Cumulus Media has the machete out. According to a source close to the situation, KNBR employees are extremely worried that huge cuts could be coming tomorrow — and as a result, everyone at 55 Hawthorne is on edge. Cumulus is demanding cuts in the form of layoffs and current employees doing more work for less pay, and an already bitter and nervous environment is now toxic.
It’s not just high-priced hosts who are dreading what may come; producers, salespeople, promotions people and others (yes, even Program Directors) could see their positions drastically changed or removed by the end of this week. For those wondering if Cumulus would really consolidate things to such a degree, remember this: Citadel (which owned KGO and KSFO, among other stations) officially became part of Cumulus Media recently, and the corporate execs are eyeing every department for redundancies. So employees who’ve only handled KNBR-related duties could be asked to perform the same tasks for multiple stations, with other employees simply getting pink slips.
Cumulus has already started cutting staff at WKHX, a country station in Atlanta, the location of Cumulus headquarters (the emphasis in this passage is mine):
This is Cumulus Media’s home market, but it has the job of integrating the former Citadel stations, and Rodney Ho at the Journal Constitution supplies the casualty list – Tim Michaels, afternoon guy at country “Kicks 101.5” WKHX, Greg Talmadge, who did traffic for both Kicks and “Atlanta’s Greatest Hits” WYAY (106.7), Bill Celler, former afternoon host at Kicks and more recently digital content manager for the Citadel duo, and Christy Ullman, the promotion director at Kicks. Michaels is replaced in afternoons by Kicks MD Mike Macho. WYAY cut loose the Randy & Spiff morning team last week, but it seemed they weren’t going to be the only folks put on the sidewalk. Cumulus has promised more than $50 million in synergies/cost savings from the merger with Citadel. Meanwhile, Ho also reports, “Curiously, Kicks 101.5 has not added a new song since August 25. Why? This is a fallow period for country music releases, but that is an unusually long stretch to go without a new song.”
Who’s safe at KNBR? Hard to say, although Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey (“Murphy and Mac”) would appear to be entrenched since they recently signed a lengthy extension. If radio hosts had approval ratings, Tom Tolbert would definitely lead the pack — he’s sticking around. Ralph Barbieri was a candidate for a pay cut or worse, but after recently announcing he has been suffering from Parkinson’s for over five years it would be create a PR disaster if Cumulus let him go. Especially after Barbieri told Scott Ostler, “I’ve gotten to know Lew Dickey (CEO of Cumulus Media, parent company of KNBR) a little bit, and my gut feeling was that he could deal with my situation at an honorable level.”
Whatever ends up happening, this is a raw deal for everyone (besides Cumulus execs and shareholders). It’s terrible for the people who work at KNBR to have this kind of uncertainty surrounding their jobs. These inevitable changes and cutbacks are less than optimal for listeners as well, because with consolidation comes less diversity (in terms of programming, but fewer employees could mean less diversity in other ways as well).
In short, if you think Cumulus is simply going to fire Bob Fitzgerald and call it a day, you’re very much mistaken.
Even if you’re one of those people who hates every host and believes a full-scale housecleaning would only help “The Sports Leader,” radio is like everything else — you get what you pay for. Cheaper and more efficient might sound great to a bunch of guys sitting in a boardroom, nodding in agreement every time the awful word “synergies” is uttered. However, those qualities rarely sound great coming through the speakers in your car. KNBR (and other Cumulus stations) could sound very different on Monday … and probably not for the better.