By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I knew something was going to be happening," says Williams of that final Sunday evening. "At the end of the show...I wanted to tell people that if this is the last time we get a chance to speak that I love you all and have faith." Williams was clued in to his supervisors' unhappiness about his programming selections the previous Friday, after they'd heard him play a five-minute Bill Cosby cut on his show. To many people, Rudy V included, Cosby might not seem out of place on an adult R&B station, but to Ken Dowe, KRNB's operations manager, the clip sounded like ratings suicide.
"When did this become a comedy station?" Dowe lamented in an e-mail to the station's programming director, according to Williams. Dowe's concerns, as far as ratings go, were real. KRNB is Service Broadcasting's sister station to KKDA, better known as K104, the urban contemporary station that consistently ranks No. 1 in Dallas/Fort Worth. According to Arbitron, which ranks radio station performance, KRNB has done well to break into the low 20s for the past couple of years. It's as if Dowe is simultaneously managing both the Yankees and the Cubs. For a while at least, Rudy V was the star player on a losing team, bringing in thousands of listeners every evening to an otherwise middling station.
"I think he's a terrific talent," says Dowe in a phone interview. "He's one of the best talents I've ever worked with." Williams became a DJ by chance--or fate, he'd say. He played college football, then had a brief stint as a pro before a hamstring injury forced him to quit. He went to work at UPS, then won a "DJ for an hour" contest at KMJQ in Houston. He became a full-time employee there before Dowe recruited Williams to KRNB when it launched in 1996.
Rudy V's vision for the Quiet Storm incorporated counseling sessions with troubled listeners, religious talk and selections from Rudy V's "little black bag of hits," songs he'd bring from home to play on the show that were not necessarily on the KRNB roster. On Sunday mornings, he hosted a gospel program and in recent months was allowed to schedule a new "Thursday Night Live" show, playing live hits. It was on that show in October that Rudy V played the Cosby cut--as if a comedian were emceeing a concert, he says. Less than a week later, Williams wasn't coming to work after Dowe told him his programming decisions cost too many listeners.
"I didn't dismiss him," says Dowe, who says that KRNB couldn't afford Rudy V's deviation from their adult urban format. "The radio station didn't dismiss him. He simply stopped coming to work." Williams says he was willing to comply with the format if Dowe programmed his shows for him.
"I started saying I don't want to be responsible for the station's loss in any way," Williams says. He says he told Dowe, "You give me this latitude and this autonomy to choose the music, so I tell you what, I'll back off. You program the music."
According to Williams, Dowe refused to program his shows, leaving him with little direction. He and his agent decided he wouldn't work until he and KRNB came to an agreement about who would schedule Rudy V's play lists. When the agreement was never reached, Dowe said in an e-mail to Williams' agent that that constituted quitting, while Williams holds that KRNB's lack of cooperation means he was fired. In any case, Williams says he was denied unemployment, and he can't work in the Dallas/Fort Worth market until the non-compete clause of his contract expires in August 2007.
"He's too good a talent for us to turn him loose here," says Dowe, who says repeatedly how much he likes Williams as a person and values him as a radio personality. Williams, likewise, had nothing negative to say about Dowe, referring to him as "Coach" on more than one occasion. So why can't we all just get along?
Now it's too late, Dowe says. They've already hired another DJ for the Quiet Storm slot. Williams says he'd be happy to go back to KRNB at any time, but he says his house was foreclosed on this weekend, and he may be moving out of town to avoid breaching his contract. Still, he says, he wouldn't change a thing.
"With what [the Quiet Storm] produced and how many people that were touched," says Williams, "I'd gladly do it again with the same results. I'd still be confused, but that's just life."