Monday, February 25, 2008

Now What?

The title of this post doesn't refer to my job future, but to my blog future. The blog (I hate that word) was established to tell my story about my dismissal from KWNR. With my last post, that mission is essentially accomplished. I gotta tell ya, that last post really drained me. I've spoken with dozens of people about the events of December 3rd, but I'd never typed it out in detail like I did on the last post. To me, it was like taking a kick to the groin with a steel-toed shoe. I was upset, I was winded, I was depressed, and I was angry. I never anticiapted this blog to be cathartic, and if anything, typing out the hows and whys of the day I got dismissed had the opposite effect.

Do I continue to blog about my situation? How about my take on the radio industry? Or, how about just anything and everything- a freewheeling view of my twisted mind roaming the contemporary media landscape (in an election year, no less!)? Option One seems too self-indulgent. Option Two would probably be treated with great indifference. Option Three? Anyone with a thought in their head and a keyboard in their lap sounds off on every conceivable topic, so mine would just be added to a group that can only be improved by subtraction.

I know of a couple of people who read this blog, but I stay in touch with them through e-mail, so they already know where I stand on things. I need to know who's out there. I need to know that this is being read, and that people want more of where I'm coming from. Call the need to be wanted an offshoot of not being wanted. Please post a comment if you want this to continue. I have a lot to say, and a lot of time to say it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

December 3rd

I didn't think I'd post anything today but, truth be told, I'm bored. So here we go.

There was an excitement around the station when NB arrived on the scene, as he was saying all the right things. It didn't take very long for me to realize that whatever trust I had put in him was misplaced.

Within a week of NB taking over the job as Program Director, he pulled me aside and told me he was aware that my contract was coming to an end and promised that he would be taking care of that. I took that to mean I was safe. Wrong. He was taking care of it, alright. Anyway, that little meeting gave me some much needed peace of mind. The ratings were decent, and I had no reason to believe that I was going to be shown the door.

At the "cards on the table" meeting, NB told me that the senior vp (from previous posts: the one who didn't like me "but couldn't remember why") wanted to do away with news on the show. NB told me not to worry, that news would continue to be done. It only ate up five minutes an hour, and NB thought it was an important feature in the show. You're constantly told that the best radio is "live and local". Nothing's more live and local than news, right?

The following week, NB told me that news would be going away after the first of the year.

My feeling is this: Senior VP leaned on NB and told him in no uncertain terms to get rid of news. NB was moving here from 1,000 miles away, and was having trouble selling his house. He was in no position to show backbone, and rolled over. Maybe I'm wrong, but it makes sense to me. It also made me realize that I now trusted nothing that came out of NB's mouth. Everything was pointing to more of Mark, more of natalie, and less of me.

As December approached I became increasingly concerned that I had not been informed of CC's intent to renew my contract. The typical contract of an air personality at CCLV is for one year, so you have to do this dance every 12 months. I was told of CC's intention to offer me a new deal for 2007 sometime in November of 2006. November 2007 came and went with nary a whisper for 2008.

CC is known for letting people go at the end of every year in order to make budget. Most of the victims are extremely well-qualified air personalities who have spent years building goodwill in the community and profitibility for the company. As the days went by without a new contract being offered, I realized the chances were increasing that I was going to join that "dishonor roll" of budget cut victims.

Could this really be happening? With all the ratings success, all the charitable work, all the changes I had survived through- could this really be it for me? I had done all that I knew, all that I had been taught, to make myself a successful jock, and to become an important part of my community. It was about to all become meaningless.

Monday, December 3rd. There was nothing particularly memorable about the show, which was becoming a semi-regular occurance. NB would pop down to the studio every once in awhile for a little small talk, maybe 2-3 times a week. It wasn't unusual to see him come in around 9:30 that day. The 9a-10a hour of the show was mostly music anyway. After some small talk about a room NB was renting (remember, his family is 1,000 miles away trying to sell their house), he says, "Mitch, can I see you for a minute?"

