After 35 years Coe Lewis leaves radio for African wildlife.
  • After 35 years Coe Lewis leaves radio for African wildlife.
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A massive firing spree just rocked the local radio careers of DJs and talk show hosts on KGB, KOGO, Alt 94/9, Sunny 98.1, Jam’n 95.7 and Channel 9-3-3. The pink slip spree impacted Coe Lewis who has been on the local airwaves for 35 years, top-rated AJ Machado who has been playing radio hits locally for two decades, and Jim McInnes who has been talking up rock songs on the radio since 1973.

And last week, the entire on-air staffs of both KFMB radio stations (AM 760 and 100.7 FM) were told by owner Tegna Inc. that they had two weeks left on the air before their services would no longer be needed.

AJ Machado. Even being top rated won't save your radio gig.

AJ Machado. Even being top rated won't save your radio gig.

Some 45 staffers of the two radio stations were summoned to a mandatory morning meeting at Tegna’s Kearny Mesa KFMB complex on January 24. They were told that these job eliminations were due to the sale of the stations to LMSD (Local Media San Diego) a local radio group which owns and operates 91-X, Magic 92.5 and Z-90. It was learned that only five KFMB employees including four sales staffers and a commercial producer would be retained by new owner LMSD.

Tegna’s official position is that it is now up to new owner LMSD if the DJs and talk show hosts could be rehired. According to Tegna spokeswoman Anne Bentley, the 40 terminated employees were told that Tegna will be providing a severance pay package. “They [LMSD] are purchasing the stations and they will decide who will stay with them,” says Bentley.

Dana and Jayson. After three years Alt 94/9 says goodbye.

Dana and Jayson. After three years Alt 94/9 says goodbye.

Those KFMB radio employees given a two-week notice include 100.7 FM DJs Chris Cantore, Meryl Klemow, Cha Cha Harlow, Robin Roth and Rick Lawrence.

AM 760 talk show hosts Brett Winterble, Mike Slater and Mark Larson were told their current talk show hosting arrangements would be ending in two weeks.

While losing your radio job is a common occurrence, it is rare that live radio performers get to stay on the air after getting fired for fear that they might spitefully talk trash on the airwaves. Insiders assume that those recently terminated KFMB air personalities will not take any parting shots on the air because their Tegna severance package will be handed out after their last day on the air February 7.

What happens to AM 760's Brett Winterble after February 7

What happens to AM 760's Brett Winterble after February 7

KFMB-AM and FM must change their call letters to avoid any marketing confusion with KFMB-TV Channel 8 which will be retained by Tegna. It is expected that the Federal Communications Commission approval of the transfer of the KFMB radio stations from Tegna to LMSD will happen during the first week of February.

LMSD general manager Greg Wolfson released no official comment on the future of 100.7 FM or AM 760 or the status of the on-air talent recently released from Tegna. FM 100.7 signed on in 1975 as B-100 and has been known over the years as Star, Jack-FM and KFM-BFM. B-100 was one of the first FM stations in the country to succeed with Top 40 as listeners began migrating from the AM to the FM band for music.

Will Robin Roth survive the KFMB shakeout?

Will Robin Roth survive the KFMB shakeout?

The sale of the two KFMB radio stations was well known. Virginia-based Tegna, Inc. is focused on TV properties and currently operates 62 TV channels nationwide. Tegna has a history of spinning off radio properties once they purchase TV/radio broadcast groups. Tegna bought the four KFMB broadcast properties including the two radio stations and TV platforms Channel 8/CBS and CW Channel 6 for $325 million in late 2017.

The other recent radio layoffs are part of a nationwide trend. The two major radio conglomerates, iHeart Radio (formerly Clear Channel) and Entercom are increasingly replacing live and local air talent with syndicated shows or national formats. It was recently noted that there are more iHeart radio stations in Syracuse, New York than there are local full-time iHeart on-air employees in Syracuse. On January 27 Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown says if iHeart does not explain why its executives keep getting bonuses while local on-air talent keep getting fired, he may hold public hearings, since the airwaves are still licensed by the federal government.

In an emotional video she made for her radio fans, veteran KGB DJ Coe Lewis thanked her longtime fans for her 35 years in San Diego radio. “I kept thinking how blessed I was you gave me an awesome career…I love radio, but I don’t know if there’s a place for me in radio anymore. Radio has changed so much.”

