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What Do You Do When You Have Been Dislocated?

“I have been laid off three times in my career, never “dislocated” though because I’ve never worked for iHeart.”

Demetri Ravanos

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“Can you come down to my office for a meeting?”

It is a simple question with ominous implications. Not every meeting that begins with that sentence leads to you being laid off, but every time you get laid off, that sentence is how the conversation begins.

My heart truly goes out to all the now former iHeartMedia employees that heard those ten words last week. I know I am not alone in that sentiment, and trust me, I have been where those people are. I know my sentiment doesn’t do much to help them right now.

I have been laid off three times in my career, never “dislocated” though because I’ve never worked for iHeart. Each time I was scared, angry, and confused as I was escorted out of the building. I didn’t always think the people dropping the axe were the bad guys, but I also didn’t always realize that right away.

Last week’s layoffs employee dislocations at iHeart clusters across the country were not just devastating for the employees themselves. They had a real “writing on the wall” feeling for the whole industry.

I thought it might help this week to talk to some of the people on the receiving end of the dreaded sentence “we’re moving in a different direction.” Some folks wanted to put their name on it. Others wished to remain anonymous as non-competes and severance continue to be negotiated.

There was a wide swath of reactions in the folks I talked to. Some were sad. Others remained positive. Most were both depending on what was being asked.

“My co-host, Jake [Querey], actually called me as I was on my way in asking if I was fired. I told him I hadn’t heard anything, but I got an alert that morning that the social media passwords for the stations had been changed,” Derek Schultz, the former afternoon co-host on iHeart’s Indianapolis sports talker Fox Sports 1260, told me in an email. “He had be asked to come in immediately and we had always joked that once you get that ‘come in immediately’ text, that means it’s over. My SVP and Market President are great guys, who handled the situation very well. I talked with them briefly at the station, was given time to grab some things (they offered to pack up everything else) and was escorted out.”

Image result for wnde query and schultz

Despite being on the chopping block, Schultz says he was treated fairly and didn’t hold ill-will towards his bosses. “It was a difficult day for [my bosses] as well because we had three other people in our cluster, which isn’t very large when it comes to staff, get the boot as well. It wasn’t a local decision, so that left me with some shred of pride as I exited for the final time.”

Len Martez, who covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for iHeartMedia’s WDAE, told me that he is thankful for the professional growth he experienced as an iHeart employee. “Even though I walked through their doors with years of experience, I’ve had some quality work experiences at WDAE, from lead hosting shows, to one on one interviews with players, attending community events, not too mention the development of relationships with colleagues, media members & a major city sports radio audience.”

There are two moments that stand out as the most emotionally raw when this kind of thing happens. The first is that moment you realize that you have to let people know what happened. Family members, listeners, friends, they’re all going to have questions. The other moment comes the next morning when you don’t have anything to get ready for and for the first time you realize you have to figure out an answer to the questions “what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?”.

“I knew the meeting was potentially bad so my mindset was somewhat prepared but you never want to hear the actual words. And I mention that because honestly other than a phone call with my former co-host I went on with my day, told myself I’m invoking my own 24 hour rule, before I address the layoff publicly,” Martez told me when I asked how he first reacted to being laid off.

Image result for len martez

“I told my wife, who works from home. She started to cry, which was easily the worst part of the whole day,” one host, who wished to remain anonymous, told me. “After that I just sort of zoned out for a little bit. After an hour or so I told the rest of my family, and then let the outside world know what had happened. I was so dazed the entire time that those first few hours feel like a blur.”

Shea Raftus, who was a producer with 97.3 the Game in Milwaukee told me that the toughest part of getting let go was losing an environment where he felt his career was nurtured.

“The hosts and producers I worked with such as Mike Heller, Scott Dolphin, Ted Davis, Jon Arias, Dan Needles, Dario Melendez and Armen Saryan were awesome to work with with. And that’s the sad part: You build all these shows, a chemistry with your hosts and growing following of listeners and boom it’s gone,” he said in an email. “It’s hard to get better at what you do and build your skills up when the plug gets pulled so quickly.”

