Flipping the switch
Mix 107.5, a leading station in the Charlottesville market until its acquisition by America's radio behemoth, Clear Channel Communications, thinks it has a solution for its ratings slide: toss the local talent.
After their show on Friday, June 14, the morning drive team of Vinny Kice and Brooke Shealy was ousted in favor of a Clear Channel team based in Texas.
The 28-year-old Shealy says she felt so close to her listeners that she announced her engagement on the air last month. Her ouster came as a surprise.
"They just said I was being let go– that there were gonna be some changes," says Shealy. "They didn't really say much."
Station manager and Clear Channel's chief of Charlottesville operations Scott Gilreath confirms that Shealy has left the company but says Kice, unreachable for comment, is "officially on vacation."
Gilreath defends the move as part of a series of changes designed to invigorate Mix, or WUMX, which has slid to ninth place in the Arbitron ratings. "The station," he says, "had lost focus."
Contacted by the Hook, Gilreath revealed other changes besides the arrival of "Kidd Kraddick in the Morning," which debuted on Monday, June 17. That same day, Gilreath unveiled a twice-hourly news update created via a partnership with Daily Progress owner Media General– although he declined to divulge terms of the deal.
Yet another switch is the removal– about three weeks ago– of Lisa Lewis from her afternoon DJ slot in favor of program director Keith Scott.
Asked if he would get around to sending out a press release to announce all these changes, Gilreath predicted he'd send one out by week's end– and hinted of still more changes. "I'm not at liberty," he says, "to let the entire cat out of the bag today."
By early this week, though, the disappearance of the local morning team was causing ripples in radio land.
"I am highly, highly upset," says local listener Debby Butler, a UVA web designer and receptionist. "They were local people who knew Charlottesville. Somebody from Texas has no idea what Charlotteville is."
"It's too bad," says former Mix 107.5 bossman Brian Demay. "It certainly is the cheap way to go."
Demay says that when he and Mix founder David Mitchell launched the station in 1996 they decided to invest heavily in local talent.
"Mix was hugely successful prior to the Clear Channel take-over," says Demay. "Apparently, the money's not there to sustain the staff."
Or perhaps acquisition costs are adding up.
Two years ago, Clear Channel tried to buy Mix from Mitchell for $5.9 million. The deal was structured as a lease-to-buy, since the Federal Communication Commission had concerns over Clear Channel's share of the Charlottesville radio market. Indeed in March, in a move unprecedented since 1969, the FCC announced that it might block the transaction.
If others take a dim view of national vs. local concerns, Gilreath doesn't.
"I don't think," he says, "anyone is under the impression that Tom Brokaw is downtown broadcasting from the Channel 29 studio."
As long as Kidd Kraddick and co-hosts Kellie Rasberry and "Big Al" Mack are "relevant" to Charlottesville listeners, Gilreath says, they'll be welcome at WUMX.
If the show we caught Tuesday, June 18, is any indication, Mix now has a mix of relevance. On the one hand, the new morning team spent several minutes debating the wisdom of keeping a mistress, surely a universal concern. But they also invited listeners down to "the canal" to meet Steve Irwin, aka The Crocodile Hunter. Only problem for this listener: the canal is located near the studio– in Irving, Texas.