To residents of Indianapolis, the name “Rusty Redenbacher” is associated with many great things. From his collaborative efforts with The Mudkids, ATFU and Birdmen of Alcatraz to his solo work as an on-air personality on various local media outlets- Redenbacher has been an active pioneer of the Naptown music scene for over 20 years.
Most recently, Redenbacher enjoyed a large and interactive following in his role as the Friday night radio host on Indy’s R&B radio station WTLC 106.7. Like fellow Indy stations WHHH (Hot 96.3), WNOU (Radio Now 100.9), and now-defunct TV station IMC TV, WTLC-FM is owned and operated by Radio One, who is in turn owned by parent company Interactive One. Despite the local stations’ best efforts to cater to the particular wants and needs of their respective Midwestern markets, it is inevitable that the antics of any corporate conglomerate eventually trickle downstream to those least removed from them.
On Tuesday October 1st Redenbacher found himself an unfortunate victim of such antics. With no warning, reprimands, or opportunity to identify and correct his mistakes, Redenbacher’s two-year stint at WTLC was terminated. Management cited a “zero tolerance policy” as the cause for his dismissal, referencing the airing of a single track, “Siracha” by local group Cosby Sweater, as the root of the problem.
WTLC took issue with the song for multiple reasons. The track apparently was not “in rotation” a.k.a. cleared by the radio station to play on air. The track was supposedly not appropriate for airplay because it does not fit WTLC’s R&B format. The final issue stems from a promotional conflict of interest, as Redenbacher does, indeed, rap on the track.
As any rational human being who is grateful for their job would declare, Redenbacher makes it clear that there was no ulterior motive or devious intent behind his actions. “If I knew I was doing something wrong, I wouldn’t have done it!” he exclaims. His counterpoints to the details of the “zero tolerance policy” are that a.) he has played tracks not in rotation before; b.) he has played non-format (specifically hip hop) tracks in the past; and c.) he was not attempting to promote or endorse the track for his own personal gain. “If I was trying to be sly about it, why would I have tweeted it [from WTLC’s Twitter account]? Why would I have retweeted all the positive things the listeners were saying about it?”
Zero tolerance policy or not, anyone with a heart and a brain begins to wonder where the line should be drawn and to what extent leniency should be applied. Redenbacher began his 12 years of service with Radio One as one of the first mixers on Hot 96.3 while also holding down part-time shifts. He then hosted ‘The Rock Block’ on IMC for more than four years. On Labor Day of 2011, he officially began at WTLC, but notes that “all the gigs overlapped too. Slim was working everywhere in that building that they needed me to.”
Over the course of all those years, Redenbacher missed only one shift. “The front wheel of my car fell off and I was sitting in the middle of College Avenue on my way to work!” he recalls. Redenbacher remembers sleeping on the floor of the studio on Christmas day because a blizzard was coming and someone needed to be there at 5 a.m. to start the morning show. And now- after 12 long and happy years of dedication to, and hustle for, Radio One- their “zero tolerance policy” has conveniently given them tunnel vision and grounds for termination because of one wrong move. No second chances, no warnings, no suspensions. Just “give us your keycard” and get out.
Redenbacher makes it clear that he’s not upset with any particular person (especially his direct line of management), but rather the larger corporate entity whom he believes pressured the decision to be made in the first place. “What they want to do,” he says as he stares at me from across the table, looking through the shape of a cube he’s formed with his hands, “is box you in.” He then peeks around the side of his hand-cube and says, “And I’m over here. I play Public Enemy, The Fat Boys, and all kinds of old-school hip-hop. I even played the [Cosby Sweater] song to close out the show two months ago. So I really didn’t think to do it again would get me fired.”
As I listen to Redenbacher talk, I get the sense that what’s the most bothersome about the whole ordeal is the manner in which it was handled- the fact that everything he’s contributed over the years (including integrating his social media following and internet-savvy skillset into WTLC’s online efforts) meant nothing in the end. It’s the fact that the man was blind-sighted with a problem that he was given no time to correct. And most of all- it’s the fact that this is not the first time he’s witnessed it happen to a Radio One employee. “If this was just something that happened to me, I’d be a little crybaby. But I’ve found many emails in my inbox over the years saying [out of the blue], ‘So-and-so no longer works here. We appreciate their service and wish them the best on their future endeavors.’”
Hard feelings aside, Redenbacher insists that he has no regrets. As an admired and respected authority on the Indianapolis music scene, Redenbacher was only fulfilling his duty to shine the spotlight on the local talent that deserves it (check Cosby Sweater’s current touring schedule to see just how much ground their covering in attempt to put Indianapolis music on the map). He only wishes that if he had to get fired that he had done it intentionally and with more purpose, rather than under Radio One’s guise of a “zero tolerance policy” applied unjustly and out of context.
Redenbacher closes our conversation with the following summary:
“The dude they hired because he represents Indianapolis to the fullest was fired for playing one song from an Indianapolis band and if they try to say it was for anything else, they didn’t tell me. I just wanted the people that have been listening to the show to know why I’m not there. It’s cool. Radio doesn’t stop and neither do I. Life goes on. I wish pretty much everyone in that building the best. I woulda told ‘em personally, but obviously, I had to go before I could do so.”
Editors note: At the time of publication, IndyMojo.com’s request for comment from Radio One had not been returned.