The Round Guy is fired from KBOE; longtime media personality says he's done with radio
Steve "The Round Guy" Pilchen is off the air again. This time he says it's permanent.
Pilchen returned to central Iowa airwaves in January 2016 at KBOE-FM in Oskaloosa. The station fired him March 29.
Pilchen is 64 and turns 65 in November. He hopes to find work to make ends meet until he turns 65, when he qualifies for Medicare.
But, sadly for central Iowa listeners, his next stop will not be on any radio dial.
"I'm looking for a job, but not a radio job," Pilchen told me over a recent lunch. "I've had enough. It's a tough, vicious business, and I don't feel like being stabbed in the back again."
Clown about town
The Round Guy is best-known to scores of central Iowa radio listeners for his two decade-long association with Larry Morgan and Lou Sipolt on the top radio morning show "Lou & Larry" on KGGO-FM from 1991 to 2011.
Pilchen was the show's designated clown about town.
For a field piece, Pilchen was once suspended by a crane in a suit of Velcro covered in tennis balls. People would come and knock a ball off with a special rope. The balls were numbered and each number corresponded to a surprise.
One of Pilchen's favorite gags was at a Toyota dealership. The station promised a big giveaway. Hundreds of people showed up to win what they thought was a new car.
When the final winner was selected, Pilchen handed over a toy Yoda, as in the big-eared Muppet from "Star Wars."
Get it? Toy Yoda. Toyota.
"The guy didn't think it was funny," Pilchen recalled. "He looked like he was going to beat me up."
End of an era
When Morgan left KGGO to focus on sports broadcasting and advertising sales, the Round Guy joined the show as a permanent fixture.
Sipolt and Pilchen were later joined by Heather Burnside.
The media conglomerate Cumulus Broadcasting bought KGGO in September 2011. In December, they fired Pilchen and pushed aside Sipolt and Burnside, who both later left the company.
But Pilchen was the odd man out.
He couldn't catch on at any of the stations in Des Moines. He found it more difficult to get comedy gigs, the genre where his media star began to rise nearly 40 years ago.
Pilchen and I met in November 2015. He called me to pitch a story about a friend of his, an Iowa native and classical musician he was trying to get to come to Des Moines to perform with the Des Moines Symphony.
Pilchen introduced himself by his real name, but I was a longtime KGGO listener and recognized his voice.
I asked him how he was doing. This led to a meeting over coffee and the beginning of our friendship.
A fresh start
I wrote a column about Pilchen, who was working as a security guard at the time. He'd sold off most of his sports and music memorabilia collection.
He lost his house to foreclosure. He was working completely outside the field he was known for.
Steve 'the Round Guy' Pilchen will return to Iowa airwaves after a five-year absence. The Register
After my column ran, Pilchen got a call from Rick Watts, station manager at KBOE.
Watts was relatively new to the station and wanted to shake things up. He hired the Round Guy for a new morning show.
Pilchen was willing to move to Oskaloosa, where he'd played baseball in college in the early 1970s and met his late wife, Diane.
Things seemed to be going well. Pilchen admitted that after five years out of radio it took him some time to get his rhythm back.
But he seemed solid when I spent a morning on the air with him at KBOE in January 2016.
A sudden turn
Pilchen also thought things were going well at KBOE. Some of his coworkers were put off one day when the station's air conditioner was malfunctioning in the middle of the summer.
So Pilchen told listeners he was going to take his shirt off, which he did. Pilchen said one of the other on-air personalities texted a picture to the station manager.
A female member of the sales staff was upset, he said.
Pilchen met with the station manager, a person from human resources and the offended employees. He said they resolved the issue amicably and no written warnings were given, Pilchen said.
In late March, shortly before Easter, Pilchen invited an author on his morning show to talk about a book that included the search for the Ark of the Covenant.
After his show, Pilchen said Watts called him into his office. Pilchen remembers Watts telling him the interview was dull and turned listeners off.
Watts, Pilchen said, also was upset the interview promoted a book signing at an Oskaloosa store that didn't advertise with the station.
I called Watts to get his side of the story, but he politely and pleasantly declined to comment, citing employee privacy issues.
Pilchen said the station contested his unemployment filing. The issue was headed to an administrative law judge, Pilchen said.
Iowa is an at-will employment state, which means unless you are a part of a union with a collective-bargaining agreement, you can be fired for any or no reason.
However, workers are entitled to unemployment benefits unless the firing was because of misconduct, such as violation of written company policies.
Pilchen said the only two issues he can recall in his year-and-a-half at KBOE involved the shirt and the author interview which led to his firing.
That doesn't sound like misconduct to me, but Watts isn't telling his side of the story. The court's decision, however, will be public record.
Until a final decision is reached, Pilchen is looking for work. After five years of unemployment and underemployment, Pilchen said he was just starting to rebuild his savings during his time at KBOE.
"If that unemployment doesn't come through, it's going to be a rough ride," Pilchen said, "but I'll make it."
Despite potential hardships, the Round Guy was upbeat when we met for lunch without a hint of melancholy or maudlin in his attitude. He seemed at peace with the end of his radio career.
Pilchen plans to stay in Oskaloosa for the time being.
"I'm comfortable," he said.
Cue radio static.
Columnist Daniel P. Finney is a Drake University alumnus who grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. More from Finney: DesMoinesRegister.com/Finney.