Every radio and television broadcasting company has its own set of challenges when dealing with the economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.
In the last month, companies large and small have had to implement furloughs, temporary pay cuts and, in several instances, permanent job losses.
The latest move involves Alpha Media. At the same time, it noticeably doesn’t involve a woman-owned broadcasting company in largely smaller markets across the nation’s bread basket.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon by Portland-based Alpha Media, CEO Bob Proffitt elaborated on a brief statement stating that, because of the novel coronavirus and “its ongoing fallout on advertising revenue,” Alpha Media has “taken painful steps similar to those of other media companies.”
This has resulted in temporary furloughs, the elimination of some positions, and a reduction of hours “for certain employees.”
These actions follow salary cuts among those on Alpha Media’s executive leadership team.
Alpha Media’s stations in its home market include heritage Adult Alternative KINK-FM, News/Talk KXL-FM, and Top 40 KBFF-FM “Live 95.5,” where the soon-to-be renamed Brooke & Jubal air via syndication in morning drive.
The Portland stations also include Country KUPL-FM 98.7 “The Bull,” where several staff changes were seen late Tuesday. Thanks to Facebook, it is confirmed that Alpha Media Country Format Captain and KUPL PD/afternoon host Mojoe Roberts has exited after four years with the station.
Roberts said, “I’m so proud of what this team was able to accomplish! So what’s next? Well, I’m going to give my kids some extra love, attention and show them what resilience looks like.”
Meanwhile, Jenn Hayes will now host the morning show solo, with co-hosts Tony Russell and Jake Byron departing KUPL.
Also on Facebook, KXL news anchor Lucinda Kay noted that she, too, has exited Alpha Media.
“Alpha Media continues to work through many difficult decisions to cope with the current challenges we all face brought about by COVID-19,” Proffitt said. “We are positioning the company to weather this challenge while trying to keep our valued team members safe and be poised to recover quickly once the crisis has passed.”
Meanwhile, a radio company with a heavy presence in Nebraska has said that those employed across its 45 radio stations were not in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
In a letter distributed Tuesday, NRG Media President Mary Quass said that, in early March, a “plan to protect our people” was formulated as NRG started to face the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our course of action was never in question – NRG Media would stand by its team,” Quass said. “We would take care of our people for they are our brand – we have their backs!”
Noting that “the role our people play is now more important than ever,” Quass continued, “We stand committed to our people, so they can continue to serve their communities without fear of losing their jobs because of COVID-19. Our team is doing amazing things to help their neighbors, friends and families make it through this pandemic crisis. For this, we say thank you!”
The differing decisions between the two media companies speak volumes of just how the radio industry’s larger concerns, beyond COVID-19, are now magnified under the world’s current state of affairs. NRG Media is guided by a board of directors including a senior advisor to Cyrus Capital Partners and the founder of Gray Venture Partners. It has focused on “Great Local Radio” in markets such as Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and tiny locales in Wisconsin and Illinois.
Alpha Media, on the other hand, has seen numerous challenges since it completed its merger with Digity LLC in late winter 2016. By July 2018, company founder Larry Wilson, who ranked eleventh in Radio Ink’s annual 40 Most Powerful People in Radio, was out at Alpha, a company he founded. Three non-essential stations in Missouri were sold, followed by an exit in Bluefield, W. Va.
By the time the 2018 Radio Show in Orlando concluded, Alpha’s biggest post-Digity move had been signed, sealed and delivered. In a lower-level conference room beneath the cacophony of consultants, vendors, air talent and radio industry C-Suiters parading around the Bonnet Creek Resort, top-level executives at Hubbard Radio held court early Wednesday morning with CEO Ginny Morris and President/COO Drew Horowitz. Alpha Media has reached an agreement in principle to sell its six radio stations in West Palm Beach to Hubbard Radio.
The deal brought Alpha $88 million, while delivering to Hubbard a group of stations including high-profile ratings leader WRMF-FM 97.9.
Still, some brokers believe Alpha remains overextended, with a presence in markets ranging from Anchorage to Dayton.
And, Alpha just happens to compete head-to-head with NRG in market No. 164: Lincoln, Neb. Here, Alpha and NRG had been fierce competitors. One year ago, Alpha’s KFOR-AM received the esteemed NAB Crystal Heritage Award, which recognizes radio stations that have won a total of five Crystal Radio Awards for exceptional year-round community service efforts.
Now, thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, that competitive battle — along with those in all Alpha markets, may have been weakened by the economic ripple of a deadly virus.
Reporting by Adam Jacobson in Delray Beach, Fla., and Walter Bott in Portland, Ore.