I turned and looked at Mark. The color had gone out of his face. I followed NB down to the office of the Operations Manager. The OM is the building's 2nd in Command. The optimist in me said that they were going to talk to me about a new deal. Then I saw the Business Manager, the same Business Manager who was in the large conference room when they told us Brooks had been fired. No one looked me in the eye as I entered. This wasn't going to be a happy occasion. I was going to be fired.

NB did most of the talking, but honestly, I didn't hear much of what he was saying. I knew what the deal was. The Senior VP of Clear Channel had leaned hard on NB to get rid of me, and he was just a good soldier following orders. In all, the meeting in the office lasted 10 minutes. I was given my termination papers and was on my way out. When someone is let go, typically they are allowed to gather their personal belongings and are then walked out the door. When my firing session was completed, NB was nowhere to be seen (he left before it was over, in fact). I stood out by my desk, all alone, holding my termination agreement.

After saying goodbye to a couple of people, I walked into the Sunny 106.5 studios and said goodbye to Melanie and to Michael Neal. At first they thought I was joking, but it quickly became apparant that I was not. A couple of hugs later, I went back into the KWNR studio one last time. Mark was on the phone with his wife, breaking the news. I patted him on the shoulder and grabbed my coat. We didn't really say anything to each other. He reached out with a "call me later", but that could wait.

And then I was gone. 12 years. Over. My immediate thoughts were about what was I going to tell my wife, my parents? How would they handle it? That worried me the most. It's said that everyone who works in radio gets fired eventually. I foolishly thought I could be the one to escape that noose. I heard there were people crying at the CCLV building that day. I have yet to shed a tear over what happened. Re-telling the story makes me more angry than it does sad. I'll save my sadness for the people who still work there.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cards on the Table

In my time at KWNR, I had been a part of four ownership changes, four different versions of the morning show, and five different Program Directors. Program Directors are the ones that make decisions regarding (duh) the programming aspect of radio. Basically, they're the boss of the jocks. I had never felt uncomfortable with all the changes that had happened in my 12 years with the station until the new pd (henceforth referred to as NB- new boss) came on board.

New bosses make changes, and I had dodged that bullet for years. When NB started, we were told flat out that it wasn't because there was anything wrong with the station, but that NB would make the station even better. Ok, whatever. It's not like they're going to say "NB is going to drag us down into further mediocrity". All is well. Good. Let's move on.

The first meeting with NB and the airstaff produced this most memorable quote- "I'm going to take some of you out of your comfort zone". Hmm? Comfort zone of what, regularly beating our competition? It sounded like a good zone to be in, yet we're going to be moved away from that. I hate needlessly vague warnings like that. It pretty much screamed out that whatever we had done in the past was meaningless now that the new sheriff was in town.

The morning show met with NB twice a week, which was fair. Some shows have to meet with their boss everyday after the show to go over the content and see what worked and what didn't. Imagine if you had to undergo a performance review at the end of your day EVERY DAY. That's what a lot of radio morning shows have to go through. The meetings consisted of us telling NB what we had in the hopper for the next few days, interviews we had coming up, etc. NB would critique the show, what he wanted to hear more of (Natalie), less of (me), and more suggestions for the future. We hated meetings of any kind, but realized that a lot of other shows had it worse that we did.

Typically, all three members of the morning show would meet with NB together, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One day, we received an e-mail that NB was going to "shake things up" a little. Taking us out of our comfort zone, if you will. We were going to meet with NB individually, instead of as a group. Me first, then Mark, then Natalie. I half joked to Mark that the reason I was first was that I was going to get fired, and NB would then share the news with Mark and Natalie. Ok, maybe NB did it by height, tallest to shortest. Still, my initial explanation made plenty of sense and gave Mark a big headache.

Once inside NB's office, there was the requisite small talk, followed by this....NB- "I'm a cards on the table guy.....". My heart started to race. "Oh my God, I was right!", I thought. Turns out that I wasn't fired (that day, at least), but I was told by NB that the senior vice president of the company did not like me, both personally and professionally. "He doesn't think you're morning show material". Ten years of strong ratings go a long way of proving that wrong, but dare I criticize the senior vp? My bigger concern was why he didn't like me as a person, as our infrequent dealings had been nothing but pleasant. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and I never had a bad thing to say about him. I asked NB why senior VP didn't like me. Honest to God, the answer went something like this...

