07:00:39 am on
Sunday 21 Jul 2024

Heartless Layoffs
Matt Seinberg

What happened this week in the radio world is disheartening. iHeart Media laid off at least 1000 workers from across the country and reorganized its divisions. They no longer are divided by geography, but market size. How can a company run markets efficiently if they are 3000 miles apart like New York and Los Angeles?

Heartless mindless slaughter.

Before this change, markets were run geographically. Each had its own management team. Those positions are mostly gone.

When I was in Syracuse, New York, last year, a friend said there were only five or six workers at its iHeart cluster. Three were let go this week. Three workers left to run a few radio stations.

How can a company run four or five radio stations like that? iHeart will import air personalities from other markets via voice tracking and let someone, such as the programme director, production director or minimum-wage board operator, put those shows together.

In Boston, the bloodshed ran deeper. After celebrating her thirty-five years on-the-air at WBZ-AM, Deb Lawler was let go in a closed door meeting this past week. iHeart also let the remarkable sportscaster qua reporter, Tom Cuddy, go, too.

Jon Keller, with WBZ-AM for thirty years, as an on-air commentator, was also let go. Overnight host, Bradley Jay, is gone, too, replaced, at least for njow, by MOrgan White.

The iHeart press release, announcing the changes and firings, mentioned Artificial Intelligence (AI) would lead the way forward. Well, for me you first must have non-artificial intelligence in place to use AI and iHeart seems wanting in this regard.

The impetus of all these firings is likely that media giant Liberty Media, a conservative, facts-be-damned radio and television powerhouse, is looking to take over iHeart and add it to a portfolio, which includes SiriusXM and Pandora. Perhaps Liberty is hoping for a total streaming platform versus over-the-air broadcasting.

Here is the big problem. What if a sudden disaster strikes New York City and there is no one at the microphone, only a computer run by a board operator in Texas? That thought should scare the living crap out of everybody that has ears.

Radio was a disaster survival centre.

In the event of a local, regional, state or national emergency, with the power down and no internet, how do people get up dates of news, weather and information? Can a board operator, say, in Denton, Texas, respond to a catastrophe in Omaha, Nebraska? Battery powered radios were once a gawd send.

When Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island, in October of 2012, we didn’t have power for eight days. I had batteries and a portable radio, which kept me up to date. We had no cable, television or internet. I went to our local library to charge my phone.

What brought down radio was the deregulation of radio in 1996. This allowed small companies get big and big companies get bigger by gobbling up the competition ala Pac Man. The advent of PCs and automation programs was the beginning of the end for live and local radio.

Many iHeart radio stations were live only from 6 am to 7 pm. Now, many of those stations won’t be live at all, especially in smaller markets. A laptop running an AI algorithm will control the station.

Entercom, which owns hundreds of radio licences, let workers go right before Christmas 2019, which is when iHeart used to do it. Cumulus, another owner of hundreds of radio licences, did it all last year, including selling off many of its stations.

The jobs lost today will never be recovered. The jobs lost in the past decades were never recovered. Terrestrial radio is at the precipice of the abyss, the brink of ruin.

If you have not heard the radio parodies 9, 99 or Tomorrow Radio find and listen to these shows. Each predicted, years ago, what is happening today. It’s nice to be right, but not in this case.

The bloodletting isn’t over. iHeart still is about $5 billion in debt. Liberty wants to buy iHeart on the cheap and, most likely, sell off pieces of the company to help fund the purchase.

Barbarians at the gates.

All over social media, super-star disc jockeys, of the 1970s, some that once had millions of listeners, every day, lament the good old days, when radio entertained, informed and was a companion. Many are now glad to be out of the business. Who can blame them?

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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