First it was 60. Then, it became 600. On Wednesday morning, one veteran media observer reported that “over 1,000 employees” are losing their jobs at iHeartMedia.
The job losses at the nation’s No. 1 owner of radio stations have become the No. 1 talking point by those inside and outside the industry. But, the official number of individuals impacted by “dislocation” remains shielded from public view.
Across the radio industry trade press, the names of those who were given their walking papers by iHeart trickled in across Monday afternoon, continuing into Tuesday morning. Then came a sensational report by Billboard, which chose to offer the following quote as part of its headline: It’s Been a Bloodbath.
But, is that an exaggeration? The music industry publication breathlessly talked of job losses from “dozens of employees, including veteran DJs and program directors,” quoting one iHeart employee for its choice of a headline.
Then came the January 15 edition of Inside Music Media, a digital newsletter published by Inside Radio founder Jerry Del Colliano. According to Del Colliano, iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman gave “the go-ahead to axe over 1,000 employees,” slamming the company’s “excellence centers as replacements for arguably the most excellent large radio group on a local station basis.”
He continued, “It’s not about excellence, it’s about the sudden need to drastically cut expenses.”
The comments come from an individual who lost control of Inside Radio, giving ownership to iHeart via predecessor Clear Channel following the 2000 serving to Del Colliano of a $100 million lawsuit alleging tortious interference with business relations and contractual relations. The case was settled in August 2002.
With the list of employees no longer at iHeart shared by RadioInsight.com approaching 100 as of 11am Eastern Wednesday, and even more names offered by AllAccess Music Group, it is clear that air personalities and programming talent is being reduced at the company.
Thus far, iHeart has declined to offer the exact number – or even a percentage of total company employees – who will be collecting unemployment in the coming weeks.
In a statement, iHeart noted, “During a transition like this it’s reasonable to expect that there will be some shifts in jobs – some by location and some by function – but the number is relatively small given our overall employee base of 12,500. That said, we recognize that the loss of any job is significant; we take that responsibility seriously and have been thoughtful in the process.”
However, an iHeart representative responded to RBR+TVBR’s request for comment by taking issue with the “wild rumors” being disseminated about the depth of job cuts that are directly tied to the still-debt-laden company’s abilities to use technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to “maximize the performance of each of its markets.”
This was noted in a follow-up announcement distributed Wednesday by iHeart that reiterated its naming of Division Presidents within the new iHeartMedia Markets Group. As RBR+TVBR reported Tuesday, Shosh Abromovich, Linda Byrd, Tony Coles, Julie Donohue, Nick Gnau, Scott Hopeck, Dan Lankford, Kevin LeGrett and Tom McConnell will all report into Greg Ashlock, President of the iHeartMedia Markets Group.
“It’s an exciting time at iHeart as we launch our new Markets Group structure to capitalize on our unparalleled reach and groundbreaking technology to create one-of-a-kind platforms and services for our employees, partners and listeners,” Ashlock commented.
The use of the word “exciting” may not sit well with some of the nearly 100 individuals confirmed to be out of jobs at iHeart, including WYNK/Baton Rouge PD Brittany Tully, WEZL/Charleston, S.C. PD Brian Cleary, iHeartRadio/Tampa Creative Services Director Carl Harris, KJYO/Oklahoma City MD/nights Chris Frioux, WMAD/Madison, Wisc., PD Katie Kruz, North Florida Regional PD Kevin Campbell, WMTX/Tampa PD/midday host Randi West.
Departing as SVP of Programming are Mike Preston in Baltimore; Chuck Knight in San Antonio; Gary Cee in Sussex, N.J.; and Tom Travis in Oklahoma City. Also out: Chad Heritage, the SVP/Programming of KSSN/Little Rock and a Country Brand Coordinator.
While the focus from trade publications, local business journals and even daily newspapers is on those who will need to find new jobs, investors appear pleased that iHeart is doing its part in addressing its still-significant debt. As of 11:21am Eastern, IHRT was trading at $17.51, up 2.4% from Monday. If that prices holds at the Closing Bell, it will mark a new post-bankruptcy high for iHeart shares. Intra-day trading on Jan. 10 reached $17.55.
While its bankruptcy restructuring greatly reduced its debt, it was lowered from $20 billion to $5.75 billion. By comparison, Entercom’s total long-term debt as of March 31, 2019 stood at $1.69 billion.
This likely fuels iHeart’s desire to move forward in “modernizing” the company by taking advantage of “the significant investments” made in new technology. In a statement, the company said, “This is another step in the company’s successful transformation as a multiple platform 21st century media company, and we believe it is essential to our future – it continues our momentum and adds to our competitiveness, our effectiveness and our efficiency with all our major constituencies.”