In November, Q100 Bert Show listeners were stunned when executive producer and co-host Jeff Dauler abruptly departed the airwaves after nearly 15 years for a new contract role at radio rival Star 94. Dauler, who goes under contract with Star 94 on February 1, will likely begin broadcasting on Star 94’s airwaves in March.
For the first time since his announcement sent shockwaves through the Atlanta radio community, Jeff Dauler (who is Eldredge ATL’s January Guest Editor), agreed to sit down and discuss what was going on behind the scenes in the months leading up to his resignation and what’s next for the popular Atlanta morning show personality.
Q: I wrote about your last contract negotiation for Atlanta magazine five years ago. Back then, you re-upped with Q100. What changed this time?
A: It was actually a totally different situation. Five years ago, I negotiated with [Q100 parent company] Cumulus [Media]. The negotiations got complex and at one point, I wanted to walk away from the deal. They wanted to reduce my pay at a time when The Bert Show was at its peak locally and just starting syndication. That didn’t make any sense. An approach was made to Star 94 and a deal was put together there to do afternoon drive. I did not want to leave and I certainly didn’t want to compete against Bert [Weiss] at that time. Cumulus had a right to match my deal and they did. I signed a three-year deal and then two additional one-year extensions that expired this past January 31. This time around, the negotiations were with YEA Networks, the syndication company that syndicates The Bert Show.
Q: So you worked most of last year without a contract?
A: Correct. At the time I left on November 2 to go to Star 94, I had not yet reached terms with YEA Networks or Cumulus. A little backstory on YEA Networks: It was owned by Kidd Kraddick, a syndicated morning radio personality who was Bert’s mentor in the business. Shortly after The Bert Show struck the syndication deal with YEA, Kidd unexpectedly died [in 2013]. So it wasn’t a brand-new company but it was a company finding its legs in a post-Kidd world. So I tried to be patient. But by summer, I began to wonder if it was an intentional delay in getting my deal done. If there were circumstances I didn’t know about that made the company NOT want me on board. And, I really began to wonder what my worth was to the company. While all this is playing out, Star 94 is sold to a new company and they hire Mike Fowler, the former general manager of Q100 [as general manager]. We had a great relationship when he worked at Q100.
Q: So your former boss is now working for Star 94 and your deal still isn’t getting struck after six months?
A: Right. I’m the kind of guy who requires a lot of “signs.” In high school, the girl could have her shirt off in the front seat of my car and I’m still wondering if she wanted to make out with me. And there were a lot of really obvious signs directing me toward making a change. Mike Fowler coming back to Atlanta was one of those, and he and I catching up over a beer turned into more beers and more conversations.
Q: You and I both know that in 2015 and 2016, media companies are looking to cut costs. They’re looking for cheap, young labor. They’re not looking to hand out raises. Did that factor in your negotiations?
A: Not really. It truly wasn’t about the money. But I am actually making less money by going to Star 94 than if I had stayed with The Bert Show. It wasn’t a chasing the dollar signs thing.
Q: So you’re taking a pay cut to go to Star 94?
Q: One behalf of listeners who may not understand how all this works, let me ask this: as the namesake of The Bert Show, how much influence did Bert have in helping to get this deal made? Or is it more a matter of his agent negotiates his deals and your agent negotiates yours and there’s not a lot of cross-talk?
A: That’s what made this especially difficult. Bert and I have a fifteen-year relationship that’s mainly professional … but I also spent more time with him than any other person in the past decade and a half. There is a pretty deep personal component there as well. But he also has an ownership interest in YEA Networks. That’s a weird spot for us both to be in. Sometimes it was really difficult to sit in the studio with him and pretend everything was OK while my deal wasn’t getting done for two, three, four, five months. At a couple of points, I would loop Bert in and he would get involved and try to move things along for me. But he was dealing with a lot in his personal life. It was hard to press him with everything else he had to deal with. For the most part, I felt it was better for my agent to work it out with his business partner.
Q: At what point did Star 94 come back into play?
A: Mike and I reconnected in August, but very informally. Our casual conversations turned more formal in October and once that happened, things began to move really, really quickly.
Q: A lot has been made about how your departure announcement happened at Q100. You were criticized by many about the way it was handled. What do listeners need to know about what was going on behind the scenes?
A: I had been talking in earnest with the folks at Entercom [Star 94’s parent company] for less than two months. Maybe six weeks? But we were close to a deal. Your former AJC colleague Rodney Ho started sending texts around town about a rumor he heard that I was going to Star 94 to start a show the following week with [former Q100 Bert Show co-worker] Jenn Hobby. He sent texts seeking comment to Bert, me, Star 94, Q100, everyone he knew. Bert asked me about it and I dismissed it. But I knew that even though I didn’t have a deal done, I had done my last show as part of The Bert Show. It was one thing to negotiate a deal in private. But I couldn’t blatantly lie to Bert then sit across from him for the next couple weeks while lawyers did their things and pretend to happily do my job. I sent a text message to Bert saying “Hey, I’m not going to be in to do the show tomorrow. Let’s meet at 10 with the bosses to talk.” What I wanted to do was sit down with Bert one-on-one, thank him for including me on his team back on 2001 and all the memories since then, tell him I was leaving, and explain why. Then let him decide how to tell the rest of the world. It was not to be.
