In all the years I've known them personally and professionally, I don't think I'd ever heard Kathy O'Malley and Judy Markey as upset as they sounded on the phone together Wednesday. I mean they were fit to be tied.
Judy Markey and Kathy O'Malley
What set them off were comments made Tuesday by their former boss, Kevin "Pig Virus" Metheny, program director of Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720). Appearing on Garry Meier's afternoon show (here is the link to the audio), Metheny took calls from listeners, including one who asked about the ouster of Kathy & Judy in May 2009 after a highly successful 20-year run as WGN's midday duo.
When the caller said she was "one of the many people who were upset when [Kathy & Judy] were released," Metheny corrected her, saying:
"You may want to get that straight. What they did was retire. They retired of their own volition. They gave us that notification, and then at that point, after they decided they didn't want to continue any longer, we did control the timing of it, but we didn't show them the door unceremoniously and, as I've often been accused of, we didn't give them the word that morning. . . . That was actually how they chose to portray it. They knew quite a while in advance actually, and the manner in which you learned it -- and the timing at which you learned it -- was not WGN's decision."
Metheny's response implied that O'Malley and Markey misled their listeners when they said it was not their decision to leave -- with more than a year to go on their contracts. It also contradicted the official announcement by Tribune Co. that WGN was "discontinuing the 'Kathy & Judy Show.' " In the station's own press release dated May 22, 2009 (here is the link), Tom Langmyer, vice president and general manager, was quoted as saying: "This was a business decision," and "This is the time to move in a new direction."
After keeping quiet about all that had happened behind the scenes (and continuing to collect their paychecks for the past year), O'Malley and Markey finally took the gloves off Wednesday. In a joint statement, the duo wrote:
"Yesterday, Kevin Metheny said on the Garry Meier Show that it was our choice to leave our show and WGN in May of 2009. It was not our choice, and we want that to be clear. Over 20 years on the air, we established a bond of trust with our radio girlfriends that we all valued. We never lied to them about the circumstances of our leaving, and we're just tired of hearing that it was our idea. It wasn't."
In our follow-up conversation, they said it was clear the station had been trying to force them to quit for months leading up to the cancellation. When they refused to quit despite the unceasing pressure, management approached them with a buyout offer and dictated both the date and the terms of their departure:
- Said O'Malley: "WGN chose to end our show. WGN chose the date that it would end. And WGN told us we could not say anything to anybody about the show being canceled until May 22 -- the last day of our show."
- Said Markey: "In fact, they had us making an appearance for the station [on May 19] -- 72 hours before the day they told us we had to be out of there."
- Said O'Malley: "And that's how they chose the date. They chose the date because it was three days after we had agreed to make an appearance for Best Buy. It was a huge Tribune/WGN advertising deal. They wanted us to leave on May 22. When they told us the show was over, WGN wanted us to say that it was our idea. And we rejected that."
Perhaps most galling of all, they said, was a suggestion by Langmyer that they play up their exit as a celebration. Recalled Markey: "Tom said, 'How 'bout we take that last week and you guys do a victory lap -- like "The Best of Kathy & Judy"? And Kathy told him: 'Tom, you're f----ing firing us. We're not taking a victory lap -- and we're not pretending this was our idea.' Our egos did not require a week of self-serving radio history."
If Kathy & Judy had had their way, they would have worked through the last day of their contract and been allowed to retire with the dignity and respect they'd richly earned over their two decades at WGN. Their last show would have been a week from this Friday.