Radio station KSET, the Beaumont news-talk outlet that broadcasts at 1300 AM, has gone silent. A hastily scribbled note posted on the door of the KSET studio at 5550 Eastex Freeway read “KSET RADIO HAS TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED OPERATIONS. OWNER HAS TAKEN OVER MANAGEMENT.” A second note provided employees an address to e-mail their timecards.
These events took place with no apparent warning on the morning of Monday, Jan. 16. An episode of the syndicated Dennis Miller Show was being re-broadcast, but the station went silent by mid-day.
Lee Melton, general sales manager for KSET, told the Business Journal, “It kind of came as a shock this morning. I got a phone call from one of my producers trying to get into the radio station.”
Melton said station owner William Hill “has changed the locks, and I have no idea what is happening. The entire crew, every employee including myself, was locked out as of this morning.”
Attempts to reach Hill were unsuccessful. A source that did not wish to be identified for this story told the Business Journal that Hill had battled health problems in recent months. According to the source, “Mr. Hill said he was going to put the station up for sale and suspended operations to conduct an audit” in order to effect such a sale. The source declined to provide direct contact information for Hill.
“Only William Hill knows where KSET is going at this point,” said Melton. “I’ve been trying to contact my advertisers and let them know. Obviously we had things on the books ready to run.”
In a little more than two years on the air, KSET had established a reputation for broadcasting local news and talk programming. The Dennis Miller Show was one of the few syndicated offerings on KSET, compared to the dominant Clear Channel station KLVI, whose daily programming hours were dominated by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
While Melton expressed surprise at the shutdown, others said they saw signs of trouble at the station in recent weeks.
James Dabney, who had hosted In the House with James and Julie from 5 to 9 a.m. five days a week with his wife, said he had no idea KSET was about to suspend operations when he made the decision to leave the station.
“We did our last show on Thursday, Jan. 12,” Dabney said. “About three months ago, I told Julie I’ve got a bad feeling; something’s not right. For example, the equipment in the place was literally just falling apart and there were other issues, financial issues.”
Dabney said he told his advertisers in advance he was not renewing their contracts because he had decided to leave KSET but that all of his advertisers received all the spots they had paid for by Jan. 12.
“I told all my folks I wanted to be on the radio; I hate that we’re not, but I had concerns about what was going on and didn’t want to be (on KSET) anymore,” he said.
Citing on-going financial issues at KSET, Dabney said, “I’ve been in business all my adult life and the bottom line is when there’s no money, something’s real wrong because we had plenty of sponsors; I had sponsors and I’m sure the other shows did and the commercial breaks just seemed to get longer, yet where’s the money?”
Speculation over whether Hill was planning to sell the radio station or bring in another management group was not grounded in any verifiable facts at press time.
Melton said that decision rested with one man.
“William Hill, at the end of the day, owns the license; he owns KSET, and if he chooses to take it off the air or sell it to somebody else, he’s got that right every day of the week,” he said.
— James Shannon
Business Journal editor James Shannon offers a weekly column of business news for readers of The Examiner. For more details, see the editions of the Business journal published monthly in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Greater Orange. Check out the blog at setxbiz.blogspot.com or e-mail james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.