So what comes next for some of these folks? I asked Raftus if he had a plan to preserve his mental health as he embarks on a new job search.

“The best thing for me right now is to head back home to Houston, which I’ll likely be doing here in a few weeks. I’ve got an incredibly close group of friends down there and being around the people I care about while hitting the reset button is definitely the best thing for my mental health. I would definitely like to stay in the industry as I really love producing, but everything is on the table at this point. If the best thing for me is to take a different but more stable career path that leads to a better and healthier lifestyle then so be it. If something in the sports radio industry comes up that’s a fit though I would love to keep producing.”

Image result for shea raftus

Schultz told me he took a day to digest everything before he started thinking about what comes next for him professionally. “After the first 24-hour period, I’ve spent some time each day talking to contacts and shaking trees to see if there are opportunities for me out there, both short-term and long-term. I’m grateful for 8 1/2 years at iHeart Indy and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, so that’s helped my mental health. I have the full support of a terrific family, friends, and colleagues, and annual passes to the Children’s Museum and Zoo for my three-year old, so I’m good.”

Seth Harp, program director and host for iHeart’s 97.3 the Game in Jacksonville (look at this beacon of creativity when it comes to station names!) feels good about his time at iHeart. “I’m proud of what we created in Jacksonville. The station is as strong as it’s ever been. We just completed the best back to back best months ratings wise in the entire decade. Very proud.”

That pride though doesn’t come without concern. When I asked Seth if he has thought about the possibility that he may never work in radio again, he is quick to answer.

“Of course. It’s a fragile business right now and has been for about a decade. I have been a part of two cluster sales in my career and have seen ‘irreplaceable’ people let go.”

Image result for seth harp the game

It’s the reason that he is not messing around when it comes to his mental health. Seth Harp told me that he isn’t just thinking about how to prioritize it as some sort of abstract concept. He has an actual plan to work through.

“Your mind turns into a blender after something like this,” he says. “Balance is everything when you are in this situation. I employ the T.H.I.N.K method:

  • Talk to the people that you love, love you, and that bring you happiness and joy 
  • Healthy Habits – Find one or two. Do it everyday. Structure while away from structure.  
  • Indooritis – Get out of the house or apartment. Accomplish something daily.
  • No Second Guessing – Save that for your autobiography down the road.   
  • Kindness – Chances are people that are trying to help have great intentions. Thank them.”

“A handful of potential employers have already reached out, which is promising, but the prospect of shuffling through all of that and trying to pick out the situation that’s going to be the best for me and my young family is daunting,” said a host who chose not to give his name. “This has all been a massive wrench thrown into my life at the worst possible time. Thankfully, I have a significant other and a support system that have been beyond fantastic in cushioning the blow.”

Certainly some of you are reading that with a level of contempt or jealousy. How can that guy complain when it’s clear everything will work out fine for him?

Look, even if you were successful enough in your last role for other stations in the market to treat the news that you are suddenly available as a reason to put their best foot forward, being unemployed is never easy. Empathy and compassion is always more helpful than the alternative. Sports radio is a competitive business, for sure, but right now is a time we all need to be supporting each other and willing to listen when someone that needs it reaches out for help or to talk.

Bomani Jones of ESPN always said something interesting when Kyler Murray was trying to decide between reporting to spring training with the Oakland As or declaring for the NFL Draft. “If you can make millions of dollars doing literally anything other than playing football, do it. Don’t put yourself through what you don’t have to.”

Image result for kyler murray baseball

That quote is about the physical toll football takes on the human body, but maybe you could replace the word “football” with the word “radio” in that quote and it works just as well. Now might be a good time to ask yourself “Can I be happy doing something else?”.

This is a highly competitive business. Most of us experience rejection or disappointment way more than we experience major wins. It doesn’t make you a failure or weak to decide that isn’t what you want out of you professional life.

