The longtime Seattle morning-show host is out, as the station offers a $10,000 prize for anyone who can help find his replacement.
Changes are coming to 106.1 KISS FM, one of Seattle’s two major Top 40 stations. Throughout the week, Seattle listeners tuning in for their dose of Ariana Grande, 5 Seconds of Summer and other hitmakers have been greeted with announcements saying that the station is “under construction.”
Last week, KISS FM started the process of switching formats, according to an on-air message from iHeartMedia’s Pacific Northwest regional president Robert Dove. “Over the last year or so our radio station’s ratings have shown declines and it’s become increasingly clear that you just did not care anymore,” Dove says in the message. “Over the past several months we’ve reached out to the community in various ways and it became very clear to us that we just needed to do something different.”
But apparently listeners cared enough for station brass to table plans to shift away from its Top 40 format, which KISS just recalibrated to this spring, after fan feedback.
Nevertheless, KISS isn’t staying static, as its DJs have been noticeably absent of late. The departure of longtime morning-show host Bender Cunningham, who joined the station in 2001, has triggered the most outcry from listeners. On Monday, Cunningham thanked fans on social media for “making me a part of your morning routine” for nearly 18 years.
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“Thank you for being a part of my family and allowing me to be a part of yours. … I really hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did,” he wrote.
Cunningham’s co-host Molly Mesnick will stay with KISS but move to midday.
KISS has launched a promotional search campaign to find “Seattle’s funniest person” for its revamped morning show, offering $10,000 to anyone who refers a successful candidate. Citing feedback on social media and the station’s request lines, Dove said in his message that listeners wanted a station that’s more positive and locally connected, and not morning-show segments with “fake actors and fake callers” — an apparent jab at rival station MOViN 92.5.
“We are dedicated to being a station about Seattle and for Seattle; a station that sounds like Seattle,” Dove says in his taped message. “There will be no format change today, but starting right now, 106.1 is under construction.”
Asked about other changes listeners can expect beyond the morning show, Dove said in an email that the station is still reviewing “our operations and programming.”
The shake-up at KISS FM is the latest in series of moves at local iHeartMedia affiliates. This spring the company revived fan-favorite hip-hop station KUBE 93.3, replacing its previous Top 40 contender Power 93.3 on the dial. At the time, KISS FM returned to its more traditional Top 40 format after several years as a Top 40/adult contemporary hybrid.
In recent years iHeartMedia and other radio conglomerates have been hit hard by declining ad revenue and competition from streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. This spring the San Antonio-based company, formerly known as Clear Channel Communications, filed for bankruptcy after accumulating $20 billion in debt. Despite the financial woes, the company beefed up its Seattle presence last fall, adding The Fan 1090 (now KJR), adult contemporary 96.5 Jack-FM and classic rock station KZOK in a deal with Entercom. In exchange, iHeartMedia sent Entercom numerous stations in Virginia and Tennessee, while also picking up a few in Boston.