LIFE AFTER RADIO IS A PROJECT OF CIVILITY FOR GRABEL
When a format change at what was then KWMT FM 92.9, aka The Mountain, played a role in her ouster, Jenny Grabel was told by a local radio professional that a person hadn't really worked in media until getting fired at least once.
In Grabel's case, she may not return to a media job—at least not anytime soon.
Grabel has joined congressional candidate Ron Barber's Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding as the project manager. Barber and his family founded the organization shortly after the Jan. 8, 2011, shootings, during which Barber—who was then Gabrielle Giffords' district director—was himself seriously wounded.
"We're focusing on a grassroots desire to help change and support the functioning of our community," Grabel said. "The ... things Ron and his family came up with to work on (include) anti-bullying, mental health and working to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental illness and what resources are available within our community in the mental health field, and civility in general. Those are what we're working on, ideally, from a humanitarian standpoint."
Grabel wouldn't have minded a bit more humanity during her final days at Clear Channel. As is so often the case in big-business radio, Grabel, The Mountain's morning-drive co-host, wasn't given an opportunity to bid farewell to a listener base she helped cultivate over eight years.
"So many people are left confused. Not being able to say goodbye to your audience, that just doesn't feel right," Grabel said about her October 2011 layoff. "They wouldn't even let me back in the building to get my stuff. I know that's corporate America, but after eight years, to think I wasn't even allowed to pick up the stuff in my office, that I had to wait there as they brought it out to the curb—that day was not easy."
It's not that The Mountain wasn't successful; it just wasn't successful enough. Under then-operations manager Tim Richards, the station pushed an environmental agenda as the backdrop for a music library that seemed to include a lot of Jack Johnson and Sarah McLachlan. Clear Channel had success with the format in Boulder, Colo., and Minneapolis, and to Richards and Grabel, it seemed like a natural fit for the Tucson mindset. In many ways, Grabel was the face of the station.
But the beginning of the end was the day Barack Obama was inaugurated. As millions of Americans celebrated hope and change, Clear Channel announced mass layoffs.
"We had a police officer in our lobby when they let 35 people go," Grabel said. "We lost a number of fans who were also in our sales staff who were passionate about selling it. You have to have that relationship."
Richards eventually left for a position with the Johnjay and Rich show, and when Clear Channel made other upper-management changes as part of its regionalized approach, the station's support structure was gone, Grabel said.
"Whether or not the station was getting great ratings, the possibility for revenue was always there in creative ways, and we enjoyed what we were doing," Grabel said. "When they did the (management) shift, they didn't see the value. It never quite (got) the ratings corporate thought it should get. And 92.9 is such a large frequency that it has to deliver what the company demands. They gave it quite a few years, but it just has to make sense for them."
As seems to be the case whenever changes occur, Grabel and Mountain morning co-host Chris Patyk delivered one of their stronger ratings books just before their ouster.
Grabel bridged her departure from the Mountain and her position with the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding with a brief return to her roots at community radio station KXCI FM 91.3, where she hosted the station's afternoon-drive program.
"I've always been a member of KXCI. I'm a big eclectic music fan," Grabel said. "Do I understand what (corporations are) doing with commercial radio? Yeah. Do I think the public deserves a little more credit for their desire to be introduced to different things? Absolutely. The commercial model is homogenization and making it very easy to listen to—artists people are familiar with. KXCI, day to day, ingrains itself in the community, but it's a niche group. There are diehard KXCI fans, but then there are people who don't even know about KXCI. There's that hyper-focus to the community."
Does Grabel ever see a return to the radio world?
"I have no idea what life will bring me," she said. "All I know is that working for Ron and his family and the advisory board, I feel like I was able to do what I was meant to do. It's perfect right now. Radio is spectacular and wonderful, and I'm hoping I'll be able to be considered for subbing at KXCI and maybe do a once-a-week show, but right now, I have to focus on this.
"Working with Ron is a dream. ... Our resources are minimal, and we need to create a lot of partnerships to make things work. I'm really good at getting the pieces of the puzzle to work together. I don't anticipate going back to radio in a professional way anytime soon, but you never know."
Meanwhile, Patyk would love to stay in the business if opportunities present themselves. Patyk has been part of the Tucson radio roller-coaster for much of the past two decades. He has worked alongside some of the most-famous Old Pueblo radio alums, has been involved in the covert implementation of format changes, has been called upon to salvage failing formats, and has suffered the whims of fickle management on a number of occasions.
Of late, he has popped up on some part-time shifts at alternative-music station KFMA FM 92.1/101.3, and filled in with longtime friend Bruce St. James in a talk-show capacity at KTAR FM 92.3 in Phoenix.
While he searches for another industry gig, Patyk is taking classes at the Eller School of Business at the UA.