BANGOR, Maine — On Thursday afternoon, Dale Duff and Clem LaBree were preparing for their 4 to 6 p.m. sports talk show on Bangor radio station WZON-AM 620.
At 1:30 p.m., Duff was editing and cutting highlights of Wednesday night’s Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics games.
Fifteen minutes later, Duff and LaBree were told they were out of their jobs immediately.
Duff, who writes a blog for Bangor Daily News, was the sports director and sportscaster and LaBree was a reporter and sportscaster.
Duff was hired by station owner and best-selling author Stephen King 19 years ago to be the sports director of the state’s first 24-hour sports talk station.
It was King who delivered the news on Thursday, Duff said.
“He said we were losing too much money. He said it didn’t have anything to do with broadcast quality,” said Duff. “He thanked us for our hard work.”
Duff said he and LaBree cleaned out their desks and left the station for good Thursday night.
He said they will receive severance packages.
The Zone Corp. has undergone a number of changes in recent years.
The 24-hour, all-sports format was ditched in favor of a progressive liberal talk show format in November 2010.
Duff and LaBree had their 6-9 a.m. sports talk show shifted to 4-6 p.m.
The FM station, 103.1 The Pulse, has been simulcast with WZON-AM although sports broadcasts were carried exclusively on the AM station.
Rock station WKIT-FM 100.3 also is part of the Zone Corp.
In 2008, WZON lost the broadcast rights for University of Maine games to Clear Channel and Learfield Communications.
King signed a three-year contract to broadcast Boston Red Sox games this past offseason, but that represents the only sports on the station.
Duff and LaBree have broadcast a number of high school games in addition to Husson University contests up until Thursday.
In fact, Duff, LaBree and Toby Nelson combined to do a pair of high school baseball games on Wednesday.
“I can’t say I’m devastated. I don’t know how I feel,” said Duff, who was composed but obviously disappointed.
WZON-AM was chosen by The Associated Press as the state’s best station on two occasions and won 135 awards.
“I think we served the community well sportswise,” said Duff, who is president of Bangor East Side Little League. “It’s all about local sports now. When we were doing University of Maine games, we did 120 Maine games and 150 high school games in one year. We carried every [Boston] championship including two Boston Red Sox World Series championships, last year’s Bruins Stanley Cup title, the Celtics’ championship in 2008 and the Patriots’ [three] Super Bowl wins.
“There isn’t a station in Maine that did what we did, sportswise,” he added.
The 54-year-old Duff, a Houlton native who has been a fixture in the Bangor media for 34 years including a stint as sports director/anchor at WLBZ-TV Channel 2, said he isn’t sure about his future but he would like to stay in sports.