If you’re reading this because you’re one of the people that just lost their job or you’re reading this because friends did and you don’t know how to help, know that I have been there before. My email address is below. You can always reach out for a sympathetic ear. I don’t know if I can do much more for you than just listen, but having gone through this myself a few times, I can tell you that one thing that helps a lot is having someone just listen and not try to offer answers.

Image result for iheart headquarters san antonio

It’s a scary time for a lot of people in this business, so if you’re a pray-er say a prayer. If you’re not, figure out a way to do something good for these folks. It’s easy and fair to point fingers at iHeart and say the company is ruining a great industry, but blame only gets you so far. Ask what you can do to help, and then follow through on whatever your friend, who is in a land of fear and confusion requests…within reason, of course.

Those of you that lost jobs are not alone. Make a plan. Work your contacts. Only an asshole wouldn’t be rooting for you right now or be willing to help.

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Barrett Media Hires Jeff Lynn to Spearhead Music Radio Coverage

“Adding Jeff to our editorial team to spearhead our music radio coverage is important for building brand identity and trust across the industry.”

Jason Barrett

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Barrett Media is expanding its content focus starting on Monday July 15, 2024. I announced these plans on May 6, 2024. Since then, I’ve had many conversations to identify the right person to bring our vision to life. Music radio will be our first addition. Coverage of tech and podcasting will come next.

Making sure we’ve got our finger on the pulse of the music radio business is the first step. With over 11,000 stations nationwide playing music, and entertaining listeners, there’s no shortage of stories to tell. I maintain that coverage of the music radio industry isn’t sufficient. We’re not going to solve every problem and nail every story but we’re going to work our tails off to try and make things better.

So, how can you help us? Email [email protected] so we’re aware of your success, career related news, and how to reach you for future feature stories. Sharing our content on social media and telling folks about the website once it’s live is another easy way to offer support.

To avoid any confusion, we will not be writing daily news on artists and record label activity. It’s why I’ve continued to mention ‘music radio’ each time I promote this expansion. We’re looking to focus our coverage on broadcasters, brands, companies, ratings, content, etc.. Artists and music labels may become part of our coverage down the road, but that’s not our immediate focus.

Which leads me to today’s announcement regarding our Editor. I spoke with a lot of smart, talented people for this role. Adding someone with management experience, who has a passion to write, a can-do attitude, a love for the industry, and relationships across formats is very important. I’ve found that person, and hope you’ll join me in welcoming Jeff Lynn as Barrett Media’s first ever Music Radio Editor.

Jeff’s experience in the music radio business spans nearly 25 years. He’s been a program director for iHeart, Townsquare Media, NRG Media, and Rubber City Radio Group. Those opportunities led him to Milwaukee/Madison, WI, Cleveland/Akron, OH, Des Moines/Quad Cities, IA and Omaha, NE. All Access then hired him in 2022 to leave the programing world and serve as a Country Format Editor, and manager of the outlet’s Nashville Record promotions. He remained in that role until August 2023 when the outlet shut down.

“I am honored to join the team at Barrett Media to guide the brand’s Music Radio coverage”, said Jeff Lynn. “Radio has been a lifelong passion and pursuit of mine. To be able to tell stories of the great work being done by radio pros and broadcast groups is very exciting. They are stories that need to be told. I can’t wait to get started.”

Jeff Lynn with Jelly Roll

I added Ron Harrell, Robby Bridges, and Kevin Robinson as columnists two weeks ago. Bob Lawrence and Keith Berman then joined us this past Monday. We’re quickly assembling a talented stable of writers, and with Jeff on board as our Editor, we’re almost ready for prime time. The only thing left to do is hire a few features reporters. I’m planning to finalize those decisions next week.

Building this brand and making it a daily destination for music radio professionals will take time. It starts with adding talented people, covering the news, and creating interesting content consistently. If we do things right, I’m confident the industry’s support will follow. Time will tell if my instincts are right or wrong.

