Few would argue that the last decade has been bad for fans of quality radio programming. With local station owners selling out, there are just a few owners in the radio game, the biggest of which is Clear Channel. Last week, Clear Channel Communications Inc. announced it was being sold to private equity investors and the company’s founding family for $18.7 million.
In Louisville, Clear Channel is dominant, with nine stations under its banner, along with the Kentucky News Network and the Total Traffic Network. Among its station is WHAS, long the dominant local voice in radio. Sometime last week, the station began airing a Fox News broadcast, rather than local news, at the top of each hour.
Then, on Monday, the hammer dropped, when it was made public that at least six staff members, and perhaps as many as 14, were fired in what the station called a “general staff reduction.” Among those sent packing were well-known voices belonging to traffic reporter Mark Travis, WAMZ DJ Night Train Lane, sports broadcaster Doug Ormay, Scott Clark of The Fox and newsman Joe Hall.
There’s no doubt the station sale had something to do with the bloodletting. It’s hard to believe that its owners believe the best way to operate this powerful group of stations is to see how little can be spent in operating them. The encroachment of national (cheaper) broadcasts into traditionally local programming has been going on for a long time, and the local station identity is fading fast.
What’s next? If I were a member of the WHAS newsroom, I’d be very worried about job security. If I were Terry Meiners, Francene or Tony Cruise, I’d have my backup plan at the ready. Because the way things are going in radio, the only thing to differentiate WHAS from a station in Cleveland will be the weather.