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CLEAR CHANNEL LAYOFFS SHOW NEW APPROACH

Clear Channel laid off at least four Tucson employees at the end of October—and three of those cuts exemplify the company's new model, an approach that could ultimately decrease the already rail-thin workforce in an industry that has taken dramatic hits in the last decade.

Morning talent Jennie Grabel was let go, as was her KWMT FM 92.9 "The Mountain" morning co-host Chris Patyk, who also had program-director duties for a number of stations in Clear Channel's Tucson cluster. Carlos Zeta, program director at Mexican music format KTZR FM 97.1, aka "Mia," was laid off, too.

These cuts represent the company's new focus, a regionalization model accompanied by the near-removal of middle management on the programming side. Clear Channel is engaging in two approaches: It is syndicating a significant amount of programming while conducting business in pocket locations. Much of the Tucson decision-making won't necessarily take place in Tucson.

The Tucson cluster has been moving in this direction for some time. From an on-air-talent standpoint, it's been a long time since a Clear Channel music station replaced an outgoing local DJ with another voice living in Tucson—but the company does a fine job of pretending talent is local. With the removal of Jennie and Chris from the morning slot, among The Mountain's on-air staff, only Christopher (Chris O'Gorman), whose shift airs from 7 p.m. to midnight, actually lives in town.

The DJs who voice-track the other shifts, Delana (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Ryno (2 to 7 p.m.), certainly create a pretense of local broadcasting. Ryno used to DJ at Top 40 KRQQ FM 93.7, but now resides in the Midwest. No problem; his connections to Tucson helped get him the shift, which is basically e-mailed in via voice-tracking technology. This is a model Clear Channel has used for quite some time. Of all the national radio megaowners, Clear Channel is the most notorious for hiring a group of voices responsible for multiple air shifts throughout the country. In other words, listeners might be just as likely to hear Delana in Tucson as in Greensboro, Memphis and Allentown—and in every Clear Channel market she's in, she'd pretend to be local.

Clear Channel argues this is a better approach for listeners, because the best talent can be displayed across the spectrum. To substitute for the lack of an actual local presence, the company will ask its cast of regional managers to craft messages that "focus more on their local brands and engage more with their audiences and local communities," according to Clear Channel press release material. Exactly how it plans to accomplish this will be something to behold.

"Just about every station that's used this strategy has delivered better ratings than it did with the programming that it replaced," said a Clear Channel representative in a Billboard.biz article. "Our listeners have voted with their time, and we paid attention."

How well has the one-size-fits-all approach worked for Clear Channel in Tucson? KRQQ performs well. Even with its constant stream of syndication—highlighted by former Tucson morning hosts Johnjay and Rich, now based in Phoenix, and Ryan Seacrest's afternoon show—the Top 40 linchpin remains one of the three highest-rated stations in the market.

Should you feel inclined, walk into the fortified Clear Channel lobby at Oracle and Fort Lowell roads, and take a look at the big glass window on the right. That would be the KRQQ Tucson College Studio. The studio has a sponsorship, but good luck seeing anyone who will ever actually be broadcasting there.

Other Clear Channel formats in this market lag. Rhythmic contemporary-hit radio station KOHT FM 98.3 (with former Tucson morning talent Mojo, who now syndicates his show from Detroit) registered a 12-and-older rating of 5.1 two books ago, but has since settled in the high 3s. KWMT consistently delivers ratings in the mid-3 range, and in light of recent cuts might be a candidate for a format change. Mia delivers numbers in the low 2s.

Tucsonans have had a history of preferring local talent, especially in the morning drive, perhaps more than listeners in many similar-sized cities.


CUMULUS CUTS PD, PROMOTIONS POSITIONS

Meanwhile, Cumulus has laid off two Tucson employees, including Dusty Chandler, who was program director at KSZR FM 97.5, the automated so-called classic-hits format known as Bob FM.

Chandler, who also voice-tracked an air shift for KHYT FM 107.5, had a long history in the building, located on Roger Road near Oracle Road. He worked for Jim Slone, who sold the cluster of radio stations to Citadel in 2001. When Citadel went bankrupt, Cumulus took over the day-to-day operations.

Cumulus also released popular promotions-department employee Josh Cohen.

I work for Cumulus as co-host of UA football and men's basketball pregame and postgame broadcasts on KCUB AM 1290.


JIM EDWARDS NEW VOICE OF WILDCAT HOCKEY

University of Arizona hockey underwent a radical overhaul in the offseason, engaging in an ugly separation from Icecats founder Leo Golembiewski.

However, a few things remain the same: The UA club team still plays at the Tucson Convention Center Arena, and broadcasts select Friday and Saturday night home games on KFFN AM 1490/FM 104.9.

But there is a new play-by-play voice at the helm. Jim Edwards calls the action along with color commentator Ross Williamson.

"I'm very excited, because hockey is my favorite sport to watch and to broadcast, and I haven't had a chance to broadcast it for years now." Edwards said.

Edwards, who works full-time for the Journal Broadcast Group in Tucson, has eight years of hockey-broadcasting experience, including a stint with the University of Michigan.

"The first thing I did as a broadcaster was I took tape recorders to hockey games, sat up in the corner and did play-by-play," Edwards said. "After a couple of years, I thought I was good enough, and I did public access for high school football for a couple of years before I got the Michigan job."

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