UPDATE: After a career spanning 51 years with KGY Radio, local broadcasting legend Dick Pust's career with the station ended suddenly Wednesday when he was let go as the station’s general manager.
He hosted his final early-morning radio show Wednesday at the iconic station that overlooks Budd Inlet, the last installment of a six-day-a-week broadcast that began at 5:30 a.m. and has run since 1967.
“I’m in shock,” said Pust about the sudden end to his connection to KGY, which broadcasts at 1240 on the AM dial and at 96.9 on FM.
“It’s going to be really terrible; I’m so used to getting up at 2:30 in the morning,” he said.
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After he left the station, Pust, 70, had to break the news to his mother, Margaret, 93, at their weekly Wednesday lunch together.
“She’s going to miss me in the mornings; she always relied on me,” he said.
Accounts varied Wednesday about why Pust no longer is with the station.
Pust said he was fired and that tensions had been building between him and KGY Inc. President and Chief Executive Jennifer Kerry, a resident of St. Petersburg, Fla., who visited the station in December and was there Wednesday.
Pust said Kerry approached him two weeks ago and asked him to prove his loyalty to the station by firing a particular staff member. Pust says he told her he could not, in good conscience, do that.
“It was so abhorrent to me that it felt like I was being initiated into a gang,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t “play their game” and was fired.
Kerry, whose mother, Barbara, used to own the station, sees it differently.
She said the station likely faces a typically slower first quarter for advertising revenue. With that in mind, she asked Pust to step down as general manager, likely taking a salary hit, because the station could not afford to continue paying a general manager. He was asked to continue with his show and work in the community, she said.
“Dick made the decision to leave the company because he did not choose to continue on in a lesser role,” Kerry said.
There were no other staffing changes Wednesday, but Kerry wouldn’t rule them out. KGY Inc. has a staff of 25.
Kerry said she told Pust the station likely would be going in a different direction with its sales-management leadership, and that he then “issued an ultimatum.”
“Regardless of how things transpired, (the sales manager) has not been let go” but is considering an alternative position, Kerry said. After Wednesday’s show, Pust was escorted to his car by Kerry and the station’s program director, although Pust and Kerry agreed that part of that had to do with the need to retrieve a post office box key from Pust’s car. Pust said he shook hands with the program director and wished him good luck.
“And that was it. I drove off,” Pust said. Severance was not discussed; Kerry said that will be addressed later.
Pust started his day at 2:30 a.m. Before going to the station, he would stop by the Olympia Police Department or the Thurston County dispatch center to check on breaking crime news. If the weather was bad, he’d check for road or snow-related closures and power outages. By 4:30 a.m., he was at the station, ready to begin his show, Pust said.
He said he “put his life” into the business and worked with many good people. He acknowledged that the station was struggling financially but said that’s the case with all media.
“I think we could’ve made it,” he said.
Although the circumstances surrounding Pust’s departure were unclear, those in the community were not, saying Pust would be missed.
Bill Pilkey, who frequently runs for local elected office, often was a guest on Pust’s show.
“I know Dick, and I have the greatest respect for him,” he said. “He could run for the state Legislature and win. That’s how popular he is.” He added that losing Pust likely spells trouble for KGY’s future.
Community Youth Services Executive Director Charles Shelan, also a longtime listener and frequent guest, said Pust “knew Olympia like nobody else.” Shelan called him the “voice of Olympia” and compared him to Dave Niehaus, the longtime Seattle Mariners broadcaster who died last year.
“Our community has lost a treasure,” he said. Shelan added that Pust is a good interviewer, always curious, probing and insightful, and that he always made his guests feel at ease.
“Dick Pust gives that radio station credibility and clout in our community, and that’s been lost,” Shelan said.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/bizblog