As The Walt Disney Co. continues to emphasize streaming video, it is shutting down its Radio Disney and Radio Disney Country operations, effective the first quarter of 2021.
The move comes at a time when the media business is changing, giving kids more personalized music choices and the pandemic prevents Radio Disney from holding in-person events that attract sponsors.
Disney has been restructuring to focus on its direct-to-consumer business. Combined with the pandemic, which has devastated the company’s theme parks and movie business, the company reported a $710 million loss for its fiscal fourth quarter and has eliminated thousands of employees to reduce costs.
Launched in 1996, Radio Disney helped launch young Disney music stars including the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, as well as Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and One Direction. In 2013, it began producing the Radio Disney Music Awards, which were televised on Disney Channel and showcased stars like Ariana Grande, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor and Zendaya.
Radio Disney’s 36 staffers were informed of plans to cease operations Thursday morning via a teleconference with Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer, Disney Branded Television.
“I want to thank Phil Guerini [Radio Disney’s general manager] and the entire Radio Disney team for their work over the years to cultivate and amplify the careers of music artists that became the definitive voices of their generation,” Marsh said. “The innovation and creativity of this team helped to deliver unforgettable experiences. Radio Disney has made an indelible impact on my family — and on millions of others.”
The Radio Disney staffers will lose their jobs early next year and receive an enhanced severance package.
The decision to close follows Disney’s exit from the radio station business, which began in 2007 and concluded with the sale of five Radio Disney stations to Salem Media Group for $2.225 million in 2015. Radio Disney kept one local station, KRDC(AM), Los Angeles, to originate its national programming feed. Disney will sell that station in 2021.
Sirius XM started carrying Radio Disney in 2002 and its current deal expired at the end of the year.
The shutdown process will take a few months, and the Radio Disney signal will be turned off in the first quarter.
In 2005, Radio Disney was available in 97% of the U.S. through more than 50 radio stations and SiriusXM and had offshoots in the U.K., Japan and Latin America.
The radio network became part of the Disney Channels business in 2006, consolidating the company’s kids business. Radio Disney showcased Disney Channel music and Disney Channel aired music videos. The strategy drove demand for soundtracks released by Walt Disney Records, including High School Musical, the top selling album that year.
In 2008, Radio Disney’s Next Big Thing (NBT), a multiplatform feature to showcase emerging recording artists, launched, boosting Shawn Mendes, Becky G, Fifth Harmony and others.
Radio Disney Country launched in 2015 as a digital only platform and expanded it in 2017 with the launch of two Los Angeles terrestrial stations and increased digital streaming.
Radio Disney opened a state-of-the-art studio in Burbank in 2009. Artists and celebrities would visit the studio for interviews and acoustic performances that became a big part of Radio Disney’s programming.
Radio Disney in Latin America is a separate operation and is not impacted by the U.S. shutdown announcement.