"It was for something you said ten years ago, but he can't remember what it was".

Let that sink in. A very powerful cog in the Clear Channel machine didn't like me.....AND HE COULDN'T REMEMBER WHY!!! Mark wanted me to pick up the phone and call senior VP, but I really didn't think it would accomplish anything. If he can't remember, he can't remember, and my phone call pushing his buttons could only harm my case. NB assured me that he would handle senior VP, and that I should just go about my work and show senior VP that I was a morning show guy. "I'll work with you", he said. Suddenly all my years of accomplishments seemed to be slipping away. My stomach hurt all the time. My sleep was off, which is terrible for someone who has to get up at 3 each morning. I was pretty much miserable at work now, and I don't know if I came off that way on the show. Mark and I started to have more disagreements off the air. Prior to NB's and Natalie's arrival, our total number of fights was zero. Now, it was surprising when we went through a show and didn't have some kind of falling out.

I guess you could say that the one who was chosen to be taken out of his comfort zone was me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tightening the Noose

We became a three person show back in July, if memory serves. Though Mark and I tried to do the best we could to make it work, the shows misfired much more often than not. A Top 40 radio market shouldn't be a training ground for someone on a morning show, but with new gal Natalie, that's what the show had become. Knowing that Natalie, as the hire of the Clear Channel Las Vegas Market Manager, was pretty much untouchable, we were left to make the best of an increasingly bad situation. We had no idea what to use Natalie for, and she had no idea how to be a producer. Bad combination.

Let me say, again..I think natalie is a nice gal. I certainly thought more highly of her than Mark did, and was constantly defending her when Mark would have a tantrum- which happened pretty much every morning. We knew that since she was hired by the top gun, that person would want to see her spotlighted more, so we went down the path of "new girl in Vegas" topics, topics that landed with a thud. Listeners don't like change, and reaction to her when I was out at events ranged from tolerance to hate. No one who spoke up claimed that she added anything to the show. "Why did they think you needed the help" was a common question, a question Gregory Hines couldn't tap dance around.

The show muddled on. Both Mark and I knew that if the ratings went up, it would be a "Natalie bump". If they went down, it would be the fault of Mark and me for not including natalie enough. We had entered a "no win zone".

The ratings went down, and the reaction was predictable. Brooks was fired, and Mark and I were called in (not Natalie. Just me and Mark) to explain what the problem was. Mind you, we never received a Gatorade shower for good ratings, and the ratings were good much more than they were bad. "Natalie needs to be included more. You guys don't like her. Give her more to do". The reaction was more predictable than a long wait at the DMV. The simple answer of "maybe people don't like Natalie" never came up. Sometimes the answers are so simple, they're ignored. This was a case in point. Natalie was here for keeps. I started to annoy Mark with the idea that I was going to be gone by the end of the year. The more I needled him, the more the idea made sense to me (and to Mark, I think).

We went a glorious month or so without a replacement for Brooks, and things couldn't have gone smoother. This isn't a knock on Brooks at all, just that those of us on staff had been around for so long that we could handle the responsibilities for as long as needed, allowing management to hire the person they thought could best handle the load. I knew some people who were happy that Brooks was gone. To me, it was like losing your closest ally. In came New Guy, and he was carrying the final nails in my KWNR coffin.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Another Perspective

This blog was established for me to tell the real story about what happened regarding my dismissal from KWNR. My story is just one of many. Every week, more good people who have dedicated their life to the business of radio are being shown the door in the name of "restructuring" (read as "budget cuts"). Below is a link to a blog that explains the current state of radio- and it's bleak. Real bleak. But it's also as accurate a portrayal of what's happened to radio as you're ever going to read. I'll continue to give you my story, but today, click on the link for the view of the Big Picture (parental discretion advised)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Quickie

It's come to my attention that some people have found this blog. That's cool. I started it as an outlet for me just to get my feelings out, never planning it for public consumption. A big welcome to those who have found it, and I appreciate your comments. You're currently in the middle of the chain of events that led to my dismissal from KWNR. Nothing has been made up or exaggerated. It is what it is.