Explaining that “God has other plans for me,” she says she is deeply involved in the Nsefu Wildlife Conservation Foundation that works to fight the extinction of lions, giraffes and elephants in Africa. “I’m so scared, but I’m so excited because this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Also purged from KGB was a longtime member of the DSC morning crew Nina “Ruth 66” Reeba, and KGB weekend DJ Jim McInnes who started at San Diego’s first FM rock station KPRI in 1973. KGB is one of seven local stations owned by the iHeart Radio group which purged longtime nighttime talk host Chris Merrill (KOGO) and DJ’s Steve Kramer (Channel 9-3-3) and Chris “QuiWest” Quiles (Jam’n 95.7). Those firings were part of a reported nationwide staff reduction of over 1000 total iHeart employees.

The third recent group of firings came at the hand of Entercom, which owns four local stations and has been eliminating veteran broadcasters nationwide. Most remarkable was the elimination of the three-person A.J. and Sara morning show at Sunny 98.1, an adult contemporary station that has been rated as the number one or two most popular station among all listeners for the last four months. That morning team included producer Hula Ramos, and hosts Sara Perry and A.J. Machado who has been on the local airwaves for almost 20 years. Machado was known for his AJ’s Kids Crane event that has collected toys for the Rady’s Children Hospital for the last 18 years.

Entercom jettisoned the namesakes of the Dana and Jayson morning show at Alt 94/9. Dana DiDonato and Jayson Prim have been on the local airwaves for three years. “No other [alternative] station in the country has a morning show that looks or sounds the way we do, a female lead and an openly gay male.” DiDonato says she and Prim have been a team for eight years and plan to stay together in spite of the shrinking opportunities in broadcasting.

Economic markers spell out why the radio business is on a downturn. Fifteen years ago all the stations in the San Diego market combined took in $220 miillion. Last year that total was $141 million.

Station value has plummeted. In 2004 $35 million was offered to purchase KPRI 102.1 but that offer was rebuffed because KPRI’s owners wanted $40-million. Five years ago KPRI was sold for $12-million. And just a few months ago Tegna sold both KFMB-AM/FM for $5-million.

“Twenty years ago, if you lost your job, there were 20 other stations in town you could go to find work,” said one of those recently fired who did not want to be named. “Those other jobs simply aren’t out there anymore.”

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Ken Leighton Jan. 28, 2020 @ 3:32 p.m.

Dana DiDonato is unhappy I did not use her entire quote in the article. Just so there are hard feelings, here is your entire quote. Part 1

Radio's the best. We will both forever and always be champions for this medium that is just so personal. It's such a privilege to be part of someone's morning experience in real time. To be let in, to talk about something that's on all of our minds, to laugh together, to cry over tragedy, to relate, to be vulnerable, to share stories through the radio every morning offers a special means of connection. In a world where so many people suffer from anxiety, depression, and loneliness, our hope is that we brightened the morning experience for San Diegans who included us while they were stuck in traffic on The 5, hustling to get the kids to school on time, or on the way to the gym. However you spent time with us, whether it was 5 minutes or an hour, thank you.

We always have and continue to appreciate the bold direction the managers at ALT took the station when they handed us the keys to Morning Drive. No other station in the country has a morning show in the Alternative Format that looks or sounds the way we do, a female lead and an openly gay male. It was a progressive move, even in 2020. More than those categorical boxes, one thing they always encouraged was that we both be our authentic selves, and that is what made it a pleasure to do. Every. Single. Day.

Jayson and I have been reflecting on the last 3 years and how much we laughed here in San Diego. We hope people laughed along with us.

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Ken Leighton Jan. 28, 2020 @ 3:36 p.m.

Dana DiDonato's entire quote, continued. She is not happy I did use her entire quote. Here is the rest....Part 2. It wouldn't all fit in one "Post a Comment" space. She says I was wasting her time because I did not use more of her quote. Sorry Dana.

Jayson said something extremely scary to me in the last year. He looked at me and in all seriousness said, "I'm going to die with you." The even more bizarre thing is that it seemed like a normal statement he would make and didn't really alarm me. Jayson joined me on the radio 8 years into the stint at my last radio station in NY and we knew we had something special. We decided our next move would be together, which brought us across the country to San Diego. We are all in for the future, at this point we are family and life (along with hosting a morning show!) is just better together.

We both have such a heart for San Diego. The connections we have made here are so important to us. We could not love our family of listeners more. As a parent, I have been so impressed with San Diego Unified schools and the wonderful teachers that have impacted and nurtured my 3 daughters. Jayson and I are both extremely passionate about helping members of our city's Homeless Community transition off the street through partnerships with local non-profits who are making an impact for unsheltered San Diegans. We are also, especially Jayson due to his own story, passionate about being a source of encouragement, love, and hope to San Diego's LGBTQ youth. And it's San Diego!! Who could resist falling in love with this city!? Staying in San Diego is of course something we would be open to if the right opportunity for us is presented.