Jeff begins his new role with Barrett Media on July 1st. Adding him to our editorial team to spearhead our music radio coverage is important for both building brand identity and trust across the industry. I’m eager to work with him, and hope you’ll take a moment to say hello and offer your congratulations. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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Greg Hill is Turning the Tables in Morning Drive on WEEI

“I think this business is slowly moving farther and farther away from dollars being dependent on being the #1 station or where you’re ranked when it comes to Nielsen.”

Derek Futterman

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Greg Hill
Courtesy: Audacy

Earlier in the week, the Boston Celtics secured their 18th NBA championship. Across a variety of sports radio stations, especially those in the Boston-Manchester designated market area, the triumph was a subject of discussion on Tuesday morning. Within morning drive on WEEI, host Greg Hill provided his thoughts on the team and its achievement.

Akin to the Celtics, Hill aims to position his weekday program to thrive and sustain success. After working in the industry for many years, some professionals can exhibit a sense of apathy, but for Hill, it is quite the opposite, exhibiting congeniality and authenticity to the audience as a whole amid this quest.

Although Hill broadcasts on a sports talk station, the morning show spans beyond comprehensive sports discussion while implementing a variety of other topics into its daily discussion. In fact, Hill defines the breadth of topics into two distinctive categories, one of which is sports while the other covers an assortment of miscellaneous subjects mentioned on the show.

“I think it’s more beneficial if you are a radio person and you know what you think works when it comes to doing radio,” Hill said. “If you can find a way to keep the audience entertained and engaged and try, if you can, to present content that’s different than [what] they might find somewhere else, then that’s more important than necessarily a vast X’s and O’s knowledge when it comes to sports from my perspective.”

Sports teams in the city of Boston have established a tradition of grandeur and excellence, making a habit of remaining in contention for championships every year. In fact, the Celtics championship ended the city’s title drought that spanned just over five years. During that time, the media ecosystem has changed with a prioritization on digital distribution in addition to more niche content offerings. As a long-tenured radio host, Hill has been able to successfully adapt by optimizing the idiosyncrasies of the medium while also being open to innovation.

“The old adage about, and I think it still remains a unique advantage when it comes to this medium, is that when you wake up in the morning, you want to know, ‘What happened? What happened last night?,’ and you want to hear people give you their slant on it,” Hill said. “My function, I think, is to give everybody the opportunity to share their opinions on stuff.”

While Hill has become a respected sports radio host, he initially started working in another sector of the industry. During his time as a middle school student, he worked a paper route and saved his money to buy two turntables and several 45-rpm records. Hill would then go to the garage of his parents’ house and host a radio show with no audience, working to master the craft in his nascence. As he grew older, he started to bring his records to his high school radio station and take the air.

The passion and verve he possessed for the medium, along with his talent in the craft, helped him land a job at WAAF as a promotion coordinator. As he began to showcase his abilities, he earned chances to go on the air over the weekends and overnight. Morning show host Drew Lane later asked Hill if he wanted to do sports on the program, and he continued to grow from there.

When Hill was named the host of the new Hill-Man Morning Show on WAAF a few years later, he needed to find a way to stand out in the marketplace. After all, he was facing competition from Charles Laquidara on WBCN and a variety of other media outlets, and it took time for the program to eventually break through. Hill took the opposite approach of other stations in the area to render the show distinct from those on other media outlets.

“WBCN at the time was an older-targeted station, so we targeted the station towards Men 18-34 and figured that we could grow as they grew,” Hill said. “So we were just going out attending every single possible event where somebody might be, going out before concerts and shaking hands, and doing all that stuff that I think you have to do in order to try to get people to try your show and try your station.”

Hill’s program catapulted to the top of the marketplace, and he signed a lifetime contract after 26 years on the air to stay at WAAF. In signing the deal, he never thought he would work anywhere else, but things changed three years later when Gerry Callahan hosted his last show in morning drive on WEEI. Then-Entercom announced that it was adding Hill to the daypart to host a new morning drive program and retained co-host Danielle Murr in the process, commencing a new era for the outlet. Shortly thereafter, WAAF was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and re-formatted with contemporary Christian programming.

