Media Scene

WBT parts ways with Keith Larson as station changes owners

Keith Larson, who spent 14 years at WBT before being fired Monday in a change of ownership at the station.
Keith Larson, who spent 14 years at WBT before being fired Monday in a change of ownership at the station.

Mid-morning personality Keith Larson parted ways Monday with WBT-AM (1110), a day before the news-talk station changes owners.

Larson, who spent 14 years at the station, said he was told of the decision after finishing his 9 a.m. to noon shift.

“There have been ups and downs,” Larson said, “but it’s been absolutely fabulous at WBT.”

Larson, 60, said such longevity at a station the size of WBT is remarkable, he was grateful for the opportunity to work there and wished it had lasted longer.

“I would have done another 14,” he said. “I’m very blessed that I’ve always had other interests and other investments. It’s a drag but it’s all life goes on.”

He plans to expand his independent advertising and marketing business, Larson Advertising and Media Associates (LAMA). Larson is also a minority partner in a Zen Massage Franchising Inc. He said he hopes to continue his column in The Charlotte Observer.

Larson, whose show at times roiled local leaders with its in-your-face approach, hit polite Charlotte like a hurled tomato in 2002. One controversy developed about six months after Larson started at the station.

He was making fun of what he called ineffective water restrictions during a periodic drought. He advised listeners to hurry and get their lawn watering done, because restrictions were due to begin the following day.

Annoyed by Larson’s criticism, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities canceled its advertising on WBT – amounting to $680.

“That was then, and it’s a different kind of market today,” Larson said, who was familiar with the rough-and-tumble of talk radio in cities like Cleveland and Chicago.

“It has grown and grown up so much,” he said. “Some of that kind of stuff back then especially seemed a little bit new, to challenge government or authorities that way.”

Even as Charlotte grew more urbane, Larson came to be more of a mainstream personality than the rowdy outsider he arrived as. He began writing a column in The Charlotte Observer and in 2015 was selected as one of the three panelists on a high-profile forum to discuss issues with the candidates in Charlotte’s mayoral race.

Also leaving the station is news director Jim Barroll, 63, who marked his 30th anniversary with WBT in November 2015.

Executives for WBT and its new owner, Philadelphia-based Entercom Communications, did not immediately reply to inquiries about the change. Entercom is expected to take over the station Tuesday.

Larson raised more than $200,000 over the years for the Club Lama Kids’ Fund through annual motorcycle rides for children and families battling life-threatening illnesses.

WBT, dating back to 1922, was Charlotte’s first radio station and one of the first licensed broadcasters in the nation. Entercom reached agreement with Beasley Broadcast group last month to acquire WBT, its sister station WLNK-FM (“Link” 107.9) and the city’s leading sports station, WFNZ-AM (“Fan” 610), for $24 million in cash.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, @WashburnChObs