When KFWB-AM (980) announced it was changing from an all-news format to a news talk one, staff members suspected that pink slips would follow.
The suspicions have been confirmed. Layoffs among the station's anchors, reporters, writers and behind-the-scenes staff members began last week, said Christopher de Haan, the national director of communications for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents 35 of the CBS Corp.-owned station's full- and part-time employees.
"To our knowledge, only one of those 35 has been laid off," de Haan said. "We were notified by the station in early August that they were planning to lay people off, but they didn't tell us when, who or how many."
Other sources told the Business Journal that layoffs among the close-knit newsroom staff had begun Aug. 20 and would proceed through Aug. 21.
Severance was one week of pay for every year worked, with a maximum of five weeks. If an employee signs a release saying that they won't sue the company, they receive two weeks of pay for every year worked, with a maximum of 52 weeks.
According to one person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, at least three staff members had been laid off by Aug. 20 and more were expected to get the bad news Aug. 21 about two weeks before KFWB switches to a news talk station Sept. 8.
Ed Krampf, CBS Radio senior vice president and market manager for Los Angeles, declined to confirm the layoffs, citing the sensitivity of the situation.
"I can't comment on that because it deals with people's lives and deals with personnel," Krampf said. "But our commitment to the employees was that when we knew something, we would convey that to them at the earliest time possible and be upfront and professional about it."
The station's talk format will center on programming by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a well-known radio personality who focuses on parenting and relationship issues. The station snagged Schlessinger from KFI AM (640), which has carried her chat program for 20 years.
"It was very clear that there would be staff reductions" said one person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The only question was how many."
The most recent change in format isn't KFWB's first attempt to differentiate itself from its all-news sister station, CBS-owned KNX-AM (1070). CBS executives announced in February that KFWB's coverage would emphasize the entertainment industry.
However, the station's switch to Hollywood news didn't result in a boost in ratings. KFWB had a 1.3 percent listener share in June, flat from previous months. The station tied for 27th in the L.A. market.
The switch to talk could improve things, however.
"I think it's a very smart move for CBS to do this," said Phil Boyce, a well-known talk station program director. "The L.A. audience is very sophisticated, and wants to know what's happening now and they want to know what to think about it."
What's more, Boyce points out that running two all-news stations in Los Angeles was likely too expensive for CBS.
"The all-news format is probably the most expensive radio format to produce," Boyce said. "And running two of them in one market would not make financial sense."
The switch doesn't wipe out all news coverage. KFWB will continue broadcasting local news from 6 to 9 a.m. The talk lineup will follow: Laura Ingraham from 9 a.m. to noon, Schlessinger from noon to 3 p.m. and Philadelphia-based Michael Smerconish from 6 to 9 p.m. A locally based host for the 3-6 p.m. slot has yet to be announced.
Krampf is known for his bold programming style, which has improved stations' ratings in the past.
For example, when Krampf served as senior vice president for the West Coast programming for Clear Channel in 2003, he brought political commentator Michael Savage to fledgling San Francisco station KNEW-AM (910).
"That was a big swing in that market," said Tom Taylor, news editor of online industry publication Radio-Info.com. "Ed is somebody who has experience with both music and talk stations, and had success in both. CBS is probably saying that he could be a change agent and make the right strategic moves."
Krampf joined CBS in October and served as senior vice president and market manager of the company's Tampa Bay, Fla.-area stations. In Florida, Krampf laid off personnel including on-air staffers. He became market manager for Los Angeles in late March.
"Doing this kind of move is difficult," Boyce said. "But I believe that CBS probably wanted to do this move for the last five or six years, and Ed was able to get in there and get it done in relatively short order."
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