Robservations: Furloughs, wage cuts hit Cumulus Media Chicago stations

WLS 890 AM

Robservations on the media beat:

Cumulus Media

Tuesday was Cumulus Media’s day to share the financial pain of the coronavirus shutdown with its employees, following similar draconian moves by iHeartMedia and Entercom. Salaried employees will take three weeks of unpaid leave in one-week installments over the next 15 weeks. Others will take 90-day pay cuts, and a third group will be put on 90-day furloughs, starting April 16. Cumulus CEO Mary Berner, who’s reducing her salary 50 percent, told employees: “Even though these are intended to be temporary actions, I know they are going to land hard — really hard — and that is in the emotional and financial toll that a furlough or salary cut will take on each of you, but also in terms of the increased workload the vast majority of you will have to take on during your co-workers’ furlough weeks. I am truly sorry and sad about this announcement. None of you deserves this.” Marv Nyren, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Chicago, said the moves will keep all workers employed without resorting to layoffs. But SAG-AFTRA, the union representing on-air employees, raised objections to the plan, saying Cumulus “cannot unilaterally implement changes upon union represented staff.” In Chicago the company includes news/talk WLS 890-AM, classic hits WLS 94.7-FM and alternative rock WKQX 101.1-FM.

Justin Kaufmann

Justin Kaufmann, who signed off last month as evening host at Nexstar Media Group news/talk WGN 720-AM, is going back where he came from. Starting this weekend he’ll host a live, two-hour call-in show on the coronavirus pandemic at 1 p.m. Saturdays on WBEZ 91.5-FM, the Chicago Public Media news/talk station. At the outset it’s scheduled to run for four weeks. Before joining WGN in 2015, Kaufmann spent 21 years at WBEZ as a producer and content developer. Also at WBEZ, the station this week unveiled a newly redesigned website at wbez.org, making it easier for users to browse, read and listen — both live and on demand — for free. (Here is the link.)

Me-TV FM

Me-TV FM, the Weigel Broadcasting soft-rock oldies station at WRME 87.7-FM, will provide the soundtrack for Chicago’s weekly mass singalongs during the COVID-19 shutdown. At 7 p.m. this Saturday, listeners are invited to sing along from porches, balconies and backyards to “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, who died last week at 81. “Among the memorable classics we play, ‘Lean On Me’ is a perfect song to lift our spirits and remind us that we are all in this together,” said Rick O’Dell, program director of Me-TV FM. “We look forward to playing more songs that reflect our neighborhoods in the Saturday singalongs ahead.” The citywide initiative was organized by Andre Vasquez, alderman of Chicago’s 40th ward.

Healing Chicago Together

“Healing Chicago Together,” a community resource initiative to support local nonprofit organizations and businesses, will be launched today by iHeartMedia Chicago. Listeners will be encouraged to visit the company’s six station websites and enter the keyword “healing” to learn about blood donation services, volunteer opportunities, food and shelter resources, monetary donations, mental health information, animal shelters resources, local businesses support and more. “We are committed to the people of Chicagoland, and we will do our part in helping our fellow citizens get through this pandemic,” said Matt Scarano, president of iHeartMedia Chicago. The company’s stations here include urban contemporary WGCI 107.5-FM, urban adult-contemporary WVAZ 102.7-FM, Top 40 WKSC 103.5-FM, adult contemporary WLIT 93.9-FM, country WEBG 95.5-FM, and gospel WGRB 1390-AM.

Tuesday’s comment of the day: Mark Quinn: While it wouldn’t bother me too much if the absence of “traffic and weather on the eights” were really “for the time being,” which I take, or at least hope, to mean “for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis,” I suspect this might turn out to be a more permanent move. And, at the risk of sounding like an old man who doesn’t like his bar stool moved, which would quite aptly describe me if I drank, dropping “traffic and weather on the eights” would be a great disservice by WBBM to its fans. Traffic changes quickly, regardless of the time, and getting such information via a newsradio station is far safer than relying on a navigation system that includes traffic updates.