“I never thought [W]AAF would go away,” Hill said. “It was a legendary rock station, and I still to this day will flip by that station and hear Christian rock music and sit there in silence for a couple of minutes for that great radio station, but being the same company and the same market manager at the time [in] Mark Hannon, when that opportunity came up [to] try something different and to make a change, I was really excited about it.”

In moving formats, Hill and his colleagues evaluated the program and determined how they could grow their audience on WEEI while staying true to the essence of the show. The program, however, was going up against Toucher & Rich, the hit morning show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and others.

“I think this business is slowly moving farther and farther away from dollars being dependent on being the #1 station or where you’re ranked when it comes to Nielsen,” Hill said. “To me, the most important thing is that we’re doing what we should do to get partners for the radio station on the business side of things and delivering results for them.”

Hill is cognizant of the success of 98.5 The Sports Hub but articulated that the ranking does not matter to those spending money on radio. Instead, he claims that it is about the level of engagement and patronization of the product that facilitates interest in the brand.

“From a differentiator point of view, we’re up against, on the sports side of things, an incredible radio station that has done an amazing job of being #1 in this market for a long time with really compelling personalities,” Hill said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to try to find ways to be different when it comes to our choice on content and the way in which we present it, and then outwork them when it comes to going out and meeting people who might listen to the show.”

Whereas Hill was originally a solo host during his early days on WAAF, he is now joined by Jermaine Wiggins and Courtney Cox, both of whom bring unique aspects that enhance the program. Wiggins, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, provides his knowledge of football and the perspective of a professional athlete. Cox is the youngest person on the program and has a unique approach from her time covering sports at NESN while embracing the humor and repartee on the show. Show producer Chris Curtis, who worked with Hill at WAAF, also contributes to the conversation as well and has helped maintain synergy.

“Whether it’s the co-hosts on the show or callers, I love when they are having fun at my expense, and I think that self-deprecating humor to me is the best,” shared Hill. “If we have a show in which I end up being the punchline or end up, whether it’s my age or lack of technological skill or my frugality – whatever it is – that to me is my favorite part of what we do and that personality coming through, I guess.”

Hill uses his platform to benefit the community through The Greg Hill Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded to provide families affected by tragedy with immediate needs. He created the foundation in 2010 to celebrate two decades on the air at WAAF before the advent of crowdfunding in a quest to give back. The foundation has donated over $20 million to more than 9,000 beneficiaries during its 14 years.

“We’re lucky in radio because we have this incredible tradition of public service, and I think everybody in radio feels this obligation – this great obligation to use the airwaves to help others,” Hill said. “We’re granted the incredible platform in which we can actually get people to respond when help is needed, and so I wanted to be able to use that microphone and the radio station on those days to be able to help the beneficiaries in our area who needed it.”

Hill recently signed a multiyear contract extension with Audacy-owned WEEI to continue hosting The Greg Hill Show. Part of what compelled him to remain at the station was working with Ken Laird, the brand manager of the outlet who used to be his producer at WAAF. Moreover, he has known Audacy Boston market manager Mike Thomas for over two decades as he leads the cluster of stations in an environment with many entities looking to garner shares of attention.

“To be able to have the opportunity to work with those guys, know what they are, what I need them to do to keep them happy and to have the opportunity for us to, from a team perspective, that we have one clear mission in mind, and that is to be No. 1,” Hill said. “No. 1 in revenue and No. 1 when it comes to ratings, so to be able to sit there and go, ‘Alright, since I came here five years ago, we definitely have some wins, but there’s still a lot that we have to do,’ and to be able to do it with them together was way more interesting to me than any other opportunity.”

Even though Hill has worked in the sports media business for many years, he remains energized by the prospect of achieving goals and having the privilege to host his radio program. In the past, he has stated that he would like to slow down in his career, yet he is unsure what he would do without working in radio.

