The Week Ahead

Our Monday morning update is more about what’s ahead, as opposed to what’s behind. But the view ahead is kind of scary…

MORE ON EXPECTED CC CUTS: There are now some numbers and details being attached to the reported first round of Clear Channel-related job cuts, thanks to the national media.

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal’s Sarah McBride reported that the San Antonio-based radio giant is planning on “about 1,500 layoffs” on Tuesday, resulting in a loss of about 7 percent of the company’s nationwide workforce of some 20,000 people.

McBride’s article says the bulk of the cuts will be in the company’s sales departments (“dropping those who aren’t top performers”, she writes), but the article says programming will also be affected:

On the radio side, the company is likely to eliminate chunks of local programming and replace it with national programming, much as it has brought Ryan Seacrest’s Los Angeles-based radio show to other markets in recent months. If a local show seems successful, the company will try to syndicate it faster than it might have in the past, a person familiar with the situation said.

But leave it to long-time friend and colleague Scott Fybush – in this week’s NorthEast Radio Watch – to provide a little “reality check” to Internet-fueled rumors that Clear Channel was installing satellite dishes at all transmitter sites to bypass local studios:

We’re quite certain, for one thing, that the satellite receivers that have been installed at CC transmitter sites nationwide are not, as a prominent blogger has been suggesting, designed to eliminate local studios – they are, rather, part of the company’s emergency response plan that was put in place after Hurricane Katrina wiped out its New Orleans studios, forcing its New Orleans stations to be fed via satellite from Baton Rouge.

We also have seen, in recent weeks, online rumors of job cuts in the range of “20 percent” – which appears to be basically overheated Internet rumor at this point.

Clear Channel refuses to comment on the reports in the WSJ, and earlier, in the New York Post. We’ll see what happens on Tuesday.

But if Clear Channel sneezes, it’s a big deal in OMW land. The company has a large number of stations within the purview of this report, including big clusters in Cleveland, Akron/Canton, Youngstown and all other major Ohio cities, from Columbus to Cincinnati to Toledo.

Toledo, where the Toledo Blade picks up on the WSJ article, and tries a local angle:

It was not immediately clear what effect the changes will have in the Toledo area.

Asked about the national cuts, Andy Stewart, market manager for the Toledo-area Clear Channel stations, said last night, “I have no knowledge of that.”

Clear Channel owns 21 stations in northwest Ohio, including five in Toledo: WCWA-AM, WIOT-FM, WVKS-FM, WSPD-AM, and WRVF-FM.

Aside from butchering the spelling of Stuart’s last name – really, is there some sort of newspaper edict that articles about broadcast media must have at least one mistake? – the Blade’s “staff report” has no new information.

That’s no surprise to us. In our survey of various Clear Channel-linked sources around the state of Ohio the past week or two, no one seems to know anything at the local level. They’re all just waiting – like us – for that shoe to drop.

The San Antonio big wigs have put a clamp on this. If these reports are accurate, they seem determined to bury the bad news on Tuesday, when anything not related to the Presidential inauguration will be in “a brief look at other news”, if it gets any attention at all.

Unfortunately for them, that ship has mostly left the dock.

Though, consider this. In the Huge Wave of Bad Economic News, the upcoming Clear Channel job dump is just one of a number of massive layoffs.

In that Toledo Blade article, it’s followed by word that car rental giant Hertz is letting some 4,000 workers go. Within the past week, electronics retailer Circuit City announced all remaining stores, including stores in Bainbridge and Canton, will be liquidated, and that some 35,000 employees will be out of work as a result.

It’s a big deal for us media-related types, but as far as a national economic story goes, this is just one story in the flotilla of bad economic news.

We’re reminded that not that long ago, CBS Radio – before its recent ongoing series of job cuts – let go just north of 100 people in one day, nationwide. At the time, that one-day layoff was characterized by many as a “job massacre”.

That seems kind of quaint by recent standards…

TELL US NEXT TIME: Your Mighty Blog of Fun(tm) didn’t find out about this until it was nearly done.

But we’d have appreciated a heads up on Friday’s guest host stint by Good Karma sports WKNR/850 “ESPN 850” CEO Craig Karmazin, who stepped in for newly-hired afternoon drive host Michael Reghi.

The Karmazin 3-6 PM fill-in was promoted on the station’s website, but we didn’t see it until just before 6 PM.

Not that we missed a lot, we’d suspect. (The audio from the show hasn’t made it to the station’s website “Audio Vault”, at least as of this early Monday writing.)

If we had to guess how Karmazin’s “talk to the boss” show went, we’d say that it was touting both Reghi’s rise to PM drive, and also Mark “Munch” Bishop being named sports director…similar to the Good Karma boss’s appearance on “The Really Big Show” with Tony Rizzo and company on Monday morning.

(We’re guessing that the ESPN Deportes feed didn’t make an appearance Friday.)

As for Bishop, Tony Rizzo noted Monday that he’s the top salesman in the entire Good Karma chain, including the company’s other stations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Florida, though we wonder how much of that was tied to his now-gone afternoon drive show…

DTV WEEK: As of this writing, the national digital TV transition is still scheduled for February 17, under one month away.

That still could change this week, as lawmakers are still kicking around bills that would move the date to June 12 – with the U.S. House expected to take up their version Wednesday, and the Senate to reconsider a measure blocked by Republicans in the chamber on Friday.

Scattered numbers of stations have already taken their analog transmitters dark, including two in the OMW Coverage Area – Western Reserve PBS’ WNEO/45 Alliance, and Mid-State Television independent WMFD/68 Mansfield.

And after all full-power broadcasters in Wilmington NC first made the switch in September 2008, an entire state has joined them.

Broadcasters in Hawaii set their statewide digital transition for January 15, and there was no delay on the islands…all full-power analog signals there went dark as scheduled last week.

There wasn’t a mad rush of infuriated viewers in America’s 50th state, according to a number of reports like this one from the trade magazine Broadcasting and Cable:

KITV Honolulu President/General Manager Michael Rosenberg, who’s also the state’s DTV coordinator, says the station received about 20 calls from viewers. “It’s not been overwhelming,” he says. “Technically, everything went well.”

Of course, we’re talking Hawaii here, where viewers are not holed up in the house with sub-freezing weather in January and February.

But there were some weather issues with a windstorm. Since it switched early, Hawaii TV stations don’t need the recently-passed “Nightlight” bill to keep analog stations on with transition and emergency information for a month or so.

Still…at some point, the digital transition will happen, be it February 17, June 12 or whenever. In our humble opinion, if lawmakers do move the date to June – they’d better stick to it…

WRESTLING WITH THIS ITEM: We’ll freely admit – we’re not exactly wrestling fans, even of the classic style of wrestling done in high school and college.

So, we have no idea what the Bill Dies Memorial Wrestling Tournament is.

But the folks at Time Warner Cable tell us it “features the best high school wrestlers from Northeast Ohio”, and it’ll air a number of times this coming week on TWC’s Northeast Ohio Network.

The NEON air dates for the past weekend’s tournament will be Tuesday at 9 PM, Friday at 7 PM, Saturday at noon and 10:30 PM, and next Sunday at 7 PM. After that, it’ll be on the company’s Local On Demand service on channel 1 or 501, depending on where you are in the Time Warner Northeast Ohio universe.

If any of this even remotely intrigues you, you can find out more at billdies.com

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