“I Was Fired”

Donald Trump has “popularized” one of the most feared two-word combinations in the English language. And even though it seems to happen to just about everybody at one point or another – sometimes multiple times – in a career, it’s never an easy pill to swallow.

From rejection to confusion to anger to disbelief, the sequence of emotions that comes with the infamous pink slip is never easy to stomach. But most people eventually find a way to get past the pain or even embarrassment of being relieved from their jobs.

And from the employer point of view, it may be a squeamish, uncomfortable decision, but it’s one that is made thousands of times a day in this country (USA). And there are usually few, if any, repercussions.

But radio is an exception to that, especially in these social media-filled times in which we live. It wasn’t that long ago that if a radio manager wanted to end a DJ’s employ or simply not renew a contract, it really wasn’t that hard to do. And the station always had the option of giving the out-the-door personality the privilege of a final show.  Today, management has to consider an entirely new set of variables and possibilities.

From the audience’s point of view, it is often confusing as well. When a favorite DJ or talk show host “disappears” from the air, it can be disruptive, painful, and even hurtful to a true fan. But in so many cases, an explanation from management was rarely forthcoming. And for the most part, the audience was left to sort it all out as the station moved on.

But today, it’s not that simple. Listeners increasingly demand transparency, and social media platforms provide them with the opportunity to share their points of view with others in a very public way. So while the unemployed personality feels the pain, the onus often falls back on the station to explain its decision, and to face the fans in a way that radio has never had to in the past.

This recently played out in the digital area from both sides of the spectrum. Here are two stories that serve as object lessons to radio people in both the studio and the corner office about how to face the music with class, honesty, and transparency.

On the DJ side, take a look at Gillian Reilly who was on The Coop Shows, morning on AMP Radio/Detroit until she got the word last year that she no longer had her radio gig. In this YouTube video – “I Got Fired” – Gillian clears the air, answers a lot of the questions that listeners ask, and addresses some of her former co-workers at the station.


There is a communal aspect to this as Gillian tells her story and bares her soul. This speaks to the intimacy that personalities have with their listeners, and says a lot about what it means to have a strong, meaningful relationship with an audience. It also speaks to the simultaneous (and often competing) emotions of fear and optimism that personalities have to balance during these times.  And it gives control back to the personality to tell her story, rather than depending on the station or the “urban legends” that always accompany a high-profile radio firing.

The other side of this coin is the management point of view, and similarly, the need to take control of the narrative. More and more, it’s impossible to duck or evade fans when these tough decisions are made. I remember working for a medium market station back in the early 2000s that took Howard Stern off the air. The edict came from corporate that no one was permitted to address even a single question or complaint from fans about Stern’s departure. The station purposely kept the audience in the dark, stonewalled, and simply turned its back on listeners.  By the way, it has since changed formats.

That kind of obfuscation and hedging simply aren’t possible today. So when Max Media made the move to replace Jimmy Ray & Jen, the long-running morning show on The Eagle in Hampton Roads, Virginia, Operations Manager John Shomby took to a Google Hangout to meet the audience face-to-face, answering questions for nearly an hour.


These aren’t easy things to do because the questions can be pointed, unvarnished, tough to answer, and angry.  Early on, Shomby admits, “They were my friends and I’ll miss them.”

Eagle fans can say whatever they like about this decision, but they can’t complain that management didn’t provide them with a clear, honest explanation of what management was thinking.  And in the process, Shomby clearly shows empathy and discomfort about this move and why they made it.

In both of these videos from Gillian Reilly and John Shomby, you see, hear, and sense the emotional courage it takes to get in front of the social media lens and be real, transparent, and authentic.  For personnel issues in radio, this is the “new normal.”  Those aren’t just words because you clearly feel the struggles that both the employee and the manager endure in order to get in front of a camera and tell their stories.

Sports franchises have had to publicly cope with these issues for decades, providing accountability to fans about player personnel decisions. And because every player has a Twitter and/or a Facebook page, the communication between jock and fans has become a running dialogue, allowing both to circumvent the franchise.

And radio is learning these same conditions apply.  That’s because there are people to answer to, and forums for them to be heard.  DJs have their fans and followers, and so do stations.  It’s fun to use social media to disseminate good news, but painful when there’s a difficult situation to address.

As Jimmy Ray Dunn told a local Hampton Roads TV station last week, “With social media, there is no goodbye anymore.”

The final piece of the pie is the fans themselves, and the communities they’ve created on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.  Discussions, vitriol, and love are all part of the rainbow of emotions that play out on social media every second of the day.

For radio management, these tough business decisions have become much tougher because these voices that were once outside and unheard, are visible and loud.

Accountability and transparency are now major players in the termination process.

There’s never been a better time for a personnel and a social strategy.

Post script: Gillian Reilly has been hired to do morning drive at Kicks 99.1 (Odessa, TX).  Jimmy Ray & Jen are still looking.

Fred Jacobs
President Jacobs Media

Fred has emerged over the past two decades as one of radio’s leading visionaries. He founded Jacobs Media in 1983, when he had the notion that Album Rock could be fragmented by the creation of the Classic Rock format. Today, Classic Rock stands out as the most successful radio format in the last 20 years.

Prior to launching the company, Fred spent the majority of his time designing and managing research projects as the Director of Research for the Radio and Publishing divisions for Frank N. Magid Associates, a leading research and consulting firm. Later, Fred became Director of Radio Research for the ABC-FM Owned and Operated Radio Stations. From there, Fred gravitated to the station side, becoming program director for legendary WRIF-FM in Detroit, before forming Jacobs Media.

Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults Jacobs Media’s major market Classic, Mainstream, and Active Rock clients, while having input in every client relationship.

Fred has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, and a Master’s degree in Telecommunications from Michigan State University.

You can find out more about Jacobs Media here.

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