In a collision of corporate cluelessness and callousness, longtime “Toucher and Rich” producer Mike Lockhart was fired by Beasley Media, 98.5 The Sports Hub’s parent company, in a round of company-wide layoffs Oct. 7.
In a collision of uncommon generosity and an unfortunately necessary precedent, Lockhart is returning to the top-rated morning show, with cohost Rich Shertenlieb paying his full salary.
Shertenlieb made the announcement during the 7 a.m. hour on Monday’s program, detailing the negotiations and frustrations of the previous nine days since Lockhart and Sports Hub evening cohost Christian Arcand were among eight Beasley employees in its Boston station cluster who were laid off.
“The bottom line is, this week, Mike Lockhart will be returning to ‘Toucher and Rich,’ ” said Shertenlieb. “And I will be paying his full salary, plus the 38 percent markup the company charged me for administrative fees.
“In return for the company allowing me to pay my own money to bring Mike back, I was made to sign a contract that the show would write four articles a day for the station’s website. But that was much better than some of the other things that they were asking for.
“This is the last I’ll speak of the last week, because quite frankly, I’m fried. But the bottom line is, we love Mike Lockhart, he’s a part of our team, and I always want him to be part of our team.”
Reached during the show, Shertenlieb said he probably should not say anything more than what he said on the air.
Said Lockhart in a direct message via Twitter: “I spoke to Rich a few times last week and he kept me up to date. He fought like hell from 10 a.m. the Friday I was let go until he called me the following Friday informing me about everything. He is truly an amazing, selfless person.”
The decision to fire Lockhart was a perplexing one in the first place, for multiple reasons. He had been with the “Toucher and Rich” program, which also includes cohost Fred Toucher and third voice Jon Wallach, since beginning as an intern in January 2009, when it was still rock station WBCN. It became the Sports Hub in August 2009.
Both the station and “Toucher and Rich” have been enormous successes by any measure. The Sports Hub was the fifth-highest billing station of any format in the country last year, bringing in $33 million. And “Toucher and Rich” earned a 24.6 share in the men 25-54 demographic in the summer ratings book, a record for a Boston morning show.
“It’s an absolutely incredible and unheard of thing for a station in the 10th-biggest market in the country [to have that much revenue]. It just doesn’t happen,” said Shertenlieb. “We had also heard one day before Mike’s firing that our show . . . had once again set the record for highest ratings in Boston morning radio history.
“That’s again something that’s literally not heard of. Our show and the station could not be doing any better. It’s a radio company’s dream come true.
“Less than 24 hours later, management pulled Mike Lockhart into an office and fired him, to the shock of everyone on the show. It wasn’t just us that couldn’t understand why. Many people in the radio industry reached out and continued to reach out expressing their complete confusion. None of it really made any sense to any of us.”
After the show ended the Monday after the layoffs, Shertenlieb, Toucher, and Wallach had a meeting with management and tried to explain Lockhart’s importance to the show, something they had discussed in detail that day on the air, likening losing him to a band losing its drummer five minutes before a performance at Wembley Stadium and being told to figure it out.
“It was apparent that several, but not all, of the parties involved weren’t fully informed or didn’t have much knowledge on what exactly Mike Lockhart did on a regular basis,” said Shertenlieb.
“It quickly hit me that when the sausage is good, nobody cares or asks how the sausage is made. It’s only when things are going poorly that everyone does a deep dig to find out whose fault it is.
“So I once again pled my case to management informing them of just how essential Mike was to the show. Many of the things you’ve heard me mention on the air — his production, speed, chemistry, talent, the uniqueness in that there’s no one else at the station that can do what he does. Stuff that you as the listener have known about for years, but several in management were learning for the first time.”
Shertenlieb, who is heavily involved in the production of the show, made it clear that Lockhart’s absence would have had a negative effect on his ability to do his job as effectively as he wants.
“On a normal morning, I arrive at the studio at 4 a.m., and on heavy production days, I come in even earlier,” said Shertenlieb. “To make up for Mike’s absence, I would now have to come in an hour to an hour and a half before my normal time.
“Because we talk most mornings about games that end around 10:30, 11 o’clock at night — or heaven forbid the dreaded West Coast NBA playoff game — that would mean on an average night without Mike I’d be getting 2½-3 hours of sleep per night. I told them I didn’t think that was sustainable and at some point I would break.”
But not even that plea convinced management to reinstate Lockhart.
“Notes were taken from this meeting,” said Shertenlieb. “Phone calls to corporate were made. But later on that evening, I had received a call that said the powers that be had said no.
“Ten minutes later, I knew exactly what I had to do.”
Lockhart could return to the show as soon as Tuesday, though there are logistical details to be worked out. A Beasley Media spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.