Matt Siegel, a fixture on Boston radio for 40 years as the host of the “Matty in the Morning” show on Kiss 108 FM, abruptly signed off Wednesday after being told to “stop talking” about pop star Demi Lovato’s announcement that they are non-binary.
The dramatic mic drop, which stunned listeners and sponsors, did not mark the end of “Matty in the Morning,” according to Siegel, who will be on the air Thursday morning and plans to address what happened on the show. “I ain’t leaving,” he said in a text.
At issue Wednesday were comments Siegel made while discussing the announcement by Lovato that the singer now identifies as non-binary and as such would be changing their pronouns. Siegel said his boss at iHeartMedia, which owns WXKS-FM, called and told him to “stop talking about what I’ve been talking about.”
“I was going against the ‘woke thing,’ okay?” Siegel said, according to a recording of the segment uploaded to YouTube. “Against the Demi Lovatos of the world and all that kind of stuff.”
Siegel said he’d received a similar call prior to the November presidential election when he was criticizing Donald Trump.
“This is why I got rich, okay?” Siegel said on air Wednesday. “Because I told it like it is to my listeners for 40 bleepin’ years. They pulled the plug on me and they said ‘you cannot talk about what you’re talking about.’ ... If I’m left wing and I go anti-Trump, I get in trouble, and today I was anti-wokeness and I can’t do that.”
He added that he’s now barred from being “a funny comic, telling it like it is about what he’s thinking.”
So, Siegel said, he was “ending my portion of the radio show right now. ... I just want to say, I love my listeners ... and it’s been a hell of a run, but I think it’s coming to an end.”
He reiterated that he was being muzzled by the station. “It’s a joke, the whole binary thing,” he said. “I don’t care what Demi Lovato does. But now we have to worry about ‘you might offend someone.’ “
He concluded his rant by saying, “they said, ‘shut up Matt, stop talking,’ well, I hope you’re happy because I just stopped talking. Matty out.”
Advocates for the LGBTQ community condemned the statements.
“Public understanding of what it means to be non-binary is growing and listeners expect better from the media and people with a platform,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, wrote in a statement to the Globe.
“When a prominent person such as Demi Lovato shares their story, it matters. It tells other non-binary folks that they are not alone. Lovato and other non-binary and trans people are worthy of respect. We are not jokes or punchlines. We’re your neighbors, your co-workers, friends and family members.”
Mary Emily O’Hara, GLAAD News and Rapid Response Manager, said via email, “Respecting someone’s authentic identity, including using their pronouns and names, is not only a basic human courtesy, but it can be lifesaving, especially for transgender and nonbinary youth. Media personalities have a responsibility to be accurate as they never know who is listening to them, whether a vulnerable young person, or a person looking for an excuse to exclude, marginalize or make anyone feel unsafe.”
WXKS-FM general manager Alan Chartrand said he planned to meet with Siegel Wednesday afternoon and hoped to resolve the issue.
“He threatens (to quit) all the time in a joking kind of way,” said Chartrand. “This isn’t the first time he’s threatened this would be the last show.”
Siegel told Boston.com in a phone interview after Wednesday’s show that “I’m against her binary thing; I think she’s a troubled woman and a lot of young people are taking her seriously and it bothers me,” stressing that “of course, it’s a comedy show, so I did it in the context of jokes.”
Though he called Lovato a “woman,” many non-binary people do not identify as either gender, so pronouns such as “her” would not accurately describe them; they is the preferred pronoun in such cases.
“We were having fun with it, and my boss called up and said that I’d crossed the line and they didn’t want me talking about it anymore,” Siegel told Boston.com. “I responded by saying, ‘If I can’t talk about what I’m thinking at this point in my career, I don’t want to be on the radio anymore.’”
However, he also told Boston.com that after talking with his superiors Wednesday, he believes that despite what he said on air, he’ll remain with the station.
Siegel’s abrupt sign-off quickly reverberated across the Internet, with one person tweeting, “Gonna need my Matty in the Morning pals to debrief with me immediately.”
Siegel launched his show in 1981 and said during January’s 40th anniversary celebration that his run had surpassed expectations by a long shot.
The 6-10 a.m. show, which also features Siegel’s longtime sidekicks Billy Costa and Lisa Donovan, consistently ranks No. 1 among women in the 18-to-49 demographic. The Top 40 format hasn’t changed, nor has Siegel’s curmudgeonly, self-deprecating style. Among those who paid tribute to Siegel during January’s on-air event were singers Billie Eilish and Gwen Stefani, former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, and fellow radio host Ryan Seacrest.
“In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would see this day,” Siegel said in a statement at the time. “I am forever grateful to my wonderful radio team, the great company I work for and the terrific people of Boston.”
Then-Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh in January declared “Matty in the Morning Day” while Governor Charlie Baker issued a citation honoring Siegel, according to a prior statement from the station.
“Good morning everybody, today’s my 40th anniversary and my team’s done all these wonderful things and a lot of nice people have called in, I’m overwhelmed, I love you guys,” Siegel said during the January anniversary show. “Part of being able to do this act, this radio show is me being a wise guy, when you’re kind of a wise guy... you put yourself down... so this is overwhelming and I love you guys.”
Emily Sweeney and Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Charlie McKenna contributed.