Former 89X radio host Mark McKenzie talks switch to country music, being laid off while on air

‘I think (the switch to country) almost is hurting me more than the job loss,’ McKenzie says

Former 89X radio host Mark McKenzie spoke with Local 4 about the station's switch to country music and how the process went down behind the scenes.

DETROIT – Former 89X radio host Mark McKenzie said he was abruptly laid off while on the air, but the station’s dramatic switch from alternative rock to country music after 30 years hurt him just as much as losing his job.

You can watch the full interview in the video above.

‘Pure Country 89′

On Thursday, 88.7 FM radio out of Windsor, Ontario, announced a complete 180 from “the new rock alternative” to “Pure Country 89.” It’s a change that’s not sitting well with longtime listeners.

“I think that almost is hurting me more than the job loss, is the loss of the station,” McKenzie said. “Thirty years is a long time, and I feel bad for the listeners who grew up listening to 89X, as a child and then, listening to it as a teenager and now as an adult. It becomes a friend -- someone that you turn to in bad times and during good times, and now it’s not there anymore. So as sad as I am for me and my coworkers, I’m just as sad for the listeners who now don’t have 89X to turn to.”

Will Metro Detroiters warm up to country music after the shock of losing 89X wears off? As someone who worked on the station’s airwaves for 13 years, McKenzie doesn’t see that happening.

“Anyone who’s a rock fan, I don’t think is then going to all of a sudden be, like, ‘Oh, country’s grown on me,’” McKenzie said. “I think there’s a huge chunk missing in the local music scene.

“I didn’t know that we were going country until after we were all let go. There was no heads up about it at all.”

He said local bands will also miss the coverage 89X provided, citing the likes of We Came As Romans, Ashes of Soma, No Resolve and I Prevail as recent examples.

Even the station’s parent company, iHeartRadio, knew backlash would follow the change, saying, “to be honest, if you’re a new rock fan you’re probably not going to like it” before the country music format was announced.


McKenzie said all the announcers at 89X and sister station 93.9 The River were laid off.

“I don’t know if we thought it would go that far,” McKenzie said. “As much as you are prepared for it, you’re never prepared for it. ... It still comes as a bit of a shock, especially when you’ve been at the company for as many years as some of us have been.”

Announcers got an email around 9 a.m. Wednesday saying there was an “emergency mandatory conference call” at 9:30 a.m. McKenzie said.

“In that conference call, we were told, within a couple minutes, about the market changes, the market conditions, and that due to the format changes of the stations, our employment was being terminated,” McKenzie said. “That was pretty much all we were told.”

Employees were told they could apply if they wanted their old jobs back at the country station.

McKenzie said the last half hour of his show was recorded so he could join the conference call, but he wishes it would have been live so he could say goodbye to listeners.

“If I was able to say goodbye -- if we were given one last show today, I would have loved to have brought on, Dave and Chuck the Freak, like, former jocks who were on 89X,” he said.

Remembering 89X

“89X was that cool station that broke the rules, that would play the songs that nobody else would play,” McKenzie said. “That’s what made it cool.”

He said the hosts didn’t sound like deejays, but were normal people who knew about music and who the listeners could relate to.

“At 89X, we all lived that lifestyle,” McKenzie said. “We all were rock fans. We all loved going to the bars and partying. That was us. We were just -- we were real. We were your next-door neighbor. We were that person you went to school with, so I think people were able to relate to us.”

Message for longtime listeners

McKenzie offered the following message for listeners:

“I would just like to say thank you for bringing me into your home, your car, your workplace for the last 13 years, every single day. I was lucky enough to be there through the ups and the downs, the high periods and the low periods of 89X, and seeing the messages from the people today -- just the thanks and all of that, it really makes me feel good. I maybe cried a couple of times reading some of those messages, but I just want to say thank you to everybody who supported me over the years. I started at one day a week and ended as the morning guy on 89X, so I’m kind of honored to be the last live on-air personality ever on 89X. I guess that’s kind of cool, but thank you to everybody who supported us over the years, and hopefully we’ll chat again soon.”

He’s working on a podcast called the “Mark and HooGie Show” with a guitar tech from the band Shinedown. Click here to visit the podcast page.

About the Authors:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.