The next entry will lead to the day I got the hook, Monday December 3rd. As you're reading the recounting, let it be known that I hold no ill will toward Mark Stevens, who was my morning show partner for almost two years, and my pal for 12. Any venom listeners direct toward him for me not being there is misdirected. He had nothing to do with it, and wishes things hadn't changed. I also remain close with Bob Bishop and Stunt Runt, and wish them well. KWNR had a family atmosphere going for it for quite awhile, and it only took a 12 month period for the powers that be to blow that up. It's so hard for a radio station to achieve what KWNR had, but when you have salespeople calling the shots for what the programming will sound like, the only deal they're closing is the eventual death of the station. If not now, soon enough.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Middle of the End

A little over a year ago, the company I used to work for essentially gave its radio stations new rules to play by. "New Fundamentals", they called it. There had been a ton of research done (and paid for) and by golly, THIS was the way we were going to do radio from here on out. I remember the first time everyone sat down to go over the NF, I thought "uh oh". The reasearch was broken down in dozens of different categories, and when it was all added up, it came down to this...

"What are the 40 year old females with kids talking about today?"

Yep, this was the phrase that pays. Forget about 75 years of radio, and how it got to where it is. That was all wrong. This was now the bottom line. You were to bring in ideas about what was important to the soccer mom. 25 year old single guy? Who cares? Retirees? Old people don't matter. Divorced dad? Nope. What we were to bring to the show each day was what the 40 year old F.W.K. was talking about.

I'm 42 years old, male, with no kids. A dog, sure, but no offspring. Married, but no "miracles" to raise. Big, big trouble. I was now supposed to put myself into a world that was almost polar opposite of the one I had been living. Past successes be damned, if you weren't reaching that 40 year old F.W.K. demographic, you better change the way you're doing things, or find another line of work.

This started with my old partner, Brooks , who was also my boss at the time. I know deep down she was against the mandate, but when you're caught in a combine, you'll do everything you can to get free. Brooks didn't have kids either, and she is just about as big a sports fan as me, so we did the best we could to make it happen. When Mark joined us, and after Brooks left mornings to work mid-days, you had two 40 something guys, neither one of whom had kids. This did not bode well for the future

Yes, we were now supposed to be focusing on and talking about women stuff. Specifically, we were supposed to be talking about the pop culture stuff that gals just couldn't get enough of. This meant watching and talking about "Dancing With the Stars", "Grey's Anatomy", and just about everything else on ABC's schedule. If it was a story about our personal lives, we were to spin it in a way that women could most identify with (ASIDE: I never understood why the bosses wanted us to talk about TV so much. Why steer listeners to do something else other than listen to the radio? No one has less respect for their customers than radio).

Getting thirsty with all this typing. Gonna grab a soda here real quick. I really need to invest in some voice typing software.

Ahhh. Ok, it was no small coincidence when management said they were going to hire a producer for our show. Mind you, we never asked for one. Between the two of us, Mark Stevens and I had 40 years of broadcast experience, and never had either of us used or needed a producer. We did our own things our way, and didn't need a third wheel. Still, the decision was made. A producer we would get....and it had to be a gal. If any guys are reading this who sent a tape for that job, I really don't think you were ever considered.

The person chosen for the job was picked because she fit CC's prime qualification- she'd work cheap. She was 28 or 29 with no kids. Are ya getting all this? If we were going to hire a gal to work on the show, why wouldn't we hire one that fit the mold instead of someone who's at least a decade away from anything close to what the prime demographic was? If you guessed "they wanted too much money", you'd be correct.

Natalie came on board, and while I thought she was a nice kid, she was in way over her head. Now I had to produce what the producer did, and she learned on the job. Las Vegas is in the Top 40 for radio markets in the US, and shouldn't be used as a training ground for a Top 5 morning show, but that was the hand we were dealt. Early reviews were mixed, and the most common complaint being piped in from upstairs was "you're not utilizing Natalie enough". Mark and I became the occupants of Red Flag City, and each day felt like we had a bomb strapped to our back. That we did, but it only went off once. More to come......