I’m not here to vilify one corporation because, frankly, they have all treated some employees badly at one time or another. Format changes and lockouts. Vacation firings. Whatever suited the suits and the shareholders at the time made it justifiable to them.
But the hellish wave of firings (don’t call them the sweeter, milder term: layoffs) at broadcasting outlets that swept across the country this week was the worst one – since the last one.
This time, in addition to deleting hundreds of jobs, they shut down entire radio newsrooms. It’s hard to fathom in an era when real stories and truth-telling are in such short supply. “Hold on”, they’ll say, “we will put our TV news on the radio!” How long before you’ll hear “as you can see in this video” on the radio? My last radio station – owned by the same corporation – put TV on air. It’s awful to simulcast voice-overs made to go with pictures on a medium that has none.
As a friend remarked, “they’re murdering radio”.
And the CRTC, Canada’s broadcasting watchdog, is letting them do it.
When I worked at the London radio station where five were fired this week, we had to attend quarterly company fiscal updates from head office. Radio wasn’t even mentioned at the last one I went to, not long before I gave my notice. Can you imagine how that felt to the staff of three radio stations? I’ll tell you: like shit. And in case you’re wondering, radio does make money. It’s just not TV money. TV is the sexy sister and radio is cleaning out the ashes in the fireplace.
If you know your history, or care to look it up, this company was told by the CRTC that it had to take radio stations along with the TV properties it actually wanted to purchase. To them, radio is best used as a repeater for television. They don’t understand, or care to learn about radio’s usefulness. They starved stations of resources and replaced live on-air bodies with simulcasts of TV shows. But shuttering newsrooms altogether, especially venerable ones like CFRB, CFRA and CJAD – it’s unthinkable. Yet, here it is.
The CFRB newsroom was an exciting place, buzzing with activity and deadlines and energy. It was the pinnacle of radio journalism. When I was there, the poohbah of news was well-respected newsman Dave Agar, who took me under his wing. He’s retired now, and had this to say this week:
I feel deeply for those who were let go only because of their number on a spreadsheet. Immensely talented people who put their souls into their work. Some I know personally, some just by reputation. All of them deserved better.
The ones left working at the radio stations are not fine and dandy either. They have to continue their shows and pretend their cohosts and contributors of many years never existed. In departments such as sales and production they will have to take on the work of their fired colleagues for no more pay. And don’t discount survivor’s guilt, resentment of managers who made these decisions about their friends, and fear of being next.
Someone on social media said something to the effect of, why would anyone take a job with X company. As if it’s a person’s own fault for working for them. I’ll tell you why. People like to eat, pay their mortgage or rent, and work in their chosen field. This industry is shrinking all the time and it isn’t exactly teeming with opportunities. You like your colleagues, your paycheck doesn’t bounce and you get to do interesting work. If you don’t take the job, somebody else will. And if you’re starting out, CFRA and CFRB are carrots dangling over you that you aspire to reach. At least, they used to be.