iHeartRadio layoffs hit Metro Detroit market

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

A national round of layoffs at iHeartRadio claimed some jobs in Metro Detroit this week, but the biggest names at iHeart's six local stations remain on the air.

The most prominent cuts of what iHeart called "employee dislocation" were WKQI-FM (95.5) late evening host Kristina "Krissy T" Williamson and overnight host Anne Erickson of classic rock WLLZ-FM (106.7).

Paul Corvino, regional president for San Antonio, Texas-based iHeartMedia, said eight employees were let go, including several D.J. mixers at hip-hop WJLB-FM (97.9), a sales director and other back-office staffers.

"We’re evolving," Corvino said. "When you evolve and modernize, taking advantage of technology, sometimes some people are displaced."

Kristina "Krissy T" Williamson

Smaller markets were hit particularly hard, according to Corvino, and lists of layoffs were reported on industry message boards. As in other industries, including newspapers, work is shifting to regional hubs.

Corvino said advancements in artificial intelligence and custom formatting will allow more seamless voice-tracking, the cost-effective process that allows a program like Frankie Darcell's afternoon show on WMXD-FM (92.3) to be produced and broadcast in Philadelphia while being tweaked to sound Detroit-based.

"It doesn't necessarily have to seem local. But it will seem local," Corvino said. "We'll have local sports scores as the games are going on, along with local activities. The information will be right there."

Krissy T's time slot on WKQI will be filled by a disc jockey in Los Angeles known as EJ.

"We love Krissy," Corvino said, "but we feel it's an improvement."

Mojo in the Morning, the long-term and dominant team at hit music WKQI, was unscathed. Also undisturbed was morning co-host Jay Towers of adult contemporary WNIC-FM (100.3), who also anchors the morning news at WJBK-TV (Channel 2).

Anne Erickson

A company insider said Mojo's team and Towers were immunized by both success and contracts in a business where increasing numbers of on-air personalities are at-will employees.

iHeart is the second radio chain to introduce layoffs in Detroit in less than a month.

In late December, Beasley Media cut ties with WRIF-FM (101.1) midday host Anne Carlini, who had been on the air locally for three decades, along with program director Mark Pennington.

Classic rock WCSX-FM (94.7) midday host Juline Jordan and evening host DJ Dinero of classic hip-hop WMGC (105.1) were also let go, along with staffers from off-air departments.

Tuesday's announcement from iHeart promised enhanced severance benefits for affected employees.

"Taken together," it said, "our transformation and modernization initiatives are essential to being competitive in 2020."

Corvino said the layoffs were reflective of the company's new identity as a media and technology company rather than a radio entity.

"We're competing with Facebook and Google," he said. "We're running with work boots, and they're wearing brand new Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36s.

"We actually have them in our gym bag, but we’re not using them. Now we're taking those shoes out of the bag, and they practically run themselves."


Twitter: @nealrubin_dn