UPDATE 1/24/08: After running out of air staff to get rid of, looks like Jim Ryan fired himself. He's leaving Lite-FM to start a consultancy, whose first client will be --- wait for it --- Lite FM.
With "Mixed Emotions," Valerie Smaldone Gets An Offer Too Easy To Refuse
WLTW-FM, 106.7 Lite FM, has long been the perennial ratings leader in the notoriously fractured world of New York radio, with its adult contemporary format.
Program Director Jim Ryan has managed to stay on top by constantly tweaking the music mix and stretching the bounds of a format to capture an ever-fickle audience. It was enough to capture an estimated $68.5 million in revenue in 2005, more than any other station in the country.
But it's apparently not enough.
While few people have turned to Lite-FM for their deejays, the station at one point helped burnish its dominance with an air staff that provided listeners with a familiar, reliable sound. WLTW, at one point, had the same announcers in place for 13 years before overnight host Robin Taylor passed away in 2003.
It was comfortable and predictable, but in a good way.
The deejays were not superstar jocks with seven-figure salaries, but pro's pros who earned an extremely decent wage by radio standards. But it was apparently more than the hard-of-hearing bean counters at Clear Channel could stomach.
In 2005, Stephen E. Roy, who had been at the station since 1983, got the boot. He was followed a year later by morning man Bill Buchner and evening personality J.J. Kennedy, who had worked a combined 34 years at WLTW.
This fall heralded the end of the tenure for mid-morning jock Al Bernstein, who had been with the station since its inception, which meant the silky-voice Valerie Smaldone, who also joined the station in its infancy 24 years ago, would likely be close behind.
That prediction sadly came true. Radio & Records reported on Dec. 31 that she had left her afternoon shift at the station. Ryan said in a statement that it was with "mixed emotions" that Smaldone had decided not to renew her contract.
Translation: We're going to let her stay if she takes a big pay cut. Smaldone likely said a few words she couldn't say on the air.
And mixed emotions? Please. Why were they mixed, Jim? Because you decided to effectively force her to quit rather than outright can her, like you did with the other jocks?
Why would there be any ambiguity over your emotions when you're casting out the deejay who had been number-one in her daypart for a gazillion Arbitron books?
True, Lite-FM will soldier on and will likely remain one of New York's top stations now and in the future.
Ryan and the Lite have succeeded for never taking the audience for granted. In getting rid of all the voices listeners have heard for 24 years, that's messing with a formula that didn't need to be changed, all for the sake of a few more dollars for the bloodsuckers in San Antonio.
You get to be number one for a reason, and when you stay at the top for so long with the same jocks at the mic, it's lame to suddenly deny they played any role in your success.