Editor's note: Get updated information about the iHeartRadio layoffs and see an internal memo that reveals plenty about the company's strategy at "Inside iHeartRadio Memo Calls Layoffs 'Dislocations,' Touts AI." Continue for our previous coverage.
According to knowledgeable sources, layoffs are looming over KOA, The Fox, KHOW, KBPI, KBCO, The Party, The Bull, Channel 93.3 and Freedom 93.7, the Denver cluster of radio stations owned by iHeartMedia. The massive broadcasting conglomerate has been slashing staff at outlets across the country in recent days.
Terms such as "bloodbath" and "the culling" have been applied to the iHeartRadio cuts, which are likely the largest by a single firm in the history of the industry. One local insider estimates the number of employees affected across the country at 1,500, or more than 10 percent of the company's total workforce. This page presents a running list of victims made public so far.
As for what's going on in Denver, reports are mixed. One source tells about selected employees being marched out of the iHeartRadio headquarters, at 4695 South Monaco Street. Another says the folks in the crosshairs mostly work behind the scenes, but acknowledges that there are rumors aplenty about big names potentially headed to the chopping block.
The first to publicly acknowledge his exit is Colorado Rockies game-caller Jerry Schemmel, who's gone through worse. In our 2001 profile of Schemmel, penned during the period when he was delivering play-by-play for the Denver Nuggets, he talked in detail about surviving the 1989 crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa — a calamity that claimed 112 lives. After escaping through a fissure in the fuselage, Schemmel climbed back into the plane to rescue a baby, Sabrina Michaelson, who almost certainly would have perished without his assistance. (He found the child in an overhead luggage compartment.)
Denver-based iHeartRadio executives contacted by Westword forwarded our inquiries to Wendy Goldberg, chief communications officer for iHeartMedia. She responded with the following statement:
We are modernizing our company to take advantage of the significant investments we have made in new technology and aligning our operating structure to match the technology-powered businesses we are now in. This is another step in the company’s successful transformation as a multiple platform 21st century media company, and we believe it is essential to our future — it continues our momentum and adds to our competitiveness, our effectiveness and our efficiency with all our major constituencies.
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 — but the number is relatively small given our overall employee base of 12,500. That said, we recognize that the loss of any job is significant; we take that responsibility seriously and have been thoughtful in the process.
Layoffs at the Denver group of stations are hardly unprecedented, as evidenced by cuts in 2009 and 2012, when iHeartMedia was known as Clear Channel. No less a legend than the Fox's Gregg "Uncle Nasty" Stone was let go during the latter wave, only to subsequently be invited back into the fold — but earlier this year, talk-show personalities Michael Brown and Krista Kafer, as well as the Party's JJ Kincaid, were given their walking papers shortly after KOA obtained the services of big-money free agent Alfred Williams. (Brown has since returned to KHOW, where he's hosting a 2-4 p.m. weekday program.)
Ratings at KOA since Williams came aboard, and syndicated star Rush Limbaugh was relocated to Freedom 93.7 (simulcast on 760 AM, formerly Orange & Blue Radio), have been disappointing — but the former Denver Broncos standout signed a new contract last month. Nonetheless, iHeartMedia as a whole isn't exactly swimming in cash. The corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and continues to struggle for revenue as more advertising dollars move away from traditional (read: pre-Internet) media.
It's too soon to tell right now how Denver stations, and listeners, will be impacted by iHeartRadio's downsizing. But there are plenty of worried people sitting behind microphones right now.
This post has been updated to include information about Jerry Schemmel.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.