For many Indie 103.1 listeners, waking up just hasn’t felt right since Dicky Barrett, host of the Mighty Mighty Morning Show, disappeared last week without a trace, leaving in his place a series of fill-ins –including Dave Navarro — who haven’t exactly rocked anyone’s world.
The conditions of Barrett’s departure were a source of immediate controversy. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones singer, who fashioned an endearingly gruff, good-natured persona on the air, claimed he was fired because he failed to toe a corporate line laid down by his “right-leaning” masters, program director Michael Steele and station general manager Dawn Girocco. Meanwhile, bigwigs at Indie and the station’s parent company apparently tried to make it look like Barrett had quit of his own accord. Haven’t seen this kind of post-breakup he-said/she-declined-to-comment since Brad and Jen. We have, however, received independent confirmation of the firing; we also know that soon after, Girocco gave a statement to radio journal Hits insinuating that Barrett had chosen to focus on his nightly gig as announcer for Jimmy Kimmel.
Barrett contends that rather than soften the blow, as may have been intended, this move hurt him. “I respect their decision,” Barrett says. “If it’s not working for them, they have the complete right to not have me in there. You make a decision, it’s not getting the numbers, this isn’t what we want. That’s fine. But don’t lie. If you tell me you’re letting me go because you want to go in a different direction, don’t tell people I walked out ‘cause I want to go in a different direction and it wasn’t my priority. Who wants a morning DJ that’ll up and leave his audience with no explanation?”
Until last week, Barrett was one of many rock-star hosts on Indie — including Henry Rollins, Navarro, Rob Zombie and, of course, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols — but as morning drive-time DJ he was under a unique spotlight, and unique pressure. Traditional radio stations live and die by their morning shows (and Barrett admits morning radio was the last thing he wanted to do when he started at Indie). They’d even brought in a radio consultant to work with Barrett.
That concept alone — Indie hiring a radio consultant for its morning show — will surely disgust some listeners. Only a little over a year ago, some were upset Indie was starting a morning show at all. But Indie has always been a strange corporate-DIY mutant — fascinating and disappointing and sometimes utterly beautiful; historic and brilliant and never quite what anyone would like it to be. The 2-year-old radio outlet, called America’s coolest station by Rolling Stone, is an alt-rock niche signal filling the void between KROQ and KCRW. The name itself — “Indie” — was always disingenuous: The station was founded in a queer arrangement between Spanish-language broadcaster Entravision and mega-broadcaster Clear Channel (the Darth Vader of radio): Clear Channel would handle Indie’s advertising, while Entravision would run the station and handle programming.
Yes, it was strange, and no, the FCC didn’t allow it: Last year, Clear Channel was ordered to sever its ties with Indie. Curiously, Indie’s program director, a fellow named Michael Steele, had once worked at Clear Channel’s KIIS-FM. Girocco had also worked at KIIS.
Barrett says that he was prepared to take his firing quietly, but that Girocco’s statement to Hits forced his hand. Last Friday, his publicist released a typo-riddled statement in which Barrett makes a number of strong accusations, including — ouch! — that he was scolded for complaining on-air about a Morrissey single. Barrett says he was told to “say the time and call letters till your [sic] blue in the face,” and he also tells the Weekly that Indie forced him to use a playlist in recent months (a rule not applied to some other celeb DJs at Indie).
Most troubling, he accuses Indie of de facto censorship at the hands of Steele and Girocco. Barrett says the two demanded approval for all his guests, and fired him the same day he held an “unauthorized” pro-choice discussion on his show with a South Dakota radio host. (“Dawn Girocco [is] Dick Cheney, Steele is George Bush,” says Barrett in the release.)
Further complicating matters, no one at Indie will discuss the matter, including Girocco, beyond the usual “we wish him the best of luck” formalities.
Barrett’s accusations may or may not be true, but at the moment, the proof for Indie listeners will be in the pudding — or the new morning show.
Barrett seems most hurt by Girocco’s claim he wasn’t sufficiently committed to the show: “I really wanted it to be good,” he says. “I planned it to be a complete clusterfuck out of the gate — like, oh, what’s going on here, this is a train wreck and everybody likes to watch a train wreck, and this won’t last. But it kind of gained attention. And then my strategy, which seemed to work pretty good, was to shift to, hey, you’re getting some news, some of the day’s events, grumpy crusty Boston guy who probably talks about Boston too much — and I wanted the music to be diverse, like Jack [Jack F.M.] for cool people. We had limited resources, but it was still a decent show — people swore by it.”
And what will he do next?
“I just want to dance.”