SYRACUSE — It doesn’t matter whether you liked or hated Jim Reith’s afternoon talk show — if you listen to radio, chances are good you have an opinion about Clear Channel’s decision to terminate Reith’s position on FM Newsradio 106.9 and 570 WSYR earlier this week. And those opinions have been popping up all over — on TV, in newspapers, and online.
Here at CNYRadio.com, several readers posted comments below the two stories we published on Wednesday — the first, the initial alert on Reith’s exit from WSYR, and a second story later in the day after we learned another on-air personality (Rachel Marisay, a.k.a. Gabby Knight) and two producers (Mike Foltz and Bill Ali) were also affected by what the country’s largest radio operator called a “reduction in force.”
Before we even had a chance to post the first story, an anonymous tipster alerting us to Reith’s dismissal wrote the following:
I’m no fan of Reith’s, but killing off local content really ought to make a prima facie case for the FCC to deny license renewal on at least one if not both stations. Pulling revenue out of the market without giving anything back is deplorable.
Once the stories were published, reader gtsmmo42 expressed no love lost for Reith: “the second I hear that arrogant buffoon, I switch the station. I like talk radio, but the only time I can listen in this time slot is when he has a substitute in.”
Reader larry had similar feelings, writing, “Who wanted to listen to an arrogant, rude and obnoxious person especially to callers that he would hang up on! They would be left with no recourse. He was terrible.”
But Reith also has his supporters. Egore used “arrogant” to describe WSYR’s owner instead: “CC once again proves that they are not broadcasters. What in the hell are they thinking–or are they? Their press release is unbelievably arrogant saying they are going to increase local by cutting local.”
Fans Speak Out on Facebook
A new Facebook group called “We Want Jim Reith on the Radio,” had nearly 130 “likes” as of Friday evening, and plenty of wall comments from those fans, either supporting Reith, bashing WSYR or both. Many listeners have also been posting their reactions on Reith’s own personal Facebook wall.
Some of the comments include people who weren’t necessarily big fans of Reith, but still realize his departure has a significant impact on local radio. Joanne Troy Perry wrote, “This is a really dumb move on the party of Clear Channel. I did not always agree with you but your show was vital to the community. The fact they cut it without warning demonstrates complete cowardice.”
Referring to the fact Reith’s 3-7pm timeslot has been replaced predominantly by syndicated programming, Mike Smithson wrote, “I wonder [when Sean] Hannity will have the Syr Mayor on his show? I wonder when he’ll talk about fracking, crime, I-81 options or the near-westside initiative.”
Expert Reaction in Print, on TV
As news broke about the “reduction in force” in Syracuse and elsewhere around the country, Clear Channel management — both locally and at the corporate level — refused to comment on specific personnel changes. However, the company did acknowledge it was “launching a new strategy” in which “top on-air talent will be more localized, not less … and the overall quality will increase.”
In an article by Douglass Dowty, which appeared on syracuse.com Wednesday night and in the Post-Standard on Thursday, Syracuse University broadcast journalism professor A. Randall Wenner and Galaxy Communications CEO Ed Levine both questioned how replacing a local talk show host with syndicated programming would increase localism.
CNYCentral — the brand of NBC affiliate WSTM and CBS affiliate WTVH — interviewed David Rubin, former dean of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at SU. Rubin told the television stations, “You get rid of Jim Reith, the local voice gets fainter, fainter and fainter. Pretty soon the station is no longer the Syracuse station. It can be Anywhere, USA and as far as I can tell that is a ticket to bankruptcy.”
Letters to the editor in today’s Post-Standard included one from Thomas Hanley of Fulton, who wrote, “while I often disagreed with Reith, he is an eminently decent individual who, with rare exception, treated his callers fairly (…) To have Reith replaced by a bubblehead like Sean Hannity insults Clear Channel’s audience and makes the dumbing-down of local radio virtually complete.”
In another letter, Douglas Fuegel of Central Square wrote, “Reith came across as arrogant and very opinionated, but he did provide a valuable, informative service to Central New York radio listeners.” He went on to call Reith’s firing “a fatal mistake,” predicting that “in six months, 570 will no longer exist.”
Also today, the Post-Standard‘s Bob Niedt followed up with additional reaction from Rubin, who said “WSYR is taking leave of the city of Syracuse and it floats into syndication. .. It continues its abandonment to really cover the city.”
Niedt also revealed to the general public a tidbit of information most radio listeners may not have known: across town at Cumulus Media’s 105.9 The Big Talker (WXTL), there’s an opening for a local talk show host. The position’s been vacant since Gary Nolan left in April. At that time, WXTL operations manager Tom Mitchell told CNYRadio.com he planned to fill the shift with another local host, and he made another push to fill the position in August.
Even though Citadel Broadcasting was acquired by Cumulus Media — and national trades have since been reporting on job cuts elsewhere within Cumulus — Mitchell told Niedt WXTL is still seeking a local host for afternoon drive. But the article stopped short of mentioning whether Cumulus has been in contact with Reith.