The timing couldn't have been worse. Friday, Jan. 15, local sports-laugh radio host Spanky Brown and his on-air cohorts Mark Atnip and David "Shinebox" Thompson had just hosted their most popular Spanky Brown Morning Show ever on ESPN 1180 AM—a funeral service for the abruptly departed University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin, broadcast from WVLZ on South Central downtown. Aspiring to be syndicated nationally, the show's treatment of the Kiffin story was another step in the right direction: of bicoastal interest, rife with humor, and right in their own backyard.
Then Jason Bailey, WVLZ's the newly hired station manager from Lexington, Ky., stopped by.
"I could kind of tell he didn't like us," says Brown.
Come Monday, Spanky and Co. were out, off the air, replaced by nationally syndicated ESPN programming Mike and Mike in the Morning.
Brown's Facebook status update Monday, Jan. 18, at 5:30 p.m. summed it up pithily: "The Spanky Brown Morning Show has been pulled from ESPN 1180 ... we're looking for a new home so hang in ... we're coming back"
Given the abruptness, and grumbling remarks on Brown's Twitter like, "Ok ... I ain't been outta work in 12 years ... THANX ESPN !!!", both sides of the breakup seem fairly amicable.
"Spanky, Mark and the guys are highly talented, and I hope they land some place," says Bailey. "I told them if anyone wanted to call here, I would give them glowing reviews. It's just that being an ESPN affiliate, we needed to run Mike and Mike. That's ESPN's big initiative, their big show."
The trio were already a little leery of such an outcome. "I had heard about the change in management, and had already put feelers out," Brown says. "We might end up in a better situation."
Of course, ousted radio hosts always make such face-saving remarks, but Brown says he's sure enough of some ongoing negotiations to anticipate being back on the air Feb. 2.
An online effort made by Thompson has also softened the blow of the abrupt cancellation and helped the trio keep their fan base connected during the forced hiatus. Since its inception in June, the show has been available on Ustream. Live show-deprived fans can now tune in to those same programs, billed as "best of" shows, on spankybrownmorningshow.com. For brand-new jokes, there's Brown's Twitter account, where he posts remarks like, "Damn ... This drive is longer than the one between Jacksonville and Pensacola ... Have the Jets even had the ball this qtr ?"
The three are also repeating their popular "calling" of pro football games from Ray's ESG with a Pro Bowl appearance Sunday Feb. 1. Brown has set that night as the time for his announcement of a new station, which he hints might even be on FM.
"We're talking, we have bites," he says. "We'll just have to see what the best deal is."