Morning show hosts Storm Zbel (L) and Kenny Z enjoyed a fantastic run on the local airwaves
It's an ongoing story. The "Storm & Kenny Radio Show with Stupid Mike" was a four-hour segment starring main hosts Storm Zbel and "Kenny Z" Zimlinghaus and featuring co-host Mike "Stupid Mike" Fili, commentator Heather "Traffic Fairy" Daniels, and many other regular guests and bit players. Broadcast on 96 Wave every weekday from 6-10 a.m., it was a consistently-entertaining, sharply funny, wildly unpredictable program that championed their listeners and the cultural diversity of the Lowcountry. It was one of the finest local shows on the local airwaves.
Despite high ratings (via Arbitron) through 2004-'05, the show was suddenly cancelled on Mon. March 27 with little fanfare or acknowledgement from the station — an event that enticed shock, anger, disappointment, and disbelief from loyal listeners.
Wave management told City Paper the dismissal was purely a business decision based on low ratings and financial figures. "Storm and Kenny were fired because they were rated number 17 in morning drive during the last ratings period," said production manager and daytime jock Dave Rossi. "After 29 months on the air together and barely ranking in the Top 20, we decided it was time to make a change in mornings."
Zbel adamantly disagrees. "They had a very knee-jerk reaction," he says. "They panicked. They thought they had to change the music, fire the morning show, and hire a consultant. They didn't even give us a chance to bounce back. All they had to do was wait one more 30-day period to see if it really was a fluke. Then it would have been a different story."
Zbel initially worked at 96 Wave from 1993-'96 alongside former DJ Atom Taler and current afternoon and weekend jock The Critic. After a few years, he wanted to move ahead from playing a bit role and host his own show. In 1996, he started working in Boston doing nights, then afternoons and mornings. It was in Boston where he and Kenny Z first crossed paths as poker buddies and began collaborating on material.
In 2003, Zbel returned to Charleston to host the morning show (replacing Dick Dale) and added Kenny to the lineup. In Nov. 2003, they started their morning show series with a loop of Ravel's Bolero playing in the background for the entire four-hour broadcast of the kick-off episode. Shortly after, Stupid Mike came on as the bit player who'd do just about anything — no matter how ridiculous or yucky — for a laugh.
"It would have been one thing if things weren't working out and they decided to go with something else," says Zbel of their recent dismissal. "I got no real clear reason. One was the ratings ... but we get one bad book in a three-month period and that erases a year's worth of good work? We gave two good years and we produced results — ratings results and event results. Any Storm & Kenny event we did drew fans. We had good relationships with the clients. Whatever we got behind did well."
"It's always gonna be hard for management to understand this kind of stuff," says Kenny Z. "When you're a manager of creative talent, you have to be aware of that and not expect them to conform to whatever you think's best."
After the expulsion, Storm and Kenny began researching the tricky issue of "intellectual property rights" in an attempt to approach what they consider to be the station's confiscation and withholding of their recorded materials and promotional tools.
"We have no dibs on anything we did while we were there for those two years," claims Zbel. "We were in the process of mastering much if it all, but we only have a fraction of it. There's a huge chunk of magic that's gone forever. We have over 13 years' worth of sounds, bits, and drops that we had fed into the system. I don't know what's going to happen."
"[They] were given anything that belonged to them upon their termination," counters Wave's general manager Chris Johnson. "Any other materials or recordings are the property of Apex Broadcasting."
As it stands, there is no real morning show on Wave. Veteran baritone disc jockey Miles Crosby does a fine job announcing songs, making commentary on current events, covering local news, and handling callers, but it's basically a straight-ahead "Wave-style" broadcast with regular format, replete with plenty of familiar "alternative" hits from Pearl Jam to the Foo Fighters and back (and devoid of much of the classic rock nuggets promised by the "Wave on Shuffle" concept).
"The Wave is adrift," states Zbel. "It has no sails. It has no engine. It doesn't know where it's going. Whatever negative vibe was floating around, it didn't matter, though. We'd go in every day and we're very proud of what we did.
"Kenny and I are sticking together," he adds. "We're 100 percent confident in our talents and abilities, and no matter where we go, it's going to be a better place and a better situation. We'll rebuild the show again. We were the core and strength of the show and we will move ahead."