Media Carnage

Closeup of a microphone suspended over an on-air computer in a radio broadcast studio

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:

There’s more, easily found on Twitter.

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.

6 thoughts on “Media Carnage”

  1. It’s really sad when good people are let go through no fault of their own. It’s why so many of us are now self-employed. Some by choice, some not. But even with all the stress and hassle of self-employment, it feels better to be the captain of your own ship rather than a lowly crew member who can be tossed overboard at any time for no reason.

  2. Well said Lisa! I agree with and support every heartfelt word! So very sad for everyone – especially the public, they are radio’s most passionate supporters! I am to this day very pleased with my 20 year radio experience despite those who came in with no understanding of the business and created carnage or to those not nearly as passionate about what radio can and will do cause to them it’s only a paycheck.

  3. Unfortunately Lisa, radio has been in decline for about 30 years. Years ago there was some loyalty between Companies and staff, but not now.
    It all started when owners stopped listening to News Directors about what was needed to generate local news, and started listening to the bean counters and shareholders. News became an expense and the goal became “entertainment “ as opposed to news that actually impacts the audience. Over the years radio newscasts were cut, cut, cut until they were all but eliminated altogether on many stations, along with the news staff. I’m not sure if the business will ever turn around.

    1. Hi Kevin – there were lots of factors. The CRTC’s decision to allow corporations to swallow up dozens of stations and then starve them, is another. The smaller chains are going back more like the way it was when you and I started out. Marjorie down the hall handles payroll. The jocks emcee local events and the reporters cover council. It’s local and relevant. The budgets are smaller, to be sure, and there are smaller numbers of employees. But it’s corporate takeovers that – in some ways – fueled the decline. It’s easy to tell a London radio station it has a $0 budget for talent or promotions when you’re in a Toronto office, for example. I remember hearing an executive say, “London is the same as Leamington”. Now, no disrespect to Leamington, they deserve their local radio too. But they’re not the same!

  4. Ever since the start of Covid-19 there have been musings in the financial and business world on whether or not companies seeing what can be done remotely under this stressful environment would see this as an opportunity to make structural changes and reduce staff. I’m actually surprised it has taken this long but it’s sad.

  5. Susannah Moylan

    Just moved to Haliburton and we have 2 local stations. Miss CHFI on my radio but am grateful for MooseFM and CanoeFM up here. They keep me up with local news and happenings. Local radio stations are much needed.

    The scope and timing of the cut shocked me. Firing people in the middle of a pandemic is horrific. Bell…shame on you!

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