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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”