a big impact on the ratings of the #1 station. "I do not anticipate their demise and I don't wish it," Ahrens said. "I had a good, professional relationship but now it is time for a new direction.
Ahrens went the right-wing way in recent years and even made a run for governor. One analyst said that hurt him. "When Larry left to run for governor for several months, the ratings did not go down. That confirmed to management that they could live without him," recalled our media exec.
Larry's longevity was remarkable in a business notorious for its instability. But he is nothing if not one of the most cordial personalities you will ever meet, with a knack at putting his audience at ease and a calmness that has served New Mexico well through decades of covering crisis after crisis. Because he is going to a rival radio group, he will not be permitted to say a formal farwell over the airwaves he dominated for so many years. But he wanted to let all of those who read this know that he is grateful for their support and loyalty.
And so ends another chapter in the never-ending march of La Politica. The dogs will bark, the kids will yell but the caravan, as always, will move on.
I reported yesterday that Bennie Aragon, former state rep and father of Margaret Chavez, ex-wife of Mayor Marty, has a consulting contract with the state fair (Expo NM). An in the know reader writes that Bennie, who led Big Bill’s election effort in the ABQ South Valley, has been at Expo NM since Spring/Summer of 2003.
I am really out of here now, at least for the weekend. Thanks for visiting. It's a pleasure to have you. Back here Monday.
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2004
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