“That being said, I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn for 30-something years, and I’m definitely feeling it more than I used to,” Hill said. “But sometimes I think it would be fun to go and do one more radio show where I play seven great songs an hour, as long as I get to pick whatever I play and there’s no research and there’s no computer programming the music. I sometimes think about that, but I just love doing this.”

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If Jim Rome is Willing to Innovate, So Can You

Jim Rome is 59 years old and has been at this for 35 years. And if he finds value in embracing new platforms, you, your hosts, and your stations should be able to do it, too.

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Photo of Jim Rome and a logo for the X platform

Jim Rome is 59 years old. He’s been in the sports talk radio game since before I was born. And earlier this year, his show left CBS Sports Network to begin a live simulcast on the Elon Musk-owned X platform.

And it has exposed him and his show to a much wider, and frankly much younger, audience in the short time since the simulcast began.

If you search X, you’ll see either “I didn’t know Jim Rome was still around” or “I’ve never heard of Jim Rome, but I saw his show on here,” posts.

Now, that doesn’t mean he’s abandoning terrestrial radio. In fact, he recently chastised a caller for talking poorly about “scratchy AM radio”, which elicited a strong defense of the medium from the sports talk legend.

But I can’t help but think that if — at this stage in both his life and his career — Jim Rome is willing to try new things, so can you, your show, or your station.

To be frank, Rome has every reason to coast. Rest on his laurels. Simply collect a paycheck and call it a day until his contract is up. But that’s not what he’s doing. He’s innovating. He’s taking chances. I’m sure it’s a much safer feeling — especially for someone about to reach 60 (you look great by the way, Jim) — to stick to a familiar simulcast on cable TV. For damn near 40 years, that’s been the dominant player in the space. But it isn’t 1992 anymore.

Listening to Rome describe the new simulcast makes either one of two things true: Either he doesn’t truly understand what he’s doing, or he believes that his audience is potentially too old to understand streaming. Because he talks about the new venture like he’s trying to explain it to a five-year-old, but at least he’s out here attempting it.

Listening to many shows or stations around the country has at times led me to have a cynical view of the industry. Lipservice is often paid when you hear leaders say “We’re in the content business, not the radio business,” but then only put their content on the radio. Or in podcast form, in three-hour blocks with the live traffic reports still included in the audio to really cement home the fact that the producer couldn’t be bothered to even attempt to edit it before publishing.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some stations that have fantastic radio, podcast, digital video, and social media strategies. Others excel at live events.

But many — you could argue too many — are resting on their laurels, taking a “this is good enough,” approach to the format and its content, and hoping that nothing ever changes.

The problem is the world changes every single day. And if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. If the biggest and best stations in the industry fall behind, the entire format falls behind. And I don’t want to see that happen.

If you don’t have a digital video strategy in 2024, I have one quick question: Why not? I was a Program Director in market #228, and we had a digital video strategy.

If you don’t have a podcast strategy in 2024 that’s better than “just put up the entire show from today”, I have one quick question: Why not?

“Why not?” is likely the question Jim Rome asked when he was presented with the opportunity to move his show from the safe haven that was CBS Sports Network and bring it to a wider, younger, and more accessible audience on social media. Now, was it a risk? Absolutely.

But that’s the point. Be willing to take the chance. Be willing to try something different. Experiment. Learn. I can empathize with those who are frozen by the fear of failing. It’s a completely valid worry. But not growing, not chasing every revenue and content avenue possible, and not learning something new is a bigger risk, in my book.

I’m not here to suggest you take an ax to everything you’ve done on your show, your station, or your cluster, but I will strongly advocate for expanding your horizons and attempting to meet your audience wherever they may be. And even if that audience might be in places you’re unfamiliar with, familiarize yourself. Do I get the impression Jim Rome was super familiar with live video streams on X before taking his show there? No. But he was willing to take a chance, knowing that it might benefit in the long run.

I hope you operate in the same spirit.

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