Q: What transpired in the meeting?
A: For me, it was just sad. I started it by simply saying that the rumor Rodney Ho had was false, but there was nugget of truth that I needed to come clean about. I told everyone present that I was accepting a position with Star 94. Tracey Kinney was there. I hired Tracey as an intern in 2001 and she was now one of my bosses as the show’s syndication Operations Director. She is one of my best friends. That was really hard. [Q100 operations manager and program director] Rob Roberts was in there. I have tremendous amount of respect for him, and he said some of the nicest things to me that anyone in radio has ever said about me. And, of course, Bert was there. He was upset. Mad. He asked a couple of questions about how long I had been thinking about it and wanted to know exactly why I made the decision. I answered his questions honestly and then he excused himself from the meeting.
Q: I’m puzzled by the fact that Bert publicly said he was “blindsided” by your departure. He knew you had worked for most of the year without a contract. When someone is working without a contract and your boss knows this, how can your boss be “blindsided” by that?
A: It’s a fair word to use. The way the news came out, Bert was blindsided. But as you point out, he was aware I was working without a contract and was aware of my increased frustrations with the negotiation process. But it’s also a bit unfair, as it implies, that I did something intentionally mean to harm Bert. Not the case at all. I navigated the situation the best I could. Even if there were no rumors, he still would have been surprised. You can’t go in at any job and say to your coworkers, “Hey, I’m having serious negotiations with the competition.” Take radio out of it. If you have a high-profile position at SunTrust for 15 years and announce that you’re leaving for a similar position with Wells Fargo, you probably don’t get a cake and balloons. You get walked out of the building with security. The bottom line is this: if they had been truly serious about keeping me part of The Bert Show family, the time to make me aware of that was before my contract ran out on January 31 of last year, or during the nine months I worked without any deal in place.
Q: There’s a lot of speculation about what your role will be at Star 94. In the 2016 radio industry, a station doesn’t lock down a personality for multiple years to put him on overnights. Can you confirm what the job will be?
A: It will be either afternoon drive or morning drive.
Q: If this is indeed a morning slot, you’re now competing with The Bert Show. Are you comfortable with that?
A: Yes, I am. Years ago, I asked Andre 3000 about the rumors that he and Big Boi would be going their separate ways after years of collaboration. I remarked that they’d effectively be competing against each other. “There’s enough cheese for all the rats,” he responded. This is a big city with over six million people. There are plenty of people to listen to both shows.
Q: What’s exciting for you about the Star 94 gig?
A: When The Bert Show became syndicated, we had to cut a lot of Atlanta and North Georgia references out of the conversation. That was a bummer for me and I’m excited to be able to bring Atlanta back as a central character.
Q: As a persona on The Bert Show, you had a role to play — the sort of wise-cracking cynical side kick…
A: In your old AJC Peach Buzz column you referred to me as “Bert Show imp” on multiple occasions.
A: I’m excited that I get to be me, and use a support cast to bring those other aspects to the show. But don’t worry. I’m still wise-cracking and cynical.
Q: Will this be a more authentic way of living your life on air?
A: Absolutely. Star 94 has a target audience of adults 25 to 45 years old. It’s closer to where I am in life right now. I’m now years away from being in Q100’s core demographic. I’m about to get married, going to make some little Jeffs in a couple years. Star feels natural. It’s more grown up. It’s more of a fit. I’m excited to select the content and discuss what I’m passionate about.
Q: You’ve enjoyed a rare 15-year relationship with Atlanta listeners. What do you want to say to them about your new adventure?
A: First, if you’re one of the people who think of Star94 as “Mom’s radio station,” give it a chance. The new team there is upgrading everything. I’m so excited at everything that’s coming to that signal. The new owners know how to make awesome radio stations. Trust me on that.
But more than anything, I want to say thank you. As a kid, I can vividly remember listening to WHEN AM in Syracuse. [Phil] Markert in the Morning was the morning guy. He played piano on the air. I never met the guy but I remember the connection to that show as a listener. He was a friend. I want to say thank you for letting me be your friend. Letting me in your home, your shower, your car, your office. Radio people and listeners have such an intimate relationship. The fact that someone would change their morning habit and tune in to a new show means they’re choosing to make me a part of their lives and I’m incredibly grateful and appreciative.