If there is someone reading this thinking about pursuing a career in radio, I would say that I understand the intrigue and the desire. It is as much fun as it sounds. It's a vibrant business that requires self-motivation, passion, and boldness. If you have the drive to pursue it, send emails, apply for positions, don't take one (or even 2) "no"s for an answer. Show those with decision making power why they should take a chance on you. Give the pursuit your best. I would also say that whether it's radio or another career, never believe the lie that your value, identity, self-worth come from that job you do. Jobs come and go, career paths can change. If you know yourself, that your life is has purpose, that you are of infinite value by the One who created you, you'll live a life of joy with the dream job, or without the dream job. That being said, "Here's to the dream job and all that's ahead!!"

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AlexClarke Jan. 28, 2020 @ 5:03 p.m.

There is little on AM radio and not much on FM either. I don't know who even listens anymore as all I see is people with earbuds looking at their not-so-Smart phone. People will probably just move on to whatever the new owners provide. No one will care much what happens to the employees that are dumped out on the street. I doubt that the new owners "severance" package will sustain them very long.

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Cycologist Jan. 28, 2020 @ 6:25 p.m.

I doubt anyone is going to "move on" whatever the new owners provide because most people are already not listening to traditional radio to begin with. That's the main reason why it's struggling all over the country. In cities that have public stations like KEXP in Seattle or KCR in LA (two examples) have decent audiences in their respective areas but SD doesn't really have much in that regard other than 88.3 (local jazz station out of City College). Most people these days are listening to streaming services like Spotify. As to the fate of the fired DJs, yeah it sucks and I feel bad for all of them but anyone in this line of work these days go into it (or if they've been at it for awhile) stay with it knowing it can all end the next morning. No one goes into radio expecting job security. I'm sure all of them will land on their feet and be fine so you're being a bit Shakespearian dramatic to say they will be out on the streets.

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Jason Jan. 29, 2020 @ 3:31 a.m.

KCR in LA? The one and only KCR is actually the college radio station out of San Diego State University where many current and former air personalities (including me) honed our skills back in the day. Maybe you are thinking of KCRW which is the NPR station in LA. Also, there's KKSM out of Palomar College, Griffin Radio out of Grossmont College, KSDT (UCSD) and USD Radio. There's plenty of college radio in San Diego, just not on the traditional FM airwaves due to our proximity to Mexico. The Mexican-based signals (such as 91X and 92.5) utilize frequencies that would otherwise be reserved for College and Public radio stations. As the Replacements once said... Left of the Dial!

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Cycologist Jan. 29, 2020 @ 8:38 a.m.

I think you may be correct. I was confusing the two.

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AlexClarke Jan. 29, 2020 @ 6:54 a.m.

I agree. By "move on" I meant that they would find something else to do in or out of radio. I did not mean that "dumped on the street" would result in them being homeless but dumped on the street outside their former employers. Of course some of them may not do as well as others and some, if they did not manage their finances well, could end up homeless.

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swell Jan. 28, 2020 @ 7:46 p.m.

Fortunately listeners can find 500,000 radio stations in their phones and computers from all over the world. Every imaginable topic or music style in every language and it's all free and sometimes free of advertising. My favorite is Blues On Air, broadcast from Japan since the last century.

But if you want local news … sorry. You can hope to find some on KPBS or KNSJ but be prepared for long interludes of small talk, advertising, opinion, or news from far away places that you can get anywhere.

It's really a shame that KPBS won't use their millions to report real news the way Matt Potter does. Unfortunately all the sleazy politicians and developers and utilities and corporations are major donors to KPBS, so we'll never hear about their crimes.

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Cycologist Jan. 29, 2020 @ 8:46 a.m.

"Fortunately listeners can find 500,000 radio stations in their phones and computers from all over the world. Every imaginable topic or music style in every language and it's all free and sometimes free of advertising. "

And THAT is the biggest reason why so many local stations are struggling. If your town doesn't have anything to your liking, just stream from anywhere else. I listen to KEXP out of Seattle.

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SalULloyd Jan. 30, 2020 @ 12:58 p.m.

I don't know about "sleazy" business people giving to KPBS, but they DO get $$$ from the alphabet groups, so they reciprocate by airing their stories.

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grumbleboy Jan. 29, 2020 @ 3:18 a.m.

My brother started out as an overnight jock on the local country AM station when he was 16 back in the mid 1970s. I had a coworker who started doing radio production in the late 1960s and was a morning jock for most of the 80s. But by the late 1990s, radio consolidation had shrunk the jobs and both were doing non-radio work. Since then, the consolidation and job loss has only increased.

I miss the days when I could tune across the dial on a road trip and hear regional music. Now, I can get the same homogenized crap everywhere. I stream community radio stations from the UK now, just to get some variety.

Congrats, corporate MBAs - you've ruined another domestic industry.

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badbounder Jan. 29, 2020 @ 7:37 a.m.

As bad as this wholesale firing is, it's nothing new. I got into radio in 1966. One thing I learned early is that, unlike other fields, being fired didn't put a black mark on your resume. That was radio. We called it house cleaning. A new P. D. would be sneaked in and management told us all not to worry because "no changes are coming, we're just smoothing out or tightening up the format or or or. . .lies lies lies. We were then told to sign no-competes and anybody who refused (me) got purged immediately.

In 1975 when I was at KAYO in Seattle, that new p.d. brought a whole new staff with him. Two years later at KMPS in Seattle, it took a few days longer but the result was the same.

These weren't big chains, but were every bit as heartless.

After two gigs in Phoenix, KLFF went to satellite and axed everyone. I then went to work on satellite at KCWW Real Country Network (what a hypocrite, huh?) on 85 stations for $10.00 an hour.

Four years later I decided it was time to grow up, went back to Seattle, eventually got a county job (with benefits!) and retired after sixteen years with a pension. People in radio may not know what a pension is. Look it up. You'll be shocked.

I haven't owned a radio or TV for twenty years. Radio used to be a companion and a friend. What happened?

Dick Ellingson https://www.pugetsound.media/author/dick-ellingson/

1

Visduh Jan. 29, 2020 @ 9:01 a.m.

I'm unfamiliar with most of the names mentioned, and that's 'cause I didn't listen to those stations. I do or did (?) listen to 760 KFMB from time to time. I'll miss Mike Slater, but as to Brett W, good riddance. While he may be the brightest guy on local radio, his rapid fire talk and strange syntax would wear thin in about 30 seconds. Mark Larson? Fuhgeddabouthim.

1

Ken Leighton Jan. 29, 2020 @ 10:33 a.m.

Some have asked where we got that photo of Coe. It is from www.facebook.com/coe.lewis. That is a shot from a video she posted on her own website January 27.

1

Grumpy_Patron Jan. 29, 2020 @ 12:04 p.m.

He is on Sirius Satellite Radio as a DJ on 60s on 6.

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AlexClarke Jan. 30, 2020 @ 7:27 a.m.

"Shotgun" Tom Kelly is one of the few who has made a lifelong successful career of radio.

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dwbat Feb. 5, 2020 @ 10:39 p.m.

He's now on KUSI TV as a commentator (or a "common tater"). Not worth listening to OR watching.

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Strelnikov Jan. 30, 2020 @ 7:54 p.m.

The San Diego Radio Demolition Derby will carry on until every station is just a desktop computer plugged into a transmitter.

Bob Ugly of Free Radio San Diego (96.9FM) - where are you?

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dwbat Feb. 9, 2020 @ 11:02 a.m.

Is there really any need for broadcast radio anymore? It's as obsolete as Sears stores, transistor radios and 8-track tapes.

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Ponzi Feb. 9, 2020 @ 11:24 p.m.

Maybe not for news or music. But it's nice to have some connection with the world in a disaster and have some AM or FM channel that is broadcasting what is going on when your internet and cell stuff stops working.

I'm a licensed amateur radio operator I have a battery backed up radio setup in case the SHTF. But most people would be in the dark when something nasty happens and the internet is not reliable, while good old fashioned RF can punch through a message.

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dwbat Feb. 11, 2020 @ 11:08 a.m.

Yes, that makes sense. But even if you can't call via cell during a blackout, earthquake, etc., you can still get text messages through. Those use very little bandwidth.

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Strelnikov Feb. 14, 2020 @ 10:35 a.m.

To dwbat: If it is done right, broadcast radio can pull its own weight. We just have a defective radio market, that's all.

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Ken Leighton Feb. 14, 2020 @ 5:49 p.m.

After 4 years afternoon host Brett Winterble leaves 760 AM for Charlotte. He will be replaced next week by Miles Himmell until the station officially transfers ownership. Miles is not giving up his fulltime job as media person for county supervisor Jim Desmond.

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