Bakersfield talk radio host Ralph Bailey -- a fearless conservative sage or flame-throwing provocateur, depending on one's politics -- resigned without warning Thursday from his afternoon show on KNZR-AM, among the top-rated stations in the local market.
Bailey could not be reached for comment moments after a posting on his Facebook page announced his departure, but local Buckley Radio General Manager Mary Lou Gunn confirmed Bailey resigned, adding that she wishes him well.
"He was a huge part of the success of the radio station," Gunn said of Bailey's nine-year tenure with Buckley. "He will be hard to replace."
Bailey's Facebook posting:
"It was with a heavy heart that I tendered my resignation to Buckley Radio today. However, future opportunities and challenges make it virtually impossible not to seek out new adventures. I would like to thank Steve Darnell, Kathy Baker and posthumously Rick Buckley. To my colleagues, I hope I was a team player who made the station and the client top priority and someone who grasped the concept of pulling on one side of the rope. To my sponsors, I hope I played a small role in your success and thank you for your support! And to my listeners, (and you know I'm blubbering like a baby, by now) you gave me a voice in this community! I pray you will travel with me wherever I go!!! Thank you all!! It's been an incredible ride!!!!"
Shortly after 3 p.m., at the scheduled start of Bailey's radio program, fellow KNZR radio host Jaz McKay and producer Tony Whitnack announced to listeners that Bailey was no longer with the station, before handing hosting duties off to station producer Chris Squires and Kern County Republican Party chairman Dean Haddock, who addressed the news of Bailey's sudden departure several times during the broadcast. Listeners immediately took to social networking sites and the phones, inundating the station with their questions and concerns. The comments posted on Bailey's Facebook conveyed a mix of shock, disappointment and well wishes for the radio host.
"I wish this wasn't so, Ralph but, I can't begrudge you an opportunity at a better life, man," Rick Madrigal said in his posting. "Go with God and best of luck."
Bailey's most recent public appearance was Wednesday night at Cal State Bakersfield, where he served on a panel discussion of gun violence. Bailey said he "hates guns" but maintained that it was important that citizens retain the right to own and possess firearms. He appeared to be in good spirits and gave no indication that he might be leaving KNZR.
McKay, whose noon-to-3 p.m. program served as the lead-in to Bailey's show, said he noticed a change in his colleague's demeanor in the last week or so and noted Bailey missed two shows last week.
"Ralph and I have not been close. Never been close," McKay said Thursday. "I have no animosity toward Ralph and wish him the best. I got the feeling he didn't like me from day one. I got the feeling it was because he felt he was top dog and I think he might have resented when I came along and the success I got."
McKay said the only time he recalls the two connecting was the day after Bailey's 2006 arrest on charges of driving under the influence, his second such arrest. But that goodwill eventually evaporated, and their tempestuous relationship came to a boiling point a few years ago during a show the two were co-hosting. Bailey stormed off the program and, according to McKay, was suspended for his actions.
"His strength is his ability to tell a story," McKay said. "He has a background in writing. His weakness tends to be his inconsistencies. One week he would say one thing and then the next week, the opposite."
McKay speculated that Bailey might be poised to change careers or could be headed to arch-rival radio station KERN, owned by American General Media.
AGM President Rogers Brandon said only "no comment."
(The Californian partners with KERN on a weekday morning program featuring several senior editors.)
As for Bailey's replacement, McKay is hoping for a local voice and floated the name of a radio professional who worked for years at KERN: Inga Barks.
"She's on the air in Fresno from her home studio. I would probably go after Inga in the interim. Or put (syndicated host) Mark Levin on. He's broadcast live at 3, but we tape-delay him until 6."
The news of Bailey's decision blindsided KNZR's Gunn, who assumed the role of general manager just last week, taking over for longtime GM Steve Darnell. Gunn said she had no insight into Bailey's reasons for leaving and that he submitted the standard two weeks' notice, but "as in any media, you don't really hold them to the two weeks."
McKay, for now the sole local radio host on KNZR, is confident the station will get along fine without Bailey.
"It's barely a bump in the road. People don't follow you as much as you think they do. Your ego is out of control if you think I'll be as much a success here as I was there. People gravitate to a station more than they do a personality."
-- Californian staff writers Robert Price and Mike Griffith contributed to this report.