COVID-19 Prompts Huge Furloughs at iHeart Denver Radio and Beyond

Jesse Thomas changed his Twitter handle to Jesse "Boots With the Furlough" Thomas after being sidelined for ninety days at the Colorado Rockies Radio Network.
Jesse Thomas changed his Twitter handle to Jesse "Boots With the Furlough" Thomas after being sidelined for ninety days at the Colorado Rockies Radio Network.
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to huge, if ostensibly temporary, cuts in the workforce at iHeartRadio stations across the country, including the cluster of outlets in Denver that includes KOA, 103.5 The Fox and more.

Hard numbers are hard to come by, but our sources tell us that as many as thirty iHeart employees in Denver have been put on an unpaid ninety-day furlough that some insiders fear could become permanent if the recovery from the pandemic isn't particularly robust. At present, the Tech Center studio for the stations is described as a ghost town.

At least three high-profile behind-the-scenes talents in Denver have confirmed on social media that they've been furloughed, including Dragon Redbeard, a longtime producer and on-air foil for Fox and KOA stars Rick Lewis and Kathy Lee; producer Lori Lynn Barker, who's been with the company for decades; and Jesse Thomas, executive producer and engineer with KOA's Colorado Rockies Radio Network, which is silent right now given the delay in the start of the Major League Baseball season because of the novel coronavirus.

Thomas hasn't lost his sense of humor; he changed his name on Twitter to Jesse "Boots With the Furlough" Thomas. He tweeted that yesterday, March 30, "has been rough for many in my business, but there are brighter days ahead. And when those stimulus checks come, just remember what Tug McGraw once said: 'Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish Whiskey. The other ten percent I'll probably waste.' Take care of each other, you guys."

The furloughs, necessitated by an enormous decrease in revenue as many advertisers close, were announced by way of a letter from iHeart chairman and CEO Bob Pittman and Rich Bressler, the conglomerates' CFO and COO. A copy was originally obtained by the radio website All Access, and it's certainly an unusual document (see it below).

Pittman and Bressler begin by talking about their decision to make personal sacrifices; Pittman is voluntarily giving up his salary for the rest of the year and forgoing a bonus, while Bressler and other executives will see pay cuts in the 30-to-70 percent range. Then, after references to other cost-saving measures, including the temporary suspension of the company's 401(k) matching policy, Pittman and Bressler drop the furlough bomb, which they differentiate from layoffs and a permanent reduction in force. They stress that employees can continue to use their health insurance and suggest that unemployment benefits should prevent them from feeling significant fiscal distress over the next three months.

Earlier today, March 31, Barker wrote this on Facebook: "Today is my first day of my furlough from work. (Yes I was furloughed yesterday.) My heart goes out to my work family who were also furloughed. My plan is to use my time wisely. I joked with Art yesterday that I soon will be walking through the house with a tool belt. I am sure there will be some bad days, but today I chose to be positive. Love to all."

click to enlarge A graphic posted by Dragon Redbeard after he was furloughed from his job at 103.5 The Fox. - COURTESY OF DRAGON REDBEARD
A graphic posted by Dragon Redbeard after he was furloughed from his job at 103.5 The Fox.
Courtesy of Dragon Redbeard
As for Redbeard, he posted the graphic above, along with the rhetorical question "Says it all, doesn't it?" and the hashtags #furloughed, #furlough, #whatnow and #boredalready.

Continue to read the letter from Pittman and Bressler:


Last week we wrote to you about the economic downturn our country is facing as the result of the pandemic and the need to respond to it to preserve the health of our company. During this unsettled time, we also know the biggest economic concern among our employees is understandably about preserving jobs — and we want you to know that it’s our main concern as well.

Although we have had to make hard decisions to address the economic impact of the downturn, our management team has found ways to reduce our company’s expenses without resorting to permanent layoffs.

As the CEO of the company, BOB will voluntarily take no salary for the remainder of the year and has given up his annual incentive bonus, and RICH and our senior management team will take reductions ranging from 30 percent to over 70 percent of their total compensation for the remainder of the year.

In addition, we have implemented:

• Reduction of all expenses that can be postponed without impacting our service and commitment to our communities;
• Temporary suspension of the 401(k) match;
• No overtime without pre-approval;
• Temporary suspension of new raises; and
• Strict limitations on — or complete elimination of — Travel and Entertainment (T&E) expenses.

We believe all of these reductions give us more room to protect jobs.

Given our pullback from live events and our shift to a work-from-home model, there are a few jobs that are not essential until our business operations revert back to usual. This week we are taking the difficult step of implementing a 90-day furlough, or temporary unpaid leave of absence, for jobs affected by these changes. To be clear, while this will involve a small total number of employees, they are valued colleagues and we did not take this step lightly. We look forward to welcoming them back as soon as we can.

This is not a layoff or a reduction in force (RIF). With a furlough, while it is an unpaid leave of absence, the affected employees stay in our employ, allowing us to continue offering these employees full health benefits, and we want to make sure we take care of them as best we can during this time. And with state unemployment benefits, supplemented by the added special benefits that are part of the new federal stimulus legislation, hopefully these employees will not feel any significant financial impact during this limited period of time.

We’ve never lived through anything like this and, as managers, we’ve never had to make more difficult decisions. However, please know we are listening, studying and considering all options before we make the important decisions that affect you and the company. We may miss on some of these decisions — and we will pivot when we find better ones — but throughout it all, we truly appreciate your support for us, for your colleagues and for the company.

Please be safe and take care of your health and your families.