Hopes for Minority-Owned Sports Radio Station Fizzle
Many people think their boss is full of shit, but Tom Gulley had proof. This summer, Gulley left his six-figure advertising job in Connecticut to return to broadcasting, co-hosting a morning sports show on KFCD-AM with Thom Bailey, who launched the new format in January. Although Gulley was excited to be back on the air, he quickly became disillusioned with his co-host, he says, who showed up late nearly every morning, antagonized guests and uttered profanities on-air. Then, just when Gulley didn't think that Bailey could behave any worse, his co-host startled him with a rather embarrassing admission during a break.
"One morning I'm sitting across the table from him and he has this look on his face, a weird, uncomfortable look," Gulley says. "And he said, 'oh man, oh man, I think I just shit my pants' and goes to the bathroom. He didn't come out for 45 minutes."
On October 29, KFCD-AM, known as Sports Fan 990, switched to a gospel music format shortly after an interview with auto racing star Mario Andretti. Meant as an alternative to the jocular sports programming at 1310 KCTK-AM, The Ticket, Sports Fan 990 attracted a slew of impressive guests, even though it barely registered in the ratings. While Bailey, who had been leasing air time on the station, hopes to revive the format, a parade of former staffers say that he can't run his own life, much less a radio station. Many of them claim they were never paid, several say he continually berated them and just about everyone says that he was a train wreck behind the microphone.
"One time he was up late arguing with one of his girlfriends, and he would bring it up on the air," says Raul Enriquez, who worked as a board operator for Sports Fan 990. "He would say, 'I'm having women problems but they're my problems, and I don't want to discuss it,' and I'd think, 'Well then why say that on the air?'"
While some former employees chuckle at Bailey's penchant for on-air blunders, one of which included answering his cell phone several times in the middle of his show, others say they feel betrayed. Several ex-staff say Sports Fan 990 had a chance to carve a niche in the lily-white world of Dallas-Fort Worth sports radio, particularly since many of its personalities, including Bailey, are black. But Bailey, they say, destroyed the station's prospects with a corrosive style of management that sunk morale and chased others away. Timm Matthews, who worked as a host, says that Bailey has a "rotten personality" and calls him a "walking disaster." He says that Bailey ritually demeaned staff, even though he failed to pay those who worked for him.
"He was rude and offensive to almost everybody and anybody on a daily basis," Matthews says. "He would always have a scowl on his face and was always pissed off and angry with the world."
In a series of interviews, Bailey comes off as proud, charming and oddly magnanimous. Even after being read a series of stinging quotes by Matthews, he says, "If I was in a position to hire Timm Matthews, I wouldn't hesitate."
Bailey admitted he still owes some of his employees money but denies ever swearing on air, treating his staff poorly or soiling his pants. Still, he doesn't seem to have much animosity toward Tom Gulley, even when told that his former co-host recounted to us the story of his allegedly shaky bowels.
"I like Tom Gulley; I talk to him every day," he says. "Gulley is from my hometown. I assume that's why we click so."
Gulley says that even after he left the station in disgust two months ago, Bailey continued to call him. He says he told his former co-host that it's best they don't talk. Gulley had dreamed of being a sports talk show host and says that Bailey ruined his chance by failing to adhere even to the lowest standards of workplace behavior. Gulley says that when Bailey was on the air, he'd spit rather audibly onto a torn-up newspaper by his feet. He didn't prepare for the show and often embarrassed guests with his lack of knowledge, like when he asked Pat Summerall "what it was like to play for the Philly Eagles." Summerall, in fact, was a long-time New York Giant who never played for Philadelphia.
But most of all, Gulley was rather embarrassed by his co-host's mouth.
"He would drop F-bombs on the air and he would then turn to me and say, 'Did I just say that?'"
Leon Simon, a retired barber who has become a local sports talk fixture, says that while Bailey was a "little rough" behind the microphone, he wasn't any more profane than the hosts on The Ticket.
"He was constantly talking about whipping somebody's ass on the radio," says Simon, an on-air personality at KFCD. "What Thom said on the air I used to disagree with, but I heard some of the same stupid stuff on The Ticket."
Bailey insists he never swore on the air, other than saying "ass."
"We never used 'shit' or 'fuck' on the air. Those things are prohibited," he says. "I know good from bad, from evil, unlike The Ticket over there. I don't hear anybody complain over them. I hear them say shit—I mean ass."
Even when he was off-air, Bailey managed to startle his staff. Two former employees say they would see Bailey in the office walking around without a shirt. Osborne Lowe, a former host at the station, says that Bailey once came to work in his pajamas.
Bailey could be intimidating when he wanted to be. In August, Lori-Lynn Baker, who had just hired on as a sales manager at the station, says she called a staff meeting with Bailey after several employees were ready to walk out because they hadn't been paid. She told him that he needed to address his employees' complaints in a fair and composed manner. Don't come down here, she told him, if you're going to be in a bad mood.
"I knew it was bad when he walked in with his hockey stick," she says.
Baker says that an animated Bailey ridiculed just about everyone in the room, pointing the stick at various staffers and lecturing them about why they needed to work harder if they wanted to get paid. After seeing one dejected employee slump in his chair, Baker decided she had enough, grabbed her laptop and walked out the door.
"I told him, 'I'm not doing this anymore. You're an ass. You are going to take this station down. You have no respect for anyone but yourself,'" she says. "I just went off. I couldn't watch it anymore."
Baker says that Bailey, still holding his hockey stick, stood in between her and the door and wouldn't move until another staff member told him to get out of her way. She promptly left the building.
Bailey denies the entire hockey stick incident, but several other employees corroborate Baker's account of a bizarre and charged meeting.
"Everyone was sitting in the conference room, he walks in with a hockey stick and basically says, 'I'll do what I'll do,'" Matthews says. "He got into one guy saying that he wasn't selling enough. When the guy said that his wife was uncomfortable with him selling to some businesses—it might have been a strip club or something—Bailey said, 'You're gutless and ball-less, and your wife is running the show here.'"
Bailey's former staff members don't understand how he was able to lease air time at a major-market station in the first place. But even though Bailey largely did freelance radio and writing before launching the sports radio station, he managed to attract several investors. One of those was Gene Jacobson, who loaned Bailey $40,000.
"I don't blame him; I'm over 21, I made the decision to do it," he says. "I felt the idea of having a minority-owned sports talk station in Dallas, Texas, was a good idea, and if I could help perpetuate it, I wanted to."
Bailey says that he plans to take out a loan to pay some staffers back. He's as disappointed as anyone, he says, but seemed alarmed at the anger directed toward him.
"I mean shit. I mean hell. I mean God. I mean wow," he says, after being read a series of complaints about his leadership style. "I wish I could have changed everything from day one, but you don't know the outcome until you get involved in the situation."
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