Mike Kaplan Out at KROQ; Audacy Executive Made Sweeping Station Changes, But Lost Listeners

Courtesy of Audacy

Mike Kaplan has exited as program director at KROQ, the station he revamped after joining in 2020 — to disastrous results. The senior VP of programming at Audacy (formerly Entercom) and brand manager for New York alternative outlet WNYL joined the company after its 2017 acquisition and subsequent revamp of the former CBS Radio chain. He later added KROQ stripes, but has stepped down from his role overseeing the Los Angeles rock station.

Says a rep for Audacy: “Mike Kaplan has decided to step down as KROQ Brand Manager. Mike has come to the conclusion, personally and professionally, that this is best for him. He also believes KROQ deserves a Brand Manager solely dedicated to the brand and one that lives in Los Angeles 24/7.  Mike will continue on as Brand Manager at New York’s Alt 92.3 and as Audacy’s Alternative Format VP. Our search for a new VP of Programming for KROQ begins today.”

Indeed, a job posting on Audacy seeking a VP of programming lists “a once in a lifetime opening for a creative genius to lead the World Famous KROQ.” The company is looking for: “a big thinker, highly detail oriented and a dynamic leader” who has “a passion for music, entertainment and culture and is immersed in the latest social media trends and marketing shifts.”

KROQ had weathered major changes under Kaplan, who took over the station after the exit of longtime program director Kevin Weatherly. The beloved Weatherly left in 2020 after 28 years (on the heels of a proposed pay cut) for a position at Spotify. Most notably, Kaplan was at the helm when morning host Kevin Ryder was fired after three decades on the job.

With Kaplan officially assuming brand manager duties for KROQ in Feb. 2020, the executive initially steered the station away from its rock and alternative roots towards more pop-leaning fare, riding the wave of TikTok-launched hits. But as ratings sunk in the wake of Ryder’s exit and the music tweak, KROQ had more recently reverted back to a heavier rock sound, with emphasis on recurrents from core artists like Muse and Foo Fighters.

“Rock music is part of what we do, it’s part of alternative, but it’s not the only part of alternative,” Kaplan told Variety in a May 2020 article titled “It’s the End of the World Famous KROQ as We Know It.” “We’re not just looking to play four white dudes in a band. Our audience is as diverse as ever and our playlist needs to be too. Whether it’s Billie Eilish or Lana Del Rey or rappers making alternative tracks such as 24kGoldn and Dominic Fike, we’re bringing together what millennials and Gen Z fans want. …  We don’t just stand for one thing. It’s a lifestyle and an attitude.”

But in targeting a younger audience, which doesn’t traditionally listen to the radio in great numbers, the station lost a significant portion of its core audience. The most recent ratings report shows KROQ’s Jan. 2022 cume was down 19% from six months earlier. Among Los Angeles radio frequencies, KROQ is behind competitor KYSR-FM (“Alt 98.7”), an iHeartRadio station, though the latter is also grappling with listenership declines.

KROQ’s morning woes didn’t help; after letting go of “Kevin in the Morning with Allie & Jensen” — a reworking of the popular, three-decade “Kevin & Bean Show” (with Allie Mac Kay and Jensen Karp filling the void after Gene “Bean” Baxter’s exit), Kaplan moved its afternoon show, featuring Kevin Klein and Ted Stryker, to mornings. But Stryker later left and moved to Alt 98.7, as announced last month.

On New York’s Alt 92.3, the east coast version of KROQ (which Kaplan also programmed), he took some heat recently related to that station’s morning show, helmed by hosts Cane and Corey. The two and their producer were fired from the station for a series of work violations, including a vaccination requirement, and went on a tear about “Mike the Show Killer” — as Kaplan has been dubbed — on a podcast taped immediately after.

KROQ has been a SoCal mainstay since the early 1980s, when it championed left of center artists and made a name for itself as a true — and cool — alternative to mainstream pop via its “Roq of the 80s” format. In the 1990s came the peak of the alternative music format thanks to the success of bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. KROQ became one of the nation’s top-billing stations (as high as $68 million in 2005), a model for alternative radio across the country. By the 2000s, KROQ had climbed to the pinnacle of L.A.’s radio ratings, and as recently as 2014, “Kevin & Bean” was still the No. 1 morning show in Los Angeles.