Why The Sudden Change Regarding King-Am Radio?

Let's write the final chapter of news-talk KING-AM (1090), which a week ago stopped talking and switched to low-overhead All News Radio from The Associated Press.

Why the sudden change, with just weeks or months to go before KIRO Inc. completed its $1.5 million purchase of the station from Classic Radio Inc.?

For Priscilla "Patsy" Bullitt Collins, president and chief executive officer of Classic Radio, it came down to keeping something viable on the air and recognizing the difference between business and charity.

"A talk show is not a charity," she said after the dust settled this week. "I don't want to keep going to the bank and keep writing checks to the radio station. It just isn't the charity of my choice."

In documents filed by KIRO with the Federal Communications Commission to justify its "duopoly" ownership of two AM stations in the same market, KING-AM's yearly loss is put at $750,000 to $1 million.

KING-AM has never been capable of making it without subsidies from other broadcast properties.

As Collins and her sister, Harriet Stimson Bullitt, dismantled the last of their family's King Broadcasting empire by selling KING-AM and by donating classical KING-FM (98.1) to charity, the AM station lost a revenue-generating source for its living allowance.

"When you have a 1.2 rating and you're invested in one of the most expensive formats there is, which is the talk format, you can't afford to pay the bills," Collins said.

But that was only part of the reason Collins swiftly and quietly moved last week to lay off seven people involved in the talk element of the station's programming and switch to news.

With the end in sight, KING-AM's stable of talent was shrinking.

John Hinterberger was still recuperating from a stroke. Dana Middleton, who was filling Hinterberger's late-morning slot, was about to go on a long vacation. Jim Althoff and his wife, Andee Beck, had gone to Milwaukee.

"Then I hear from KIRO that they're making a fantastic offer to Pat Cashman," KING-AM's morning host, who will join news-talk KIRO-FM (100.7) later this month. "They're going to offer him quite a bit more money than I can, and I can't offer him a future.

"The place was becoming bereft of people to carry it, to be live," Collins said. Keeping the talk format was going to be problematic. Meanwhile, AP's all-news service was introduced in the spring. A stopgap service was as close as KING's satellite dish.

As for the startled staff, Collins said: "I understand well the question, `Well, it seems harsh to do it suddenly,' but they had known since March it was time to look for a job - they just didn't know what day" the end would come.

Some had job searches well under way, but others were only just beginning, like early-afternoon host Rick Miller, who is working on possibilities in Miami and Cleveland.

Miller's frosted over the fact staffers weren't told until last Friday morning, just hours before the plug was pulled at high noon.

"I really regret not being able to say goodbye, so I'm saying goodbye now," Miller said. "This was the greatest place to work. God, they were neat people, and I'm going to miss them."

KING-AM was the first station purchased, in 1947, by the Bullitt sisters' late mother, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt. Eventually King Broadcasting consisted of seven TV stations, eight radio stations and cable services.

After their mother died in 1989, the sisters sold the TV stations to the Providence Journal Co. and Kelso & Co. of New York, which kept the KING-TV call letters and the King Broadcasting name. The sisters retained KING-AM and their real love of the airwaves, KING-FM.

To ensure that the unusual commercial classical station survives, the Bullitts are donating it to the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Opera and the Corporate Council for the Arts.

"It's kind of like Siamese twins," Collins said of the soon-to-be-dissolved AM-FM combo. "You have to separate them if one is to survive. One dies and one goes on living."


Still alive: Pat Cashman might be leaving KING-AM for KIRO-FM, but he won't be leaving the "Almost Live!" comedy show on KING-TV (Channel 5).

But "Almost Live!" writer and performer Ed Wyatt is gone. Wyatt, a former high-school English teacher, has gone to Portland to co-host "Good Evening," a magazine program on King-owned KGW-TV.