Today FM has abruptly abandoned its scheduled broadcasting and staff at the station fear they are about to lose their jobs. Video / NZ Herald
A total of 30 hosts, production staff and contractors at news radio station Today FM were proposed to have their roles disestablished, according to a leaked MediaWorks document, while a further 20 jobs are under review.
Some of the staff include well-known broadcasters Tova O’Brien, Duncan Garner, Lloyd Burr, Rachel Smalley, Mark Richardson and Dom Bowden.
A further 20 staff had their positions “under review” in the confidential 16-page paper titled Change Proposal March 2023.
In a section described as “rational for proposed change”, it read: “We now need to reduce our costs further as ultimately we are a commercial entity that needs to generate enough earnings to withstand the economic conditions and ensure the growth of the business in the future.
“With a predicted recession in 2023 the immediate outlook does not look promising, therefore our operating model and expenses need to change to offset the current and any potential future revenue shortfalls. This means doing things differently, investing in areas where there are opportunities for growth and reducing costs where possible to fund these activities. 64 per cent of our costs are labour related and we have had to make the difficult decision to review our operating model and reduce our entire workforce to ensure that we remain efficient, effective and resilient.”
The document also confirms staff were given until 3pm today to provide feedback about the proposed changes.
The document said $830,000 in cash and $3.6m ratecard contra was invested in marketing and promoting Today FM along with company-wide advertising support across all MediaWorks radio properties.
This month, the MediaWorks board asked for a full review of the entire business, including Today FM.
The review, according to the paper, said last year Today FM was meeting its business case for revenue and station costs.
“Sponsorship revenue in particular was strong with the station being promoted on environment and relationships in the market.
“Whilst the station was ‘washing its face’, this did not include any allocation for the cost of news. Market share for Today FM in S4 2022 was 1.4 per cent versus the business plan expectation of 2.9 per cent.”
Today FMs audience was also “causing challenges with sponsorships not renewing” and insufficient reach to drive spot revenue, the document said.
“The brand needs time and significant marketing investment to break through which unfortunately MediaWorks isn’t in a position to invest in given our current financial position.”
‘An emotional day’ – MediaWorks boss
MediaWorks’ interim CEO Wendy Palmer said it was “an emotional day” for Today FM staff after the company decided to close the Auckland-based talkback and news radio station.
Palmer said it was a “difficult decision to close Today FM from tomorrow”.
“This is an emotional day for the talented team who put everything into building a new talk platform in Aotearoa,” Palmer’s company-wide message to staff read.
“They have worked tremendously hard to build the brand and there have been great successes along the way.”
Palmer said Today FM “needed time and significant ongoing investment in order to grow its listenership”.
“Unfortunately, given the current market conditions, the funding is not there to support this level of investment.”
In a statement, Palmer reiterated the tough financial conditions impacting the business.
“MediaWorks, like the whole advertising sector in New Zealand and internationally, continues to be impacted by an environment with lower revenues and higher costs,” the statement read.
“At the request of the MediaWorks board we have undertaken a review of the entire business to identify further areas of potential cost saving and to reshape the business for the market conditions.”
Palmer said this led the board to take the “difficult decision to take Today FM off air” and to explore options for a digital content offering.
“This is a hard day for this talented team who put everything into building a new talk platform in Aotearoa. They’ve worked tremendously hard and we’re incredibly proud of the work they have done.
“We’d also like to thank everyone who supported Today FM over the last year, from our regular contributors, to our advertisers and especially our listeners.
“We’ll be working with the team to identify other opportunities within MediaWorks where possible and to support them in their next steps.”
A message from the head of Today FM’s digital team was posted to its social media accounts, saying “we were robbed”. The post has since been deleted.
Today FM’s Twitter account was locked and the tweets “are protected” with only approved followers able to see the messages. The station’s Facebook page now appears to have been deleted.
“Hi everyone. Head of Today FM digital here. What a ride,” the Twitter post read.
“As I type this, David, Duncan Garner’s producer is crying in my arms as the harsh reality of cold corporate decisions set in.
“Like David, many of our team feel like they have failed you. But, I can confidently say that they have done something like no one else has in the media space.
“We were robbed. You were robbed.”
In a broadcast on the frequency at about 5pm a message said: “This station is no longer Today FM.”
It said a new station will be launching on the frequency in April.
Black Caps Radio will still be on this frequency with live cricket coverage of the New Zealand versus Sri Lanka one-day and t20 series.
“The next live game will be the third ODI starting at 2pm tomorrow. REX, Rural Exchange will still play on this frequency at usual times for now.”
Today FM abruptly abandoned its scheduled programming this morning – but not before O’Brien and host Duncan Garner revealed on air that the MediaWorks-owned station’s future looked grim.
Wellington-based night host Polly Gillespie, who clocked off her shift at midnight, said she had woken to 200 missed calls.
“TODAY is now yesterday. Sad but alive. Time to pivot. Much love to all my listeners and co-workers,” she posted on Facebook.
Tova: ‘They have f****d us’
In an extraordinary few minutes of radio, Garner was joined on air by fellow host O’Brien, who said the company had “f***ed us”: “We are all going to lose our jobs,” she said.
“We’ve been on-air for just a year, we were told we had the support of everyone from chief executive to the board to the executive.”
Garner said: “This is betrayal.”
He also told listeners: “Broadcasters here at Today FM have been called in to see the boss. We don’t know what’s going on. Tova’s asked for assurances that we are safe and hasn’t received them. Certainly some concerns in the background about the finances for the company overall.
“We were last on board you see as a station here. Could it be that we are first offloaded? I hope not. But that’s the axe hanging over us.
“It’s going to be a pretty difficult show but I am going to give it my best and be as honest as I can be with you. As news may or may not come through.”
Garner said: “We’ve been pulled off air right now.”
O’Brien, who joined Garner in the studio, added: “Without even being given a chance.”
She told the host, “it sounds like it’s over”.
Today’s developments follow the departure of Today FM radio boss Dallas Gurney, who quit the fledgling network this month.
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