Buddy Cianci was on a plane to Florida for a five-day vacation. So Ron St. Pierre, his longtime talk radio sidekick, had the microphone to himself.
It was a lively show. For the first hour or so, the talk was of legislation that would require pit bull owners to muzzle their dogs. And at the end of the Valentine's Day show, St. Pierre asked women listeners if they really meant it when they told their boyfriends and husbands to skip the Hallmark holiday.
"The phones went crazy," St. Pierre recalls.
It was good talk radio, he says — a mix of serious and light that had listeners engaged and a little emotional. "I'm walking down the stairs thinking, 'That was one of the best shows I've ever done,' " he says, "and I turn the corner and they just pulled me in and fired me."
So ended a Rhode Island Radio Hall of Famer's second stint — 22 years total — with WPRO, the state's leading talk radio station.
A week later, there's no official explanation. Craig Schwalb, the station's program director, declined to comment when reached by the Phoenix. But on Tuesday Cianci, in his first on-air appearance since the firing, said management told him it was a cost-cutting move.
It would not be the first time corporate parent Cumulus has moved to trim the budget since it bought WPRO and the rest of Citadel Broadcasting's suite of Providence stations. In the fall of 2011, it laid off seven staffers at the stations. And it has cut pay for some at WPRO.
Cianci said, on the air, that he had no advance notice of the St. Pierre sacking. When he landed in Florida at about 7 pm that evening, he said, he picked up a voicemail from management telling him to call the station. It was on the subsequent call that he got the news.
Cianci said he feels "very badly" about the move "because Ron and I have been friends for an awful long time." And their relationship does go back decades.
St. Pierre covered the former Providence mayor as a cub reporter. He hired Cianci as WHJJ's afternoon drive host in 1984. And when Cianci went to federal prison for running a criminal enterprise out of City Hall, St. Pierre visited him 10 times. His presence at WPRO played no small role in Cianci's decision to take a job at the station in 2007.
But when the station pulled St. Pierre out of the morning drive slot and paired him with Cianci, it was a demotion of sorts. And it wasn't clear, over the next five-and-a-half years, that the role represented the highest and best use of the radio veteran's talents.
Perhaps we'll hear from him again, though. A non-compete clause in his contract requires him to sit pat for awhile before talking to WPRO's competitors. But St. Pierre says he'd like to get back into radio or television.
"I'm pretty passionate about this," he says.