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Midday talk grouch Neil Rogers referred to him on the air as "Boy Gary." In print, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel critic Tom Jicha blamed him for a "ratings hemorrhage." WIOD-AM (610), the radio station where he and Rogers worked, fired him. So Gary Bruce has done what any red-blooded American would do: He filed a lawsuit.
Until his dismissal in early February, Bruce spent five years as WIOD's program director. Attorney William Amlong, who filed the papers in federal court October 13, says Bruce was fired from the station without cause, and alleges that Jicha's column about the incident was libelous.
"Gary's fourth-quarter job review was beaming," says Amlong. "Somebody, it appears, wanted to do serious harm to him. He's also not an on-air personality, so I can't figure out why Jicha is writing about him. The firing of a behind-the-scenes program director is news?"
On February 11, the Sun Sentinel published Jicha's 470-word farewell to the program director. "Bruce's departure comes on the eve of another round of schedule changes he had announced in a bid to stop a ratings hemorrhage created by previous moves he made," Jicha wrote. He cited the 1993 Arbitron ratings, which indicated a 30 percent decline from the year before. He characterized Bruce as "the person who fired" Mike Reineri (former WIOD morning man who now does his jabbering at WAXY-AM ) and Hank Goldberg (now at WQAM-AM ) and "drove away" Joe Zagacki and Henry Barrow (now at WQAM and WAXY, respectively). Jicha was unable to elicit comment from Bruce or WIOD general manager Bob Green, but he did quote Neil Rogers -- who opined that Bruce "didn't have a clue" and that the firing was "long overdue" -- and Goldberg who told him he'd picked four winning horses at Gulfstream that day: "I don't know what I feel better about -- the four winners or this. Yeah, I do. This. This is better than hitting the Pick Six. Gary Bruce was the dumbest human being I ever met in the business." The piece ended with a comment from Reineri: "In a way, now that I'm a competitor, I'm kind of sorry to see him go. They might hire somebody with a brain."
A few days later, on Valentine's Day, Rogers read Jicha's column aloud on the air, which earned him a mention in the lawsuit, too -- for slander.
According to Amlong, the article contains a number of falsehoods. He and Bruce dispute Jicha's interpretation of the ratings. They assert that Bruce did not make program changes without management consent, that there was no breach in Bruce's relationship with his employers, that Bruce did not cause an "overall decline" at WIOD, that it was not a mistake to fire Mike Reineri, that Bruce did not "drive away" Joe Zagacki and Henry Barrow, and that the comments made by Goldberg and Reineri are libelous.
(Attorneys for the Sun Sentinel declined to comment about the suit; Tom Jicha says he is prohibited from discussing anything related to the litigation. Attorney Terry Bienstock, representing WIOD and Rogers, will only say he expects the case to "make its way through the federal courts.")
"If you're fired, you're out of a job. But then if the whole world gets told about it, you're damaged goods," explains Amlong, himself a former journalist who worked in the newsroom of the Miami Herald from 1963 to 1983. "Everybody who wanted you to be their sweetheart last week, now you're a leper. And if [people think] the reason you were fired is that you were a blithering incompetent, you're a good bet to become Leper of the Year."
Amlong contends that news of the dismissal sparked a fear of leprosy in Los Angeles, specifically at KABC-AM, where Bruce was being considered for a job. When he failed to get that position, Bruce signed on at WWWE-AM in Cleveland. "He's looking at a $35,000 drop in salary," says the attorney. (Bruce was paid about $124,000 during his final year at WIOD, according to Amlong.) "[Before this] he was getting job offers in the $250,000 range. He used to get calls from major markets all the time, which happens when you're employed, when you're hot. When you're not employed and not hot, those calls don't come in."
KABC general manager George Green confirms that Bruce had been considered for the program director's spot at that station, but won't comment further about the matter. Amlong admits it's unlikely a West Coast radio executive reads the Sun Sentinel or listens to WIOD, and speculates the news may have reached Green via Inside Radio, an industry publication that also carried the news of Bruce's departure but is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. "That story said Gary Bruce was out at WIOD, with Bob Green calling it 'a resignation.' But Neil called him 'an impediment' and said he was 'in over his head,'" Amlong says of the perennially peevish Rogers. "He used to refer to him as 'Boy Gary' and 'that asshole from Louisville' on the air," adds the attorney.
Bruce was replaced at WIOD by Steve Nicholl, whom Rogers has nicknamed "Steve Nicholl Bag.