Rafe Mair, the best-known radio broadcaster in British Columbia and perhaps all of Canada, has been fired by host station CKNW, amid controversy over off-air blue language by Mr. Mair.
Listeners who tuned into his top-rated morning talk show yesterday were stunned to hear program director Tom Plasteras tell them that Mr. Mair, after 19 years, was no longer with the station.
"The decision is an internal matter and is no reflection on Rafe's journalistic abilities or the quality of his show," Mr. Plasteras said.
The matter is believed to have been set off by a complaint from a female producer that Mr. Mair used the 'f' word inappropriately during a staff meeting and angrily referred to some newspaper stories as corporate "blow jobs."
When management tried to get the bombastic but influential broadcaster to conform to its employee behaviour code, Mr. Mair insisted he was an independent contractor and was not an employee of station owners Corus Entertainment Inc., sources said.
From there the dispute escalated until Mr. Mair was let go, with 27 months remaining on his $300,000-a-year contract.
Relations between Mr. Mair and Corus managers had been strained for some time. Late last month, on the air, the talk-show host declared bluntly that he was "not fond, to say the least, of the corporate ownership of CKNW . . . Corus knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."
He added: "My present contract has 27 months to run, and I'd be utterly amazed if Corus wanted me then, and vice-versa."
The dismissal of Mr. Mair, who dominated talk radio in B.C. as no one else with an estimated 100,000 daily listeners and an impressive 18 per cent market share for his 8.30-11 a.m. slot, caused shock waves among listeners, media commentators, fellow radio hosts and politicians, alike.
In Kelowna, Premier Gordon Campbell took time out from his duties as host of the western premiers conference to express his surprise at the news.
"I'd heard about it, yes. Are you kidding? That's the major story here," Mr. Campbell told reporters. "It's incredible. It's spreading across the country like wildfire."
The Premier's reaction underscored the influence Mr. Mair had in a province that still revels in its reputation for brass-knuckle politics and strong opinions.
Politicians were drawn to his huge listening audience like moths to a flame, despite the risk of being singed by Mr. Mair's rough, aggressive questioning.
He also spearheaded many campaigns with great effect, particularly his fierce opposition to the Charlottetown accord. Berated by those who disagreed with his stand as "Dr. No," Mr. Mair is credited by most observers as the reason B.C. voters had the highest rejection vote in the country.
Yesterday on CKNW, listeners flooded stand-in host Peter Warren with calls for a boycott of Mr. Mair's regular time slot.
"Rafe was kind of a hard ass, but I really appreciated him," said one. Added another caller: "We're going to miss him very, very much, and unless he is back on the air, we're going to boycott the station."
However, as on any talk show, the sentiment was not unanimous. "I'm glad that fat blowhard is gone from your radio station. He thought he was right about everything," a caller told Mr. Warren.
CKNW host Philip Till said on his afternoon talk show that Mr. Mair's firing was "a tragedy for the people of B.C. and a tragedy for radio station CKNW . . . Rafe owned his time slot. He was a fixture for 19 years."
In an interview, before heading out for an afternoon's sailing, Mr. Mair, still vigorous and crusty at the age of 71, admitted that he can be "a miserable SOB to get along with" at times.
But the main problem was a poor mix between himself and Corus, he said. The conflict with his producer, Dallas Brodie, was merely the catalyst that brought matters to a head.
"It was really a difference in philosophy. I'm the old wine going into the new bottle," Mr. Mair said. "It was very, very important for me that I always be seen as an independent contractor."
He rejected suggestions that he might be bitter over his firing. "I really don't blame anyone. All good things come to an end and I've had 19 fantastic years. It's just been great."
Mr. Mair said he had no immediate ideas for employment, although he does not feel ready to retire.
He first joined CKNW, the No. 1 station in B.C., in 1984, after serving a number of years as a Social Credit cabinet minister under former premier Bill Bennett.
Media consultant Bill Tieleman said Mr. Mair's all-out broadcasting style will be missed. "It's hard to imagine CKNW without him . . . He was a real populist. When he asked people to open their windows and be 'mad as hell' about something, they did."
In 1994, Mr. Mair, a passionate environmentalist, won the Governor-General's Michener Award for public-service journalism for his strong campaign to halt a hydroelectric dam in northern B.C. because of the threat to wild salmon.