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Commentary: iHeart’s Plans for Engineers

Del Colliano says expect a “major RIF”

Jobs concept image GettyImages Peter Dazeley

This commentary appeared on the Inside Music Media website on Nov. 12 under the headline “iHeart Moves to Eliminate Engineers.” Because of its relevance to engineering readers we reproduce it with permission. Radio World has invited comment or reply from iHeart and will share any we receive.

Eventually it had to come to this — elimination and for now at least a major reduction in the number of engineers it takes to keep iHeart stations on the air.

This promises to be a major RIF in addition to the firings of last week and the ones I have written about this week that will constitute “The Big One.”

Spread over the entire chain of stations and their clusters, eliminating engineers — long a goal of iHeart management — could get them closer to their 5,000 total employee number from an estimated 12,000 at the start of 2020.

The engineering firings are risky, more widespread than originally thought and, in a sense, creative.

For anyone who has ever worked in a radio station, the details about to be shared are, to say the least, scary.

  • Start with a standardized digital studio console – It will reportedly be networked to the transmitter site and the new remote consoles that they are installing will allow more remote control of the transmitter by the emergency operations center.
  • Emergencies will be referred to “The Tiger Team,” which is a group of engineers in the company that can jump on a flight at a m oment’s notice to go fix the engineering issues at the station. Keep in mind that the “Tiger Team” as they are called will only be able to respond to problems that don’t threaten to knock a station off the air.
  • A list of local contract engineers will be kept close by – Part of the reason will be to make things look safer in case of devastating engineering issues that either keep a station off the air, force a reduction of power or have to deal with a massive issue such as fire.
  • Major markets will retain an iHeart-employed chief engineer – This says a lot about how iHeart views its platform. Some 35% of all their revenue comes from 10 or fewer major markets and apparently iHeart does not want to jeopardize operations there. Expect a chief engineer to be retained and perhaps even an assistant if the chief is lucky.
  • The MO is to have complete remote control of the station’s transmitter and air chain without a local engineer – just a contract engineer or “Tiger Team” replacement. This also reinforces rumors that iHeart wants to standardize their studios so that this skeleton system makes sense.

While this economy of scale is dangerous and ill-advised, iHeart is one of the most debt-ridden groups with revenue problems some but not all of which are caused by the coronavirus economy.

If the remote-control operator cannot verify that the transmitter shut down due to an issue with the antenna and they try to switch to a backup and put it on the “bad antenna” they can cause a higher problem.

Or if the transmitter did a safety shutdown due to a power supply or tube issue, they can make the problem worse by tinkering with it remotely and not having boots on the ground to confirm the issue.

Jerry Del Colliano is a professor at NYU Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions Music Business Program. This commentary originally appeared at Inside Music Media and is republished with permission.

[Related: “How Will iHeart’s ‘Centers of Excellence’ Strategy Play Out?”]