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News & Columns

News | Media: KSL radio execs cast out Nightside host Michael Castner

By Holly Mullen
Posted // November 14,2007 - It’s hard to find a colder, crueler world than the radio business. And local talk radio—in an industry that has all but killed the format in favor of cheaper, syndicated programming—can be the chilliest place of all.

Michael Castner could tell you about it, except he’s reluctant to talk much while his lawyer negotiates a severance deal with his former employer, Bonneville International—parent company of KSL Radio. Castner, popular host of KSL’s Nightside Project for almost 17 months, was suddenly fired on Nov. 8.

“I don’t know how they make these decisions,” says Castner. “I’m just the meat in the seat. But the math doesn’t add up as far as budgets go.

“We’re in the middle of a ratings book. We’re the No. 1 show in [the 7 p.m. to midnight] time slot in this market. I don’t know what you say to someone—‘Sorry, next time we’ll try to be No. 2 or 3?’”

Which has led some at the station to speculate whether the rollicking nature of the program, laced with irony and often a heaping portion of adolescent, double-entendre humor was just too much for honchos of the LDS Church-owned Bonneville.

“In this industry, they call it ‘pushback,’” says Castner. “It’s when someone hears something they don’t like and complains, but you never know exactly who or what set it all in motion. There were times I wondered when someone in ‘pushback land’ was going to drive into a wall, make a phone call and then it will all be over.”

But at least up until four months ago, station management ensured Castner that he and his team were not only free, but encouraged, to chatter on—unfettered by the conventions that bind, for instance, conservative morning talk-show host Doug Wright.

So, perhaps victims of their own free-speech-driven success, KSL bosses simply cratered.

The subject of a July 19 City Weekly cover story, Nightside was a big financial and programming gamble. Castner came with a fine TV and radio pedigree, including a stint on E! and highly rated drive-time radio in Los Angeles. He teamed with a young and green group of producers, board operator and field reporters. Five hours of patter, numerous call-in segments, breaking news and interviews with entertainment and political experts kept the show moving. Corporate shirts had determined that stuffy, straight-laced KSL could cash in on the “millennials.” That’s marketing-speak for the teen-through-20s demographic that broadcast bosses everywhere are lusting after.

“We’ve had significant success with the [Nightside] format in a very short time,” said Bonneville Radio executive Chris Redgrave last summer. “Talk radio is the most entertaining but also the very hardest format to produce. We’re thrilled.”

The day after the decision, KSL program director Kevin LaRue declined to discuss it, calling it an “ongoing personnel matter.” He did, however, e-mail a response to City Weekly. The station is calling the move a “restructuring.” KSL will “continue to air portions of Nightside but with a reduced programming and scope and on-air staff.”

The show’s “talented and popular host, Michael Castner, will be leaving to pursue other opportunities,” the statement said.

Still, the program had been built increasingly around Castner. Portions of Nightside were being syndicated to Bonneville-owned stations in Washington, D.C., and Phoenix. After the first anniversary in July, plans were steaming ahead in the Bonneville boardroom to take the show to a Seattle station and other major markets, sources say.

But talk around that expansion has been snuffed. As of Nov. 9, the weeknight show is being co-hosted by Ethan Millard and Alex Kirry, both on staff since Nightside premiered. They will run their own electronic board (also a cost-cutting move) and continue with the same basic format.

Millard, too, declined to discuss the personnel move, but adds, “With Michael gone, I’ve lost a mentor. That was a big part of the show for us, learning from such a pro.”

Castner, talking by phone from his recently purchased home in Tooele County, gets a bit emotional when the topic drifts to his young team. His voice thickening, he says, “I do understand the reality of radio. But honestly, the only time I got choked up in the [termination] meeting was realizing I wouldn’t be with the team anymore. These are … my guys.”


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Posted // July 4,2008 at 16:51 I miss Michael, I loved his voice and thought he was very funny as well as being very intelligent. I am a senior citizen, so I don’t fit into the young jet set listners you refered to that were maybe fans of this show.You ought to bring him back, Ethan and Erik need him.


Posted // January 21,2008 at 00:59 I’m not sure anyone will read this because this story ran so long ago, but I thought I needed to say a few things. nnFirst, who are all of these people who claim they used to work for KSL? I really did...for 5 years. I worked in several capacities, one involving the Nightside Project. And, yes...I was one of the people let go only 5 months into the project. That was definitely not a highlight. Sure there were some bad things that happened during the project. At times anger and tension ran high. It wasn’t a cakewalk...but what job in media is?nnSome of you are posting some really nasty and inaccurate things. If anyone has a right to say anything negative, I think I would qualify. Sure I was hurt to be let go. How can you not be after working for a company for so long? I was told some incorrect and hurtful things by some of the managers that made me mad at all the wrong people. That was my mistake because there are two sides to every story. nnWhy didn’t any of you put your names on your posts? It kind of makes me think that either you didn’t work there or you are just saying spiteful things to get a rise out of people. I think if any of you are going to call someone out by posting on this page, you should have the guts to put your names with it to back up what you are saying. It seems like people are feeding off of each other on here. Not to say it isn’t entertaining, but a lot of it is hurtful and inaccurate.nnMichael, Holly, Jon and the rest of the Nightside Crew are all great people. Some people just don’t get along. And I think it’s sad and unfortunate that so many people have been let go or left the project in such a short time. But no one on here should assume they know why. It’s safe to say everyone will move on and be happier for it. Jon and Holly both found an amazing job, and so did I. Michael is working for our lawmakers during this legislative session, and will definitely find something after he’s done with that. The rest of the Nightside crew is small, but they’re working their hardest to keep the show on the air for you. Please don’t be too hard on them. nnThat’s pretty much all I have to say. Life is too short to dwell on the negative. Living well is the best revenge, and I have to say that every former Nightsider is doing just that.


Posted // December 4,2007 at 18:21 ok. i agree, you should have stayed. Lets ask ourselves why MC got canned. when they, (channel 5) can play Vegas , Life etc. Hookers, drug use, drinking, sex, and the list goes on, can play this content? You claim that it was money that put MC out of a job. Would you say this is correct? So, the showes listed above most likely make money. is the money more valuable then morals? are yur morals put aside when the almighty dollor comes into play? do you turn your tv off at 7 then back on at 10?


Posted // December 4,2007 at 13:34 Hey What, Just so you know I have spent over 5 years of my adult life living outside of Utah, and even outside of the US. I’m actually with Michael on the whole LA scene. It sucks and I would never do that again. I have also lived in Idaho, Las Vegas and Brazil as well as Europe for a short time. Just an FYI. And to that immature texter, it’s not the other staffers’ fault that Michael got axed, I don’t know why you feel the need to take it out on them.


Posted // December 4,2007 at 10:27 Well, poop on you!


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