The Virgin’s Guide to Consolidation - Part 3

...Or how many “other shoes” can really drop anyway?

by Craig Jackman

Well, 2 months go by and look what happened!  In the 8 weeks that have passed since The Virgin’s Guide Part 2, my world has turned in a most unexpected way.  First, to recap, my little station group CHEZ-FM INC. was bought in September ‘98 by Rogers Broadcasting Ltd., a much larger group that is part of a HUGE national corporation here in Canada. The government regulators finally granted approval in early August this year. Quite quickly they made the expected changes in management by replacing the GM, VP of Sales, and Sales Manager with their current market manager, and moving the current PD of CHEZ-FM to another station in the market. My station (Classic Rock) was to share the PD of the other local Rogers FM (Young Country) until a permanent PD was named.

Early on, under the new regime, they seemed to spend most of their efforts on the smallest station of the old group, a small market Classic Country AM, that they plan on switching to FM and focusing more on “agri-business.” Again, sitting smugly in my little studio-with-no-windows, I watched quite removed from the hubbub. In my meetings with the new interim PD, he was very positive, encouraging me to take my work to another level, to make it sound more in the direction of our competitor (remember that part...). Not to complain, much, but under the previous PD I was left to go on my own devices with no direction or feedback. The new guy was still letting me do things my way but with a much better defined direction. The added bonus for me was that he would give me great feedback when I asked (not just the usual “Yeah, that’s fine”), and his suggestions always resulted in a better piece that also gave me a better idea of the sound he wanted out of me. We also restructured the Production Department a little in that I was removed from commercial duties (except where requested by client of course) to focus on promos and imaging. I’m stoked! I’m recharged, and having a great time focusing all my time and energies doing big sounding promos.

In addition to being excited about my work, I’m excited about the level of communication that the new managers have. You ask a question; you get an answer. I like that, as I’m not usually afraid to ask questions. There is a monthly staff lunch that also involves a “state of the union” announcement and question session by the market manager. It’s a nice touch that everybody really should do. Also the new companies freelance policy is much more realistic—do your company work FIRST, treat your clients with respect, and show the station in good light. Beyond that, whatever you want to do on your own time is of little concern to them—including using station facilities. I no longer have to pay out to rent my own studio! Although they did say that when I started making as much freelance as in my regular radio job that I should consider going out on my own. (Yeah right!)

Then, slowly at first, things began to change. First it involved moving all the CHEZ-FM sales reps to the existing Rogers Broadcasting offices in town to learn the “Rogers” way. That wasn’t too bad, really. The building became much quieter, and if we needed each other, it was just a speed-dial call away. The reps made frequent visits to check up on stuff as well. Then the existing Rogers Promotion Department was moved into our building. No big deal you say? The differences were astounding. Their Promotions Manager is working on stuff 4 months in advance, so organized that I’m envious. The CHEZ Promotions Manager on the other hand is still giving me stuff at 3pm, to start the next day. Then came the big change. I should have seen it coming, but being new at this corporate game, I didn’t understand that the company VP doesn’t usually show up after a 90-minute flight just to drop by and say hello. Next time I’ll know better. You see, this was my first exposure to Radio Management “American Style.”

Our Morning Team is a good bunch of guys, one with great talent already and loads of promise and personality, one who is a steady communicator and a good foil who had been with CHEZ for 18 years, and the last is the hardest working radio guy I’ve seen in years. Their numbers aren’t earth shattering, but sales are great; and after their first 6 weeks together, they had the highest CHEZ morning numbers ever. People either love them or hate them, and in the time since the takeover, they had worked hard with the interim PD to make the show better. Last Friday, after a hot ratings week, they went into their usual wrap meeting to plan for the next week (which was a cold ratings week). They walk into the PD office to find that they had been summarily fired. “Thanks for the effort guys, but it ain’t working.” By 9:15 the memo was up on the bulletin board, and the rest of us were walking around dazed. There were many tears, hugs all around, and the occasional bitter word.

Then it got surreal.

I’ve seen and heard rumors fly but nothing like this. I had people phoning me from all over as soon as word got out, saying “how could they do that” and speculating on who the new morning show would be, most correctly as it turned out. At 9:30 we found out officially. The next memo on the bulletin board spelled it out quite clearly. We had hired the entire morning show from our direct competitor—host, co-host, news, and producer—the group that for over 10 years had taken broadsides at us unmercifully, the group that was termed “the enemy” by previous managers. At 9:45 the last memo of the day went up announcing who the new permanent PD was and that he was starting Nov. 1—a guy with a huge resume, including great results at 4 legendary stations in Toronto and Hamilton. After a morning of moping around, getting some work done, but mostly not believing what had just happened, a number of us decided to get out for a while and have a beer and a burger for lunch. Our usual haunt across the street seemed the logical choice.

Then it got really weird.

We walked into the restaurant en masse, only to discover that sitting at the front table was our new Morning Show. After a long moment of mutual stunned silence, introductions were made and conversation ensued. Yes, it was as awkward for them as it was for us. Turns out they were on their way to a meeting with the market manager just down the street, and a few PR shots at the same time. It comes as no surprise that their former station is holding them to 2 weeks notice (off air). After pulling pieces of their former President and GM out of the ceiling tiles, a cease and desist letter was sent to us, pulling the quick teaser promos that we quickly put on the air with them. With both stations in a bit of disarray on air, the fall ratings period is now virtually useless. Strategically a very interesting move, particularly when coupled with the fact that the PM Drive jock on the other station is off on maternity leave.

Those of you at American stations will wonder what the fuss is about. I’ve read that this sort of strategic raid happens every few months in some markets. Not in Canada it doesn’t. I can only think of a couple of occasions where this has happened up here in the past 20 years. Heck, at CHEZ we have a lot of staff that has more that 15 years, and a couple from day one, 24 years ago.

So as it stands now, it’s pretty much back to square one. After 13 months of uncertainty about job security, followed by 6 weeks of enthusiasm, most of the staff at CHEZ is back to uncertainty. The only difference is that this time, it’s spread to the other Rogers properties in this market. While I still think that I’m OK, I can’t be sure. Do I want to stay? You bet. And throw in that creative spark that was just here, and I’m one happy and productive employee baby! It is a brave new world, and good or bad I really can’t wait to see what happens next.