March 9 2011 12:00 AM

The out-of-work radio personality discusses life on unemployment and the bad blood with his former employer


Rich Michaels, the ex-host of “Michaels in the Morning” on WMMQ 94.9 FM, says his former employer is unfairly preventing him from getting another job and is forcing him into a circumstance he’s not proud of: taking unemployment compensation.

“They make everyone, in my opinion, an indentured servant,” Michaels said of Citadel Broadcasting.

Michaels was fired from Citadel in December for what he said it called “insubordinate behavior.” Last spring, he signed a new contract with Citadel that included a “noncompete” clause that said he would not work within 60 miles of a Citadel-owned station for a year. Michaels said he has been paid “zero” severance.

Now, Michaels, 50, said he is living on $316 a week in unemployment compensation from the state. He sold his new Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck for a “cheap $9,000 (Chevrolet) Aveo,” uses a wood-burning stove for heat and had to cancel his DirecTV subscription.

While Michaels may have once spoken harshly of those receiving unemployment, he said, he sympathizes with them “now more than ever.”

“I have no problem with unemployment itself. I have a problem with people who abuse it,” he said. “Handouts have a downside. It’s both. It’s good that there’s something to help people, but people who abuse it, shame on them.”

Michaels said he still gets up at 4 a.m. everyday to work on contracts and his “small business,” Rich Michaels Productions, which does voice work for commercial spots.

“Dude, you gotta move on. I just want to work,” he said.

On his website, Michaels says Citadel is trying to silence him because “they understand that my returning to another radio station will vastly affect their sales.”

Michaels hosted “Michaels in the Morning” from 1984 to 1993 and again from 1997 to last December, he said.

Michaels said he was fired for “insubordinate” behavior in mid-December, but he would not go into details. Matt Hanlon, a regional president for Citadel based in Grand Rapids, did not return multiple calls for comment. Kelly Norton, WMMQ director of sales in Lansing, directed requests for comment to Hanlon.

“They kicked my ass out under trumped-up insubordination (claims),” Michaels said.

“I don’t want to deal with this bullshit. I just want to go back to work,” said Michaels, whose real name is Richard Minaya. “I get now what everyone else is going through. I’ve never been put in this position before.”

Michaels signed a contract last spring with the company that included a one-year “non-compete” clause, meaning he can’t be employed by a competitor within 60 miles of a Citadel-owned station for a year. While Michaels admitted that non-competes are “common” in the radio business, he said, “The most I’ve seen is 90 days.”

Michaels’ former morning competition, Tim Barron, said non-competes are “very standard” in disc jockey contracts. Barron said he successfully “beat a one-year non-compete in court in 1997,” which allowed him to go back to work in the local market.

Barron said he too “was booted from Citadel five years ago. They had to pay me a considerable amount to stay off the air.”

But he said after 90 days, if the company isn’t paying you to stay off the air, “judges override non-competes all the time.”

Barron, who hosts a weekday morning show on WLMI 92.9 FM, said he feels “very sorry for Rich in this case” and hopes he gets a shot to work in Lansing again.

“People may or may not like Rich, but he’s been around a long time — he knows what he’s doing,” he said. “I can’t wait to compete against him again so I can kick his ass some more in the ratings.”

City Pulse reported in July about a domestic violence incident between Michaels and his wife, Lisa Minaya. The Eaton County prosecutor’s office declined to press charges after it investigated his wife’s accusation. The two finalized a divorce in October, but Michaels said “that whole thing for me last year was embarrassing as hell.”

But Citadel’s choice to let him go only made things worse, Michaels said.

“For me, this (radio) is the only thing I’ve done since I was 14 years old,” Michaels said. “I’ve got this corporate monster sitting on little old me. I just want to go back to work.”

And he still doesn’t understand Citadel’s insubordination claims.

“If you hire somebody who’s a frickin’ barking dog, don’t expect he won’t bark sometimes.”