Pink slips: Schilling just the first of Saga radio layoffs
Last January, WINA welcomed the conservative voice of former City Councilor Rob Schilling with a six-day-a-week talk show. But just before Christmas, the AM news radio station abruptly pulled the plug on the Schilling Show, and Schilling isn't the only Saga Communications-owned Charlottesville Radio Group staffer to be let go.
Tad Abbey, a mainstay at sister station 106.1 The Corner, has also has gotten a pink slip, and at least one other familiar radio voice soon will be out of job, an informed source told the Hook before Christmas.
The latest casualty is WINA news reporter John Peterson, who is no longer employed at the station, a caller asking for him was told January 5.
"Peterson's really troubling because he does a great job," says former WINA sportscaster Adam Gottschalk, now hosting his own talk show with competitor WKAV. And he fears Peterson will not be replaced.
"I'm not going to comment on that," says the operations manager for the Saga stations Rick Daniels (who also serves as co-host of the Morning Show with Rick and Jane) when asked if there would be other layoffs.
"I had no idea," says Schilling, who found out December 19 that his show was over. "It was not my choice," he says, adding that he was told it was a corporate decision.
"I think it's awful," says Schilling listener Linda McRaven. "I don't understand it. It was the one show that opened up an avenue of conversation in Charlottesville."
Some Schilling fans have taken action. Keith Drake, chairman of the 1,000-email-addresses-strong Albemarle Truth and Taxation Alliance, sent out word to members telling them to contact Saga and Charlottesville Radio Group.
The Bring Rob Schilling Back blog sprang up, also urging Schilling fans to let Saga and Charlottesville Radio Group know how they feel.
Like many publicly-traded media companies, parent company Saga Communications has recently seen sales drop due to recession, with Saga's stock price falling from over $10 two years ago to just $1.44 at press time.
Still, Saga was supposed to be different.
"What we have going for us is first and foremost our localism," writes Saga CEO Edward Christian in a recent annual report. "People depend on their local radio and TV stations," continues Christian. "We have a public trust that we embrace."
So why the booting of a local talk show host that WINA recruited?
"We have to balance things to make sure the business is profitable," explains Daniels. "It had nothing to do with Rob's political views."
The Michigan-based Saga, which owns 91 radio stations and five television stations, purchased home-grown WINA, WQMZ, and WWWV in 2004, and started 106.1 The Corner two years later. At the time of the purchase, outgoing owner Brad Eure enthused that personnel decisions would be made on the local level.
Daniels notes that Schilling's show isn't the only shuffle in the talk-radio line-up. Nationally syndicated Bill O'Reilly is not going to continue on WINA. A show by conservative commentator Laura Ingraham will replace both O'Reilly and Rob Schilling.
That doesn't appease Drake, who points out there are a half dozen national conservative radio commentators. "I want to hear local," he says.
"We hope Rob will be back on the air," says Daniels, "in some format soon."
So does Schilling.
"I trust there will be other opportunities," says the noted free-marketeer. "I tell my listeners to trust the market, and I'm going to take my own advice."
When the Hook checked back with Schilling a couple of weeks after his ouster, he declined to comment on pending offers, other than to say, "I've had several phone calls."
Updated January 5.