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Job Losses and Questions Come in the Wake of iHeart Reshuffling

Reports of layoffs mount; IHM emphasizes tech as the “number one audio company in America”

iHeartMedia’s decision to reshuffle its organization and technology infrastructure has led to job losses, a major reallocation of internal duties and a new emphasis on artificial intelligence in its operations. But the announcement has had much of the industry coming up with more questions than answers.

Tuesday, iHeartMedia announced major changes nationwide, saying a new decade called for the company to make changes.

The restructuring led to a wave of job cuts. According to a media representative at iHeart, those losses would be relatively small given iHeart’s overall employee base of 12,500. Some news outlets used the term “dozens,” but the website Radio Insight has posted a list of people cut and has been updating it; as of Wednesday afternoon, there were about 130 names, mostly programmers, air talent and producers but other job titles too (see more below).

iHeart has created separate groups to better share resources and experiences. These three new divisions — the Region Division, the Metro Division and the Community Division — will be overseen by Greg Ashlock, president of the iHeartMedia Markets Group, with a separate president leading each division. Another new division that cuts across all markets, the Multi-Market Partnerships Division headed by Julie Donohue.

[Read: iHeart Taps Nashville for Digital HQ2]

Practically, the shakeout has the Region Division overseeing the company’s largest markets such as New York and Los Angeles. The Metro Division will cover mid-size markets that have multiple communities, and the Community Division will include markets that focus on the shared needs of one community/area as well as small markets that are culturally similar or geographically close. Nine senior executives will be named as division presidents of these newly minted iHeartMedia Markets Groups.

iHeart said this structure will allow it to maximize the performance of each of its markets and take better advantage of the technology investments it has made in selling advertising and expanding new businesses like its podcast platform. In a statement, iHeartMedia Chairman and CEO Bob Pittman said that “iHeart is the rare example of a major traditional media company that has made the successful transformation into a 21st century media company.”

“We are now using our considerable investments in technology to modernize our operations and infrastructure, further setting us apart from traditional media companies; improving our services to our consumers and advertising partners; and enhancing the work environment for our employees.”

Among the questions observers are asking is whether this new structure will bring new ways of managing local stations, and the role of a new Centers of Excellence venture. iHeart said in a statement that it will use new technology and this new venture to deliver products and services to market, “enabling each to take advantage of the company’s scale and shared resources across programming, marketing, digital, podcasts, sales and sales support.” iHeart noted that it has made several recent acquisitions including Jelli, a programmatic ad platform; RadioJar, a cloud audio playout company; and Stuff Media, a podcasting firm. Its RCS automation arm also has been active in cloud product development this past year.

iHeartRadio logo

Online reaction to the news on social media included speculation that iHeart would take advantage of the FCC’s recent elimination of the main studio rule to dramatically cut back on local physical presence in some markets.

iHeartMedia declined a Radio World request for an interview about the technology aspects of the changes and its plans for technical infrastructure management.

The publication Billboard quoted one laid-off employee saying, “Their focus is going to be on their app and podcasting and not as much on local markets and terrestrial.”

In the announcement, the company described itself as “the number one audio company in America” and emphasized its “successful transformation as a technology powered 21st century media company.” It referred to its scale, its multiple platforms, and its “expertise in consumers, monetization and data,” saying that iHeart has made recent significant technology investments “to change everything from how it sells advertising to how it utilizes data and builds new businesses like its digital platform, podcast platform and robust data platform — all of which have given it an undisputed leadership position in the audio world.”

A sampling of the job cuts:

It is being reported that radio personalities are being let go as part of the shakeup. Longtime radio personality Dave Conrad, a 27-year veteran with WBCT(FM) in Grand Rapids, Mich., was told that he was being released, according to the news outlet MLive. Conrad started at B-93 in September 1992, just after the station was launched, and said he couldn’t think of a better place to work.

“I just feel really blessed to work for the people I worked for,” he told MLive, adding that his general manager teared up when he gave him the news.

Long-term iHeart radio personality Chris Warren said he was let go from WTRY(FM) in Rotterdam, N.Y. after 18 years. “I’m saddened to report that my 18-year stint with iHeartMedia/Albany, N.Y. came to an end about an hour ago,” said the DJ, whose given name is Warren Garling, in a statement on Facebook. “I’ve counted myself lucky to have been heard for more than 50 years on some great radio stations in the great Northeast.”

While the reports are still rolling in, other job losses across the country include:

  • Radio personality Leland Conway from WLAP(AM) in Lexington, Ky., who said he’s “not sure what’s next but can’t wait to see what the future holds. [My time at the company has] “truly been one of the most awesome experiences in my life,” as was reported by the Lexington Harold Leader.
  • Longtime host Jim Fisher with WOC(AM) in Davenport, Iowa; host Todd Alan with KUUL(FM) also in Davenport; host Ron Evans from KMXG(FM) in Clinton, Iowa; and employee Aaron Thompson, who worked at several stations. “Great people let go today including the legendary Jim Fisher,” Dan Kennedy, formerly of WOC, posted on Facebook Tuesday. “You all made radio better and you will be missed!”
  • Pat McMahon, morning show host on WYYY(FM) in Syracuse, N.Y. After McMahon wrote on Facebook that Tuesday was his last day, a listener expressed frustration with iHeart, calling it “not a nice place to work for.” McMahon said he didn’t blame his station management. “The world is hard, cruel and full of setbacks. It’s also exciting, uplifting and full of opportunity. Chaos is a ladder. I plan to climb it.”

An iHeart media representative said, “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,” she said. “That said, we recognize that the loss of any job is significant; we take that responsibility seriously and have been thoughtful in the process.”

As one industry insider said, there may be one silver lining: the opportunity for competitors to acquire newly available, top-level talent. Radio personality Conrad from WBCT is one who said that he’s already had conversations